Are You Feeling Hungry?

A spread of different foods on the table

Are you really hungry? This can be difficult to answer since hunger feels different to everyone. Hunger is a very interesting experience—it can show as a variety of physical sensations, but also has psychological and even emotional aspects too. We may eat because we feel bored or tired or anxious, because the clock says a certain time, or because others are eating around us. Hunger begins with a hormone called ghrelin. When our body has digested the food in our stomach and our blood sugar and insulin levels begin to drop, ghrelin is released from the stomach and signals to the brain that it is time to eat. Once we start to eat again, another hormone called leptin is released and signals to the brain to counter the previous feeling of hunger and keep us from gorging ourselves. When you feel hungry, there are a couple of questions to consider.

When and what did you last eat? Your experience of hunger may be variable, but the mechanics of digestion aren’t. If it has been several hours since you’ve eaten or your last meal was very small, it might be time to eat again. But if you ate a decent-sized meal recently, or had a snack a half hour ago, you may not need food at that moment.It is also possible that the food you had eaten didn’t have enough protein, healthy fats, or dietary fiber to keep you feeling full longer.

What else is going on? Are you bored? Anxious? Stressed? Lonely? Frustrated? Or maybe just procrastinating doing something you don’t want to do? All of these emotional states have a well-known tendency to provoke the desire to eat. See if you can think of some other way to alleviate the discomfort you are feeling. Try taking a break from whatever task you were working on originally by going for a walk or talking to a friend. Addressing the underlying causes of your emotions can help alleviate hunger driven by our emotional state rather than the biological need for food.

Would any food be welcome or are only certain foods tempting? Hunger and cravings are different feelings that can be confused for one another. Hunger isthe slight decline in energy that signals to you that it is time to refuel and then dissipates after eating. Cravings, on the other hand, are the sudden and intense desire for a specific food or taste profile and are driven more by pleasure than true hunger. Eating well-balanced meals throughout the day, distracting yourself with a hobby, or brushing your teeth can help when you recognize a craving.

How long have you been eating? If you are already almost through one plate of food and your hunger doesn’t seem to be going away, put your utensil down betweenbites and chew your food thoroughly; really tasteit. Pause for a few minutes before going for seconds. It takes time for your stomach to fully register that it is full. Feelings of satisfaction don’t happen right away; eating slowly will help.

Learning to tune into our body’s messaging system is not always easy and can take practice, but asking ourselves these questions over time can build a habit that will help you feel more confident in knowing what your body wants and needs. It is important to rememberthat feeling hunger isnatural and normal. The human body is an incredible machine capable of telling us when it needs to be refueled, but when life becomes hectic it can be just as easy to ignore what our body is telling us or to misunderstand its signals. So, treat hunger less like a hindrance and more as a call for self-care. Honor the hunger you feel and enjoy food for what it is—nourishing, delicious, and satisfying.