Let’s get one thing straight here…. EVERYONE feels hungry at times, even when they aren’t really….well….hungry.
There are many reasons to feel hungry. Obviously, the first reason to feel hunger is because you are truly hungry…your body is telling you it’s time for nutrients or energy.
But, there are also times when hunger may not actually be physical, but a feeling that can be brought on by other things such as stress, boredom, or even other foods.
It's easy to mistake psychological hunger for physical hunger.
Your physical hunger is regulated by the body through hunger hormones. You generally don’t have control of this. These hormones have the important job of telling us when it’s time for more fuel and nutrients. They tell your body when it’s time to seek food.
Psychological (or emotional) hunger is eating to overcome boredom, sadness, stress, etc. It’s based on a thought or a feeling. It’s what happens when you see a commercial for your favorite restaurant or walk by a bakery. It’s can also happen when you want to take your mind off of something painful. Psychological hunger is NOT due to any physical need such as low blood sugar or needing nutrients.
Physical vs Psychological...which is it??
Here are 7 steps to figure out if you’re physically hungry or not:
1. The first thing you need to do is STOP and EVALUATE. Shoving food in your mouth at the first inkling of a hunger pang isn’t what we are going for here. Slow down! Ask yourself if this is really a need for food….or something else.
2. Now that you’ve stopped yourself, pay attention to where the hunger is coming from. Can you actually feel or hear your stomach growling? Has it been hours since your last meal? Or….are you simply seeing or smelling something delicious? Are you anxious about a meeting with your boss? Take a peek into all these areas (boredom, food stimulus, anxiety, etc) and really try to pinpoint the source of your desire to eat.
3. Drink water! Not a little….a LOT. Drink a big glass of water and wait 1 minute to see how you feel. Listen to your body to see if the hunger is really still there.
4. If you suspect your feelings may be driving your desire to eat, walk away from the food immediately and go face what’s going on. Maybe it’s a bit of quiet time you need. Maybe it’s a conversation you need to have. Whatever it is, mindlessly eating WILL NOT FIX IT. Mindlessly eating for 5-10 minutes will only prolong the inevitable and will leave you feeling guilty.
5. If you’re pretty certain your hunger truly is physical – look at your watch or your phone. Bring up your favorite game or social media app and occupy yourself for 1-2 minutes. Once those couple of minutes are over, re-assess. Hey, maybe it really is time to eat!
6. Now that you have identified the source of your hunger, you are more able to take appropriate action. You either eat to nourish your body…or you address the feeing that is trying to trick you into eating.
7. If it’s physical hunger, have at it! Make some wise, optimal choices and fuel your body! Eat slowly and mindfully, enjoying each bite and being grateful that you have good foods to nourish yourself.
In the end....
Feelings of hunger can come from lots of places. One of the most common things I see is people using hunger to soothe hurt or unpleasant emotions such as anxiety. I try to help people identify if they are using food to self-soothe. If they are, we work together to see if there are alternative ways to take care of ourselves when we have negative feelings. Can you go for a brisk walk? Talk to a friend or loved one? Take it up with your punching bag in the basement?
Use the process above to feed your body ONLY when it actually needs to eat and to avoid unnecessarily consuming excess calories. Because, we all know it isn’t the carrot sticks we reach for when emotional hunger strikes!