How To Tell If You're Really Hungry
If you’ve found yourself rummaging through the fridge late at night, or hitting the office vending machine even though you just ate lunch, you might be wondering: Why am I so hungry?!
Trying to make healthier choices and lose weight can be frustrating if you feel like you’re always hungry. But actual hunger might not be the culprit. You may be stress eating, or confusing hunger with thirst, or just eating out of habit.
While that “empty” feeling in the pit of the stomach is a good reason to eat, there are other reasons we turn to food. We’re tempted by smells, flavors, cravings, experiences, social pressure, time of day, yummy brunch photos on social media, and the list goes on.
Give it some thought: What are your cues to chow down?
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4 Hunger Cues to Look For
Listening to your body and understanding hunger cues is a smart (and important!) strategy for those who want to trim down. It sounds super basic, but it’s actually quite complex — because somewhere along the way, research suggests we’ve disconnected from the innate ability to determine hunger.
Eating should happen when you’re truly hungry. When you’re have a “why am I so hungry” moment, here are four cues that can help you determine if you’re really hungry:
- The desire to eat gets stronger over a little bit of time.
- Your stomach starts to growl. Real physical hunger builds gradually — and if you don’t eat when you’re truly hungry, your body will nag you until you do.
- Use the “apple test” to gauge your appetite. If you’re truly hungry, nutritious food — like an apple — will sound appetizing. If you feel as though you won’t be “satisfied” unless you bite into a greasy or sweet snack, that’s probably a craving, not physical hunger.
- The hungry feeling doesn’t pass. When you’re looking through the kitchen cabinets for a snack, drink a glass of water and wait about 10 minutes before you eat. If you’re just craving something, the desire will typically pass.
Check in with yourself before you start to eat — or, even better, when you begin to think about eating. Ask yourself, “How hungry am I?” Learning to listen to your hunger cues will likely take some practice, but you know what they say about practice.
Things To Do Before You Eat To Make Sure You’re Actually Hungry
So what should you when it’s not technically meal-time, and you’ve already had your fill of (hopefully nutritious) snacks for the day — but you’re still tempted to grab a snack out of boredom or stress? Take these steps to become a more mindful eater.
- Take a quick assessment.
Run through a mental checklist to make note of your food triggers. What are the reasons you’re turning to food? If you become aware and observant of your habits, you take a powerful step toward becoming a mindful eater who knows when they’re really physically hungry.
- Grab a glass of water.
If you don’t feel a rumble in your tummy, sip some water first. Drinking a glass of water not only provides hydration, but it can also give you the “pause” you need to complete the first step.
- Keep a log.
Use your phone’s note section (or put pen to paper, if that’s more your speed) to jot down your hunger level before you eat. If you want to be super-thorough, write down how you’re feeling, what you’re eating, and how you feel after eating. These notes can help you start making connections and identifying patterns.
- Change your setting.
If you reach for food often when you’re not really hungry, break out of your routine. Take a walk outside for some fresh air, do housework, or chat with a friend. Putting your body in the right place — i.e., not in front of the pantry — can encourage you to get more in tune with your needs.
What If You Ate, But Still Feel Hungry?
You waited until you were truly hungry to eat, but still feel hungry after finishing. What gives? And should you eat more?
Here are a few reasons why you might feel hungry after you eat a reasonable amount — and what to do about it.
- You ate too quickly.
Feelings of satiety result from interactions between the bloodstream, pancreas, brain, intestines, and stomach. It takes some time for the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety to trigger these feelings in the brain — so if you eat too quickly, you may think you’re still hungry when actually your body just needs time to recognize it’s had enough.
- You’re not getting enough healthy fats.
Research suggests that fat slows down digestion and may have the potential to increase satiety. If you feel like you’re always hungry — even after you’ve eaten — make sure you’re including healthy fats in your meals and snacks.
- The food you ate didn’t contain enough protein.
- You might actually need to eat more.
Wait, what? If you’ve already eaten, and you waited 20 minutes, and you still feel hungry, you might just need to eat some more — especially if you recently stepped up your workout regimen, or if you’re trying to lose weight and have created a significant daily calorie deficit to achieve that goal.
Other telltale signs that you might need more calories: You’re irritable a lot, you have new trouble sleeping, you’re consistently low on energy, or you can’t finish your workouts. In these cases, it’s recommended to add one of the following to your day: two servings of veggies, one serving of fruit, or a small serving of nuts or seeds.