By: Julia Yuskavage, MS, RDN
Many people think that knowing when to eat is a simple and easy process, yet it can be difficult and confusing for some people to know when they are indeed physically hungry. While it is true that some medications and medical conditions can interfere with hunger and fullness cues, many individuals sense physiological hunger by noticing subtle changes in physical sensations which communicate to the body that nutrients will soon be needed. Other people may not be aware of the same physical sensations, which could be a result of chronic dieting among other reasons. In fact, this makes sense since many restrictive diets encourage people to override natural hunger cues with the goal of creating a caloric deficit. Yet others might be unable to detect or identify hunger due to intense emotions that mask feelings of hunger. Can you relate to any of these experiences?
If so, you might be wondering how to know when your body is asking for nourishment. The following are some common indicators of hunger:
Growling or grumbling in the stomach
Empty or hollow feeling
Slight queasy feeling
Weakness or loss of energy
Difficult making decisions
Irritability or crankiness
Feeling that you must eat as soon as possible (1)
Many patients who are in the process of healing their relationship with food and eating learn to “hear” their hunger again by practicing mindfulness of physical sensations, although this process takes varying amounts of time for different people. For instance, checking in with one's body throughout the day to notice what physical sensations arise can help tune in to hunger signals. This can also help prevent waiting too long between meals or snacks to eat. When this does happen, it can lead to feelings of ravenous hunger. For instance, you might find yourself eating any food that is in sight, and craving foods such as those high in sugar since they are quick sources of energy for the body, because your feelings of hungers are so strong. The body works in this way as a survival mechanism and to do its best to prevent starvation from occurring. By honoring your body and its need for nourishment, you meet a basic need for food which allows you to more fully live in the moment and live the life you envision for yourself.
Reference: May, Michelle and Anderson, Kari. Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating. Am I Hungry?, 2014.