Whether you are trying to lose weight or maintain your current healthy lifestyle, one of the best things you can do for your health is to eat only when you are hungry. This helps ensure that you eat a balanced diet of whole foods and avoid overeating. However, it can sometimes be challenging to determine if you are hungry. If you constantly eat even when you aren’t hungry, this may be a sign that you need to change your meal planning. The key to being able to eat only when you’re hungry is to learn how to recognize the difference between physical hunger and food cravings.
Physical hunger is a sensation you experience when the body triggers the hunger hormone ghrelin. This usually feels empty in the belly or a slight growl. It can also be a sudden need to eat, much like how it might feel when you are about to run out of air. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have known this feeling well. It was how they knew it was time to go out and gather or hunt.
Many people with trouble recognizing true hunger might confuse it with a food craving. A craving is an intense desire for a specific food and can be almost impossible to resist. The most significant difference between physical hunger and a craving is that any food will satisfy physical hunger, while a craving must be fulfilled with the desired food.
Emotional hunger is another cause of overeating and can be challenging to identify. Emotional hunger can be caused by stress, sadness, boredom, or a combination of feelings. Certain sights, smells, or thoughts can also trigger it.
If you are feeling emotional hunger, try eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day, taking breaks during your workday, and practicing coping and stress reduction techniques. In addition, it might be a good idea to see your doctor or counselor for support and advice on how to cope with negative emotions without turning to food.
Eating only when you are hungry is essential because the more full you are, the less likely you are to overeat. In addition, eating a variety of foods at each meal is a good idea to get all the nutrients your body needs. It’s also a good idea to ensure that your meals and snacks include lean protein, vegetables, and fiber. Studies have shown that when these nutrients are eaten at each meal, insulin levels are lower after the meal, which promotes weight loss and helps prevent metabolic syndrome. If you still eat out of hunger, keep a food journal to learn your unique hunger and satiety cues. It is also a good idea to consult with a dietitian specializing in intuitive eating.