Hunger and Satiety part 1: Are you really hungry?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Sep 21, 02:16 PM in and . No comments.

Have you ever started on a weight loss plan to find you are so hungry that it all goes wrong? Hear people say that on their latest diet they are “never hungry”? We have all felt hunger. Hunger isn’t always bad. In fact, I actually think it’s a good thing to feel just a little bit hungry for some of the time. We have been programmed into thinking we must always feel “full”. Why so?

Feeling hungry can have good and bad features.
The good ones include – enjoying your meals (having an “appetite” for them) and being able to be aware of proper hunger and satiety signals.
The bad ones include overeating when a meal comes, (in the case when satiety signals are NOT recognised) and frequent snacking leading to overconsumption of calories.

At the beginning of a “diet” or weight loss plan if you are reducing amounts, hunger can be your worst enemy.
In the early stages, people can be used to eating large portions and not thinking about how and when they eat. They can then find restricting meal patterns and size really difficult in those initial stages. My advice in this stage is usually to try and ride it out, (although I do have some good tips and hints to deal with hunger at this stage). In my experience, after someone gets on a roll and starts losing weight and getting used to the new eating plan, the hunger changes from a nasty and often uncontrollable feeling to a more pleasant feature which makes you look forward to and enjoy the meals you are having. Most successful weight losers will tell you, when asked about their weight loss plan , that it was “easy”. I’d wager they wouldn’t have said the same in those first few weeks when they were experiencing hunger.

The main thing to realise is that a lot of successful weight losers and maintainers have managed to distinguish between the different types of hunger we can experience and have managed to recognise “real” hunger signals. Have you ever “just felt peckish” but when you really thought about it, weren’t hungry at all?

There are two types of hunger

  • Physical Hunger – this is generally felt in the stomach area of your body. This will tend to occur every 3-4 hours after last eating. Sign of physical hunger are ‘rumbling stomach’, empty feeling, light headiness, dizziness and irritability.
  • Emotional/Psychological Hunger -this tends to occur in the chest or mouth area. It tends to be eating because of events, rituals, boredom or feelings.Other reasons for eating include sensory signals (i.e. appearance, smell, texture), because it is time to eat, cognitive factors (i.e. a food is thought to be of benefit) and just “feeling like eating”.

Are you really hungry?

If you experience “hunger”

  • Ask yourself if you have eaten in the last 3-4 hours.

If No:

  • Plan what you are going to eat, decide what you really want.
  • Prepare your food.
  • Eat it slowly and enjoy it.

Not eating at this point will lead to increased thoughts of food, a large desire to eat and can eventually lead to overeating. Following a regular meal pattern is important to enable you to recognise your bodies’ signals of hunger and fullness.

If Yes:

  • Before eating take a moment to think – is it emotional/psychological hunger?
  • Consider something else you might be able to do other than eat i.e. phoning a friend, having a bath, going for a walk etc. Distraction is the best tactic.
  • Write down your feelings or talk about them with someone else.
  • After trying another task and still feeling hungry, then plan what you are going to eat, prepare and eat slowly to enjoy.

If you find that often you are eating due to emotional/psychologocal hunger try keeping a food and feelings diary. This often helps people get in touch with their feelings of hunger and then identify alternative coping strategies.

How do you know when you are comfortably full?

Eating when you are hungry leads to fullness, but how do you know when you are comfortably full rather than overfull?

Healthy fullness is a comfortable, pleasant feeling, when your physical need for food goes away. Unhealthy fullness is when you have overeaten. People describe this as feeling “bloated” or “stuffed” and also possibly describe finding it difficult to move or feeling sick. Learning to stop at the stage when you are still enjoying your food but are satisfied is a really important step in managing your weight.

Hunger and fullness scale

It may help to monitor how hungry and full you usually feel. You can rate your hunger/fullness on a scale of 1-10. Use 1 as extremely hungry/starving and 10 as extremely full or stuffed. Try not to let your huger scores drop below 3 or rise above 8 most of the time.

Try eating slowly and stop eating when you are comfortably full. Try not to mindlessly pick or finish off your plate of food.

Practicing recognising hunger at each meal should start you on your way to being in control of your eating.

In Part 2 I will be talking about Foods and Tips to keep you fuller for longer

Tags: Emotional Hunger, Food Diary, Hunger, Physical Hunger, Satiety

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


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