Are You Hungry?
I know to many, the no snacking or not eating between meals is a new concept and I want to address the biology of our digestive system and why I want you to gain knowledge and understand your hunger and fullness signals during this plan.
Our digestive systems are designed to receive a meal, digest this, clean up our digestive system and then release hunger signals that we are ready for our next meal. We are not designed like cows to graze all day – our biology is very different.
If you watch a baby eat you can clearly see they are excited for the first mouthful and they are hungry and ready – if you watch carefully you can also see when they are full or had enough by watching their body signals, they might turn away or not open their mouth anymore. This might be before the plate has been cleared – but it’s an obvious sign. As infants we are carefully tuned into our hunger and fullness signals. These are psychological symptoms that guide us in our eating, but for lots of us we have forgotten how this feels. We are used to finishing our plate as that’s how we were taught as a child by our parents. Or we eat just because it’s meal time or others around us are eating.
We have two sets of fullness signals in our stomach. The first set is the nerve cells. When our stomach stretches after receiving food it sends triggers to the brain to signal that food is being received and our stomach is expanding. The second set of signals is slower and is a signal regulated by hormones. You will notice the hormone signals when you have had a very large meal and about 10 minutes later you can feel uncomfortably full. It takes a while for the hormone signals to get to our brain to initiate a fullness signal. This is why it is so important to eat slowly and not rush your food. The slower and more mindfully you eat then the less likely you are to overeat. You will learn to understand your fullness signals and can abide by them.
Many of us have lost touch with our hunger signals. This could be due to 24-hour availability to food, peer pressure to have ‘one more’ or just eating to a schedule rather than listening to our bodies. We have forgotten what it feels like to be hungry as we don’t allow ourselves to be hungry. We might take a snack with us if we go out ‘just in case’ or eat before leaving the house. Our hunger signals are your body telling us that it has used up energy from the last meal. If you are feeling slightly hungry then your body turns to our stored energy – fat for fuel. Don’t fear slight hunger. If we are looking to lose weight, then we want our body to start burning up our stored energies. However, it is very important that you don’t allow yourself to get extremely hungry. If we get too hungry then eventually, we hit our “hangry” breaking point. If you let yourself get to this point your hunger cues can get out of control and it is easier to overeat and eat past the point of fullness.
The hunger signals can come in stages. First, we might feel slight hungry – however when our body starts using up the stored energy then this hunger signal fades as our body has energy again. When the hunger returns, we might be more hungry and this is the time to eat. Signals can vary between people so experiment and tune into your hunger signals.
Allow yourself to feel slightly hungry, recognise what it feels like and how long you feel hungry for. Notice when it stops and then how long it takes to come back. This is then the time to eat again. When you start listening to your body then you will understand what your portion size should be. Your breakfast needs to last until lunch so work out how big this should be. If you aren’t hungry at lunchtime, then maybe your breakfast portion was too large. Your lunch should then last until your evening meal without the need to snack in between.
When you start to understand your appetite and not to fear slight hunger then you will recognise if you are eating not from hunger but for some other reason – stress, boredom, or emotions for instance. With our stressful environment and culture, we have learned that food can alter our emotional state. We turn to food to comfort as it’s easy – rather than confront the cause of our discomfort.
- Listen to your hunger signals. Don’t start eating at the first hunger pang – wait a little while until that hunger pang goes and then comes back again more intensely.
- Eat mindfully and slowly so that you recognise and understand your fullness signal.
- If you think that stress, lack of sleep or emotional eating is getting in the way of your weight loss can you address this first?
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Author: Katherine Bright MBANT, CNHC