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How To Know If You Are Really Hungry: Tips To Identify And Manage Hunger

| Reviewed By Sneha Krishnan

There's a thin line between hunger and eating or say, wanting to eat and needing to eat. People do not always eat due to hunger, but also due to boredom, happiness, stress or tiredness. Reaching out every time for a snack, even when you physically don't need them, indicates the risk of obesity or weight gain, followed by other conditions such as diabetes, heart diseases or blood pressure.

As we know, weight management is crucial for the prevention of the aforementioned chronic diseases, it is important to identify your urge of eating and make ways to control them. Take a look at a few ways to identify whether you are really hungry and effective ways to prevent them.


Am I Really Hungry?

Hunger is characterised as an internal stimulus that initiates the act of food intake. Consuming food in response to hunger is regarded as an in-between step in the food regulation process. However, excerpts say that the stimulus of hunger is not often influenced by food intake, but by many other factors that override them.

These factors include tempting marketed food, intrinsic factors such as intense emotions and social factors like eating to accompany someone. Also, there are many nonspecific body sensations such as nausea, thirst and pain that are misinterpreted as hunger. These feelings can be confusing as they tend to disappear only temporarily after food intake, but reappears after some time, resulting in excess calorie intake for the day. [1]

The other factor experts suggest is that the confusion regarding the actual feeling of hunger or ‘eating without feeling hungry' is perceived during early childhood. The practice of imposing mealtime during early infancy without understanding the child's food eating behaviours is the main cause.

This habit tends to persist lifelong without understanding the body's actual need for food. A study says that the desire to consume food may occur without the stimuli of hunger, but hunger alone is a factor that represents when our body needs food or is ready to digest.


How Is Hunger Identified?

Hunger is mainly identified by two phases: Empty Hollow Sensation (EHS) and Inanition. The prior is characterised by physical sensation in the epigastrium (upper abdomen) such as stomach contractions or Cannon and Washburn's hunger pangs.

The recurrent contractions in the phase are due to the clearing of the stomach and small intestines of debris, secretions, microbes and undigested food particles so that they are ready for the food intake. The process is often regulated by two hormones of the gut known as motilin and somatostatin. [2]

The second phase includes weakness, fatigue and light-headedness. This phase indicates nutrition needs but does not necessarily need to digest. Though both of these phases are an indication of the desire to eat, they may vary when prompted due to other aforementioned intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli. Also, hunger correlates well when the mean blood glucose is around 81.8 mg/dL.


Ways To Identify You Are Really Hungry

  1. When was the last time you ate: If it has been several hours since you have had food, it's time to consider eating. Understand that your hunger stimulus is real and grab some food.
  2. What you had in your last meal: If you had a small portion of food in your last meal, you can trust your intuition for hunger and eat.
  3. Look out for physical symptoms: If you physically feel any sensations such as stomach contractions, empty or hollow stomach, loss of energy, shakiness, weakness and crankiness, it's a signal that you are really hungry.
  4. Understand your mood: People often tend to binge more when they are happy, stressed, sad or tired. Understand your emotional factors and avoid confusion between hunger and these feelings. Remember, when your cravings are not linked with your hunger, hogging onto foods will also not satisfy you.

Effective Ways To Manage

  1. Do mindful eating: Mindful eating means understanding the hunger signals of your body and accordingly consuming food. It's a form of meditation that involves paying attention to our foods on every bite we eat, without any judgement. Mindful eating is not done for weight loss, but people who introduce it in their daily life are more likely to experience weight loss. [3]
  2. Grab a glass of water: If you had your meal just an hour back and again feel hungry, avoid the stimulus by grabbing a glass of water. This will fill your stomach and also provide you satiety.
  3. Keep a note: Noting down your triggers can help you identify whether you are actually hungry or it is due to stress, sadness or tiredness. Try to avoid these factors by performing meditation or yoga.
  4. Divert your mind: If you have a habit of grabbing something without any feeling of hunger, break the pattern and try to divert your mind by activities like going out for a walk, talking to a friend, watching funny videos or doing household chores.
  5. Consume fibre-rich foods: Some foods just provide you with instant energy but do not keep you full for longer. Include more fibre-rich foods in your diet as they provide you satiety, manage your glucose levels and keep you full for longer so that you won't reach out for those extra cheesy snacks. [4]
  6. Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can disturb your appetite-stimulating hormones called ghrelin. Increased production of this hormone can make you feel hungry most of the time. Therefore, get enough and timely sleep to control your appetite. [5]
  7. Include protein and exclude refined carbs: Consume protein-rich foods such as poultry, beans, legumes and dairy. They have hunger-reducing properties that help reduce calories intake to around 50 per cent. Also, avoid refined carbs like white flour as they get digested quickly and initiate a feeling of hunger in a short interval.
  8. Avoid too much exercise: Exercise is good for health but performing rigorous exercises for long durations can faster your metabolism and increase your appetite. Consume foods which are enough to fuel you for exercise and not increase your calories intake.
  9. Avoid too much alcohol: Too much consumption of alcohol can affect hormones that regulate hunger. It can make you consume more compared to people who are not consuming alcohol. Limit alcohol consumption to manage appetite. [6]

To Conclude

Excess hunger can be due to multiple factors. It can also be a sign of chronic conditions like diabetes or hyperthyroidism. Stress and use of certain medications can also interfere with your hunger-related hormones. Learn to differentiate between actual feelings of hunger and those caused as a result of other stimuli. This can prevent the risk of obesity and keep you healthy and fit in the long run.

Sneha KrishnanGeneral Medicine
Sneha Krishnan
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