Hunger Cues

A picture of Brenna O'Mailey smiling.

She first became interested in the field of nutrition when she was struggling with food intolerances and her relationship with food in high school. These struggles led her into the office of a registered dietitian. That office is where she first started to connect the dots between how we eat and how we feel. So much of the information we receive around health, nutrition and wellness focuses on dietary specifics – macros, calories, and labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ She cares more about the context and the why. What is your relationship with food? What is your relationship with your body? Do those relationships control your mood and daily activities? Check out her work and learn more here

What Is Hunger

“Hey, it’s time to refuel!” – Your Stomach (and many other body parts)

Let’s start by explaining hunger cues through understanding what hunger is in the first place. Hunger is a strong feeling you get when your stomach tells you it’s time to eat. Hunger happens when your body doesn’t have enough food or important nutrients to work. It’s like a message from your body, reminding you to take care of yourself and give it the nourishment it needs.

A person with their hands on their stomach in response to a hunger cue.

But here’s the cool part: hunger isn’t just a regular message that you need to “stop” or “ignore”. It’s actually a good thing! It means your body is doing its job and letting you know that it needs fuel and energy to keep you strong and healthy.

Now, let’s dig deeper into why hunger is important for your body. When you pay attention to hunger, you’re showing appreciation for your body. You’re giving it what it needs to be healthy and happy.

So, the next time your stomach makes a noise and you feel hungry, remember this. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, let’s take care of ourselves and keep this party going!” Think of hunger as a positive sign, and let it guide you to make smart choices about what you eat. Your body will be thankful, and you’ll have more peace in your relationship with food. Now, that’s something to be thankful for!

The Biological Pathway Behind Hunger Simplified

Did you know that hunger is like a secret language our bodies use to tell us when it’s time to eat? It’s an interesting process that involves different parts of our body working together. Ultimately, it makes sure we get the energy and nutrients we need.

One important signal for hunger comes from a hormone called ghrelin. It’s made in the stomach and tells the brain that we’re hungry and need to eat. On the other side of the coin, there’s a hormone called leptin that our fat cells produce. Leptin tells the brain when we’ve had enough food and feel full.

But it’s not just hormones doing all the talking. Your blood sugar levels and other hormones in your gut also join in the hunger party. They all work together to find the perfect balance between the energy we get from food and what our bodies need. Isn’t the body amazing?

Understanding this incredible hunger system helps us trust our body when we eat. Hunger is the body’s way of saying, “Hey, let’s refuel and keep going strong!” Listen to your body and give it the nourishment it craves.

Not All Hunger Is Equal: Physical Hunger Versus Emotional Hunger

When it comes to our relationship with food, there are two different main kinds of hunger we experience. First, physical hunger, and next, emotional hunger.

Physical hunger is when our body tells us it needs food to function properly. It’s like when our stomach feels empty, growls, or we feel light-headed. That’s a sign that it’s time to eat and give our body the nutrients it needs.

Now, let’s meet emotional hunger, the mischievous sidekick. It’s not really about your body needing fuel. But, more about your emotions and thoughts wanting a taste of that delicious comfort. Emotional hunger may swoop in when you’re stressed, bored, or sad. It makes you think, “Hey, how about we find solace in a scrumptious snack? It’ll be like a hug for your taste buds!” Sneaky, huh?

But here’s the fun part: emotional hunger isn’t a troublemaker.Exploring the world of food can teach us a lot about ourselves and contribute to personal growth. It demonstrates that food is not merely about filling our stomachs; rather, it serves as a source of comfort, pleasure, and can even enhance our understanding of emotions. It’s like a tasty adventure for our taste buds and our feelings!

Let’s explore the secret to mastering this hunger game.

Recognizing the distinction between physical hunger and emotional hunger is essential. Listening to our bodies when they require nourishment allows us to provide the specific food they are craving.

However, it’s important to find the balance between what our body needs and what our feelings need. Keep reading to discover some of the key differences between physical and emotional hunger below:

Emotional Hunger:

  • Driven by our emotions, thoughts, or psychological needs.
  • Not rooted in physical cues. But rather a desire for comfort, distraction, or indulgences.
  • Often emerges in response to stress, boredom, sadness, or habit.
  • Food is used as a way to cope with emotions or find comfort.

Remember that these are general differences and individual experiences may and likely will vary. Developing awareness of both types of hunger can help foster a balanced and mindful approach to eating.

A person looking at food through a window deciding whether to buy it or not.

Identifying Your True Hunger Signals

Real hunger is the genuine feeling you get when your body needs nourishment. It’s like a natural signal or a basic instinct that reminds you to refuel.

But here’s the exciting part: figuring out if it’s real hunger or your mind playing tricks on you can be a puzzle. Sometimes our minds can cleverly pretend to be hungry. Soon enough, we are on a tempting path of cravings and desires.

So, when you feel hungry, take a moment to think if it’s genuine hunger or just your mind trying to fool you. Listen to your body’s cues and make wise choices about what you eat. That way, you can fulfill your body’s needs and enjoy a healthy relationship with food.

The line between “that looks delicious” and “I need food for energy now” may be rather fine. But fear not! Learn how to identify the top 10 true hunger cues in the following guide below.

Listening To Your Body With The Top 10 True Hunger Cues

When you’re hungry, your body sends signals to let you know it needs food. Here are some common signs of hunger that you might experience:

1. Stomach Contractions

Hunger can cause rhythmic squeezing and contracting of the stomach muscles. These create a feeling of hunger pangs.

2. Growling or Rumbling Stomach

When your stomach is empty, gas and fluids inside can create noises. These sounds can be more noticeable when there is no food to dampen them.

3. Lightheadedness, Even If Just a Little

Not eating enough can lower your blood sugar levels. This can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy. Your brain needs glucose for energy. When it’s low, it can affect how well you think and function. **Hydration may also be the culprit here.

4. Weakness or Fatigue

Poor nourishment can lead to weakness or fatigue. It will make you feel weak or tired. Engaging in activities may become more difficult.

5. Difficulty Concentrating

Hunger can make it challenging to concentrate or focus. Your brain requires a constant supply of glucose. When you’re hungry, this supply is disrupted, affecting your mental clarity.

6. Irritability or Mood Changes

Hunger can affect your mood. It causes irritability, crankiness, or uneasiness. Changes in blood sugar levels and how your brain responds to hunger signals contribute to these mood swings.

7. Headaches

Some people may get headaches when they’re hungry. The exact reason for this isn’t completely understood. But it may be related to changes in blood sugar levels and blood flow to the brain.

8. Increased Sensitivity to Food

True hunger can make you more aware of food-related cues. You might become more sensitive to smells, appearances, or even just the thought of food.

9. Cravings for Specific Foods

Hunger can lead to specific food cravings. These cravings are often influenced by your body’s nutritional needs. Or, your brain signals a desire for specific nutrients or flavors.

10. Feeling of “Hollowness”

Hunger can create a sensation of emptiness or hollowness in your stomach. It’s a physical reminder that it’s time to eat and replenish your body’s energy stores.

Remember, these hunger cues can vary in intensity and everyone experiences them differently. Paying attention to these signs and responding by eating balanced, nutritious meals can help keep you feeling your best. **Also, it’s important to note that many of these feelings are also a sign of dehydration, so you can try drinking a glass of water first, and see if that helps.

The Hunger Fullness Scale: A Tool To Facilitate Intuitive Eating

The hunger-fullness scale is a tool used to assess and track an individual’s level of hunger or fullness. It consists of a numerical scale ranging from 0 to 10. Each number corresponds to specific symptoms or sensations. Here’s a breakdown of the scale and the symptoms associated with each number:

0-3: Hunger is present, with symptoms like stoamch rumbling and increased awareness of food.

4-6: Moderate hunger, characterized by a noticeable desire to eat.

5: Neutral point, neither hungry nor full.

7-9: Fullness increases, with reduced desire for food and a sense of satisfaction.

10: Extreme fullness, often uncomfortable with symptoms like bloating or pain.

Using The Hunger Fullness Scale In Intuitive Eating

The hunger-fullness scale is like a map that shows you how hungry or full you are. It helps you understand your body’s signals and make smart choices about when to eat and when to stop. Instead of relying on outside influences, you tune in to your body and trust what it’s telling you. By using the hunger-fullness scale, you embark on an incredible journey of self-discovery and self-care. You get to know your body better and learn to make choices that make you feel good. Incorporating the scale can help strengthen your connection to your body’s wisdom and create a positive and joyful relationship with food.

Did you know that research shows that restrictive diets don’t work well in the long run? Studies have found that they often lead to negative effects on both your mind and body. They can make you feel deprived and may even cause you to overeat or binge later on. Instead, focus on intuitive eating and body acceptance.

Research by Bacon et al. (2005) demonstrates that a non-diet approach focusing on intuitive eating improves physical and psychological health. Likewise, restrictive diets tend to fail in producing sustainable and desirable outcomes. First, a study by Mann et al. (2007) concludes that restrictive diets are ineffective in achieving long-term weight loss. They can lead to negative psychological and physiological consequences. Another study by Lowe et al. (2018) finds that
individuals who practice restrictive diets are more likely to regain weight. This is in comparison to those who practice behavior-based strategies and intuitive eating. Furthermore, research by Shick et al. (2016) reveals that restrictive diets can start a cycle of overeating or binge eating behaviors.

So, let’s celebrate the power of listening to our bodies, using the hunger-satiety scale, and embracing intuitive eating. It’s a journey that brings joy, self-discovery and a loving relationship with food.

Eating Before Hunger Cues: Practical Hunger In Intuitive Eating

Let’s talk about road trips and a clever trick we use to avoid uncomfortable situations. You know when you visit the bathroom right before hitting the road, even if you don’t feel like going? It’s like a pre-emptive strike to make sure you won’t get stuck with a full bladder when there’s no
restroom around. Smart move, right?

Well, guess what? The same idea applies to hunger too! Sometimes, it’s fine to eat even if you don’t feel those usual signs of physical hunger. Why? Because just like planning for a road trip, we can plan for times when we won’t have access to food for longer than usual.

By being practical with our eating, we can avoid that feeling of hunger desperation. It’s all about thinking ahead and taking care of ourselves. But hey, don’t get carried away! This doesn’t mean we should snack all the time just because we might get hungry later. It’s about finding that balance and using your judgment to know when it’s a good idea to eat ahead of time.

Eating when we aren’t hungry might seem like it contradicts the idea of intuitive eating. But hold on a second! You see, intuitive eating is all about listening to our bodies and making choices based on what our bodies need. But guess what? Our bodies are pretty smart, and they sometimes need a little extra fuel even when we don’t feel those typical hunger signals.

So, practical eating is not going against intuitive eating. In fact, it’s a key part of it! It’s about understanding that sometimes our bodies need a little extra nourishment. It’s about finding that balance between listening to our bodies and being practical in fueling ourselves. Trust your instincts, listen to your body, and nourish yourself in the best way possible. That’s what intuitive eating is truly all about!

Listening To Your Body Through Hunger Signals Is Super Helpful In Finding Peace In Your Relationship With Food

Experiencing hunger cues is an important component of intuitive eating. Feeling hungry is actually a good thing! It’s a sign that your body is working well and communicating its needs to you. By paying attention to your body’s hunger cues, you can avoid overeating or eating because of your emotions. You learn to recognize when you’re truly physically hungry, not just bored or stressed. This helps you make smart choices that satisfy your body’s needs and make
you feel good.

So, remember to pay attention to your hunger cues and trust your body’s signals. It’s all about nourishing yourself in a way that feels right for you. This journey of intuitive eating leads to a deeper understanding of yourself and a joyful relationship with food. Keep embracing the power of listening to your body!