Here's How To Tell When You're (Actually) Hungry

Written by Dr. Allana Polo
Here's How To Tell When You're (Actually) Hungry

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We live in a food-focused society. The true physical signs and symptoms of hunger are often ignored and overshadowed by a deeper connection to food. This connection might be an emotional one, whereby we eat to feed our emotions rather than physical needs. It might be symptomatic of our cultural obsession with consumption.

Food is also given a lot of power in our lives: It can make us feel happy, sad, and guilty. Diets encourage us to restrict our consumption of foods, or to take the pleasure out of eating altogether. When we "fail" at a particular diet strategy, we are left feeling depleted, disappointed, and even angry.

Food is not the enemy.

We've lost our balance when it comes to food, and we need to remind ourselves that food is actually not the "enemy" but our biological source of necessary and beneficial nutrients. We live to eat; we no longer eat to live.

And that's why I want to take you back to the physiological drive to eat. What is hunger? What does it feel like? And why are we so afraid now to experience it?

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What is healthy hunger?

Healthy hunger is real physiological and biological hunger. Signs that you are experiencing hunger include:

  • A rumbling stomach as the juices inside churn in expectation of food
  • A hollowness or feeling of emptiness, as your body has completed its digestive functions and is now looking for its next round
  • A blood sugar drop and drop in energy levels, signaling a need for calories

Why don't we experience hunger anymore?

There are many reasons some of us may no longer experience true hunger. First, we have been taught to eat every three hours, and we do so, regardless of whether our body is actually ready for more fuel. We also eat for emotional rather than physiological reasons. We live in a culture of overindulgence that we all easily fall victim to. We often eat out of habit; many of our daily activities have come to be associated with food. A trip to the movie theater is paired with popcorn and unwinding at the end of the day involves a hearty snack. We have tangled food up with so many good and bad feelings that it now wields great power over us.

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How can we tune back into hunger?

1. Stay well-hydrated.

This seems simple, but sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger and this can be an easy fix.

2. Give hunger a chance.

Give yourself the opportunity to feel the biological signs of hunger. Stop eating every three hours or immediately upon rising. You don't need to go as extreme as fasting, but you can wait to eat until you feel those hunger triggers. You'll know and recognize when it's time!

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3. Keep a journal.

Writing down when we eat, what we eat, and how it made us feel before and after consumption is a great way to create greater body awareness. The true benefit of this is not in the collection of data but in the awareness you gain by collecting it.

4. Nourish your body.

Focus on fueling your body with optimal materials. When you allow yourself to get down to empty, you become more aware of the need to fill that tank back up with really wholesome foods. Don't waste this precious opportunity on empty calories and depleting foods. Build your store up with the nutrients you need to feel good. Your journal will help you to identify these foods, but start with what we know works for most people: vegetables, nuts and seeds, and clean protein sources.

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Why is this simple shift a game-changer?

Eating to satisfy true, biological hunger puts you back in touch with your body. When you "listen" to your body, you come to respect it more. Knowing that you have this window of opportunity to fill the tank with either premium gas that will make your engine run optimally or low-quality fuel that will slow you down, you will naturally come to make the right choices. It might seem like an overly simplified approach to weight loss, but I encourage you to try it first. I guarantee you will learn a lot about yourself, your complicated relationship with food, and what you need to do to make this a simple biological connection instead.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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