Why are you eating? Is it because you are hungry? Is your body in need of nourishment or are you eating for other reasons like boredom, emotional emptiness, or habit? Learning to understand feelings of hunger, fullness, and over fullness for what they truly are is very important for those who struggle to lose weight.
Some people don’t really know what hunger feels like. In our society we often eat not because we are hungry but because we are no longer over-full. When the awareness of satisfaction is gone we think it is time to eat again.
Eating disorders that cause individuals to be either over or under weight are often accompanied by a sincere distortion of the sense of hunger and fullness. The emphasis on food as either a fix or an enemy causes individuals to ignore the body’s natural cues to the point of becoming “deaf” to them. Once we are relying on false senses (emotional cues) it becomes difficult to get back in touch with our body’s natural triggers.
Today I want you to purposely experience hunger. I’m not desiring that you experience discomfort for discomfort’s sake. I am asking you to bother to get to know your body and yourself so that you can become more in tune with your needs and begin to have a real and honest relationship with food.
Locate your stomach. Your stomach is a small pouch just below the sternum. True hunger is felt here.
Once you’ve located the stomach begin to notice how you “feel” here. Stay in tune with this area. Hunger may come quickly or it may take several hours. How long ago you last ate, how much you consumed, and what kind of food you consumed all make a difference in how quickly you feel hungry. When you become hungry this area should feel empty. There will be a little burning sensation, a gnawing, and maybe even a growl. For some people this sensation is experienced in the esophagus or just below the waist rather than the actual stomach. It is a subtle feeling, a slight discomfort, that can be easily ignored but shouldn’t be. If you are hungry – eat. Eat a small amount of healthy food. If you don’t eat when you are hungry, you will become over hungry and will over eat.
While you are searching for true hunger avoid beverages that will mask it. Milk, juices, sports drinks, and really anything with calories will give your body some fuel and cause hunger to be harder to detect. Milk and juice have great body benefits, but for the course of today’s hunger experiment don’t partake of them between meals. It’s fine to have these once you experience hunger as part of the solution. Other things to avoid while waiting are mints, sugared gums, and hard candy. These we often don’t think of as “eating” and bring very few health benefits to the table, but they do affect blood sugar and add calories to the mix. This will cause you to be slower to experience true hunger.
Some common feelings are often mistaken for hunger. Thirst (the need for more water) can produce an empty feeling and a growl in the stomach. If it hasn’t been several hours since you ate, assume thirst. As a great health and weight loss practice always consider drinking 8 – 16 ounces of water before food. This way if the feeling is thirst it will be satisfied. If it is hunger and you follow the drink with a meal you will be full faster. This is a win-win situation.
Stomach irritation from things like spicy foods or too much coffee or soda can cause a similar gnawing in the belly. This feeling is usually not as subtle and can have an almost “fist to the stomach” feeling. Try drinking water for this as well. The water often helps soothe the stomach and aids in digestion. You also might try chewing gum (though avoid sugared gums for the course of todays experiment). Gum increases saliva production and thus helps the digestion process along.
Low blood sugar can cause feelings of light-headedness, weakness, and headaches. Though these clearly mean we need to do something about our food intake, they are not “hunger”. Frequently eating foods that are protein based and have complex carbs rather than empty calories are important to keep the blood sugar in check. Eating better, not more, is the answer to this “false hunger”.
Emotional triggers from feelings such as stress, depression, anxiety, and boredom send chemical messages that appear to be hunger when in fact they are a very different type of empty. Continue to focus on finding non-food forms of comfort such as bubble baths, hot tea, and even exercise for these issues.
In order to recognize “full” before feeling “stuffed” slow it down. When we eat quickly we often over-fill the body. It takes time for the sustenance to reach our stomachs. If we eat slowly, the food begins to reach the stomach after having taken in less of it and we can stop once we feel satisfied rather than stuffed. If we eat quickly we do not give the body time to experience the pleasures of our food. The taste and scents are part of the experience and should be enjoyed. Eating too fast causes us to take in more in order to reach the same amount of pleasure. Eat with purpose and less food will give you more pleasure.
I suggest that you begin to limit multitasking at meal times. When we are focusing on multiple activities none are getting our full attention. Give food the attention it deserves, no more and no less. When it is time to eat allow yourself to really experience the food. You are less likely to mindlessly overeat and are more likely to be able to sense satisfaction if you are focused on finding it.
Once you understand “hungry, satisfied, and stuffed” in context it will be much easier to find health and weight loss. Balance allows you to love food and use it for only what it was meant for, fueling the body and easing hunger. For other needs there are other great solutions. Start focusing on those. 🙂