How to Identify True Hunger

When was the last time you were hungry? I mean really hungry, not just peckish, craving a favourite meal, or mindlessly searching for something to put in your mouth. Chances are that it’s been months – or even years – since you’ve felt truly hungry.

Being able to identify what real hunger feels like, however, is an essential skill in learning to trust your body and give it what it needs. Today we’ll talk about the signs of true hunger, as well as how to gauge whether you need to eat.

To start with, SF Gate helps break down the difference between true hunger and emotional hunger:

“Emotional Hunger: Emotional hunger is in response to a feeling, either good or bad, and usually involves craving a specific food or type of food. These foods are often high in fat and sugar, and even if you are full you will sometimes keep eating until the food is gone. This type of hunger occurs suddenly, and you feel a need to eat right away. However, once you finish eating you often feel guilty or ashamed.

Real Hunger: Real hunger is brought on by a true need for food and develops gradually over time. You can wait to eat if you need to, and once you have eaten until your stomach is full you can stop eating. With real hunger, you feel a need to eat, but not necessarily any one particular food. Any food that you like that is available will satisfy your hunger, and you won’t feel guilty after you finish eating.”

The Hunger Scale
If you’ve identified that you truly are hungry and not just wanting to eat your emotions, your job isn’t quite done yet!

Next, assess how hungry you are using a hunger scale. Registered dietician Alissa Rumsey breaks hunger down into the following categories:

1 – Famished, faint, and irritable
2 – Very hungry and need food fast
3 – Hungry and ready to eat
4 – Beginning to feel signs of hunger (e.g. growling stomach)
5 – Physically full
6 – Satisfied, no longer hungry
7 – Slightly uncomfortable feeling of fullness
8 – Feeling too full, have to loosen belt
9 – Too full, have to unbutton pants
10 – Overstuffed and feeling sick

Rumsey suggests using this scale to assess hunger level and choose to eat only when you’re truly hungry. She recommends pausing before eating and asking where you currently stand on the hunger scale – “ideally, you’ll be between a 3 and a 4”.

Next, she recommends pausing about halfway through the meal and assessing again. When you get to feeling around a 6 or 7 on the scale, it’s time to stop eating. Don’t wait until you’re a 9 or a 10, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable! That’s a sure sign you’ve over-indulged.

Hungry for Change
Taking the time to stop and tune into your body like this may feel quite strange at first, but after a week or so it’ll become second nature – and it should be! We should all check in with our bodies before eating or drinking and consciously set aside time to pause, check in, and assess our needs.

We can do this type of self-assessment with everything from our emotional states to indulging in alcohol but starting the process by being able to accurately gauge your appetite level and eat only when you’re hungry is a great way to begin.

Become familiar with your true motivations for eating, get comfortable with the hunger scale, and see how this type of mindful eating could change your relationship with food  – and your body – for the better.

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