Our appetites can be quite the pranksters. It often fools us to think we are hungry, when often, we may be suffering from something completely different. Distinguishing between false hunger and true hunger will help you know when your body really needs food and when it needs something else.
- Hunger Due to Eating the Wrong Food: Symptoms include craving high sugar foods or feeling “hungry” soon after eating a meal. If you just had a big meal that is high in simple carbohydrates and did not contain fiber, protein or healthy fat, all of which help provide a sense of satiety, you may have experienced a drop in blood sugar. In this case, have a healthy snack, such as a piece of fresh fruit and nuts, or cottage cheese or celery and peanut butter or 1/2 of a sandwich on whole grain bread).
- Emotional Hunger: Sometimes, our appetites can go haywire when we are experiencing boredom, fear, anxiety, stress or loneliness. Try taking a walk, journaling, listening to some favorite music, calling a friend or chewing a piece of mint gum instead. Read a book, go to a “safe place” like a library or museum or park where you will not be tempted to overeat or distracted by food. Take a bath, meditate, or think about what REALLY would satisfy you, vs. eating to stuff down emotions you do not want to confront.
- Hunger Due to Sleepiness: Experts at www.WebMD.com state that two major hormones, leptin and ghrelin, affect and control sensations of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin, made in fat cells, alerts the brain that you have had enough to eat. Lack of sleep causes a significant drop in leptin levels as well as an increase in ghrelin levels, a so called double whammy for appetite control and feelings of satiety. Lack of sleep, six hours or less per night, may result in overeating and consequential weight gain. Daytime fatigue may lead people to overeat (often, high sugar, nutrient poor foods) in an attempt to get an extra surge of energy. This is equivalent to placing a Band-Aid on the true problem. It provides only temporary relief, which is soon followed by a crash in energy levels and a resurgence of “hunger” leading to more snacking, increased sugar cravings, etc….a vicious cycle. If you are feeling mid-afternoon hunger pains, it may excellent options include: a brisk 10 min walk around the block (fresh air helps, as does exercise, to boost alertness and increase circulation), a cup of green tea (high in antioxidants and low in caffeine relative to coffee), a 1/4 cup of almonds and a small apple (high in protein, healthy fat and carbohydrates, low in sugar, and a good source of magnesium and fiber). Even taking a few deep breaths can help curb fatigue!
- Hunger Due to Thirst: We often mistake thirst for hunger. Try drinking a glass or two of water to identify whether you are truly hungry or just slightly dehydrated, in which case water is the perfect antidote!
When you are really experiencing true hunger, however, it is pretty clear to identify. For instance, a growling stomach will cause us to be cranky and unfocused…until we get some food, that is! If it has been four hours since your last meal or snack, you may well be truly hungry. Don’t ignore true hunger…doing so may exacerbate it and cause you to overeat to compensate for the missed calories. It is important to eat regularly and consistently to keep energy levels elevated and avoid dips in blood sugar. Try to include fruits and vegetables at each meal and snack, along with some protein (cheese, beans, lean meat/poultry/fish) and some healthy fat (avocado, olives, nuts, oil). This whole foods approach will help keep you at a healthy weight and lessen the likelihood for emotional hunger to rear its head!