It’s 3pm. Your stomach is rumbling. You can’t concentrate and you’re a little grumpy. You’re hungry. You bought some veggie sticks and dip with you, but you are ravenous and you know this won’t take the edge of your hunger. You get up from your desk in search of something more satiating…
I’m often asked what people can do to avoid feeling hungry. People are often looking for an answer that will definitely keep them full until their next meal or are look for low calorie snacks to tide them over until their next meal. And some people want ideas on how they can avoid feeling hungry all together.
I’m not sure why this is but I have a few theories. We as a society are always busy, always rushing around and sometimes that means we forget to eat. I’ve lost count of the times that someone has said to me at 3pm “I’m STARVING because I haven’t had lunch”. That starving feeling? It’s pretty darn unpleasant. And I know I would do just about anything to avoid that horrible stomach tearing feeling and I’m sure some people are nodding their heads right now agreeing.
A normal feeling
It’s actually perfectly normal to feel hungry several times a day. It’s our body’s way of letting us know that it would like some more energy to go about our day.
When we eat, blood sugar levels rise (which is totally normal!) and the hunger hormone, ghrelin starts to drop off to be replaced by leptin, the fullness hormone. Our stomach stretches and we begin to feel satisfied or full. After a time, our stomach starts to empty and blood sugar levels drop and this can be a signal to our bodies that we need some more energy soon.
You can use hunger and fullness charts like this one to determine how hungry or full you feel in the present moment. The neat thing about using a tool like this is that you get to decide how hungry you would like to feel before you start eating and how full or satisfied after eating you would like to feel. Some people do experience trouble, however, when they spend a lot of time at either extreme of the scale.
Most people are good at recognising the ends of the spectrum – say the difference between Christmas lunch overfull and “uhh it’s 4pm and I haven’t eaten since breakfast” starving feeling. What people are less familiar with, are the “getting hungry” and “getting full” signals that the body sends so we don’t recognise that the faint tummy rumblings mean the body is gently asking for more food. Often the first thing we know about it is when our stomachs are YELLING at us for food, NOW. And what often happens in this situation is that we grab the first thing in sight and gobble it down and before we know it we’ve gone from starving to overfull, we haven’t enjoyed our meal and we feel quite uncomfortable.
So no wonder people are asking me how to avoid this feeling, it’s not pleasant at all!
Hunger… or something else?
Something else that people ask me is “okay, so I know when I physically need to eat, but what about when I want food but I’m not hungry?“
Ever walked past the doughnut shop when they’ve just made a fresh batch? The smell can make you instantly want one even though you might not physically be hungry. This is referred to as non-hungry eating.
Non-hungry eating is not necessarily a problem, either. We don’t just eat to fuel our bodies, we eat for pleasure. So some eating when we aren’t physically hungry is okay and approaching this time with a sense of curiosity and self-compassion will allow you to make a choice that best suits you in the moment. Maybe the doughnut shop reminds you of family outings and you’d like to eat some out of nostalgia. Totally okay! Giving yourself permission to eat all foods will allow you to really enjoy your doughnuts without feeling guilty afterwards. Because that’s what life is all about really- enjoying good tasting food!
Place trust in your body
Spending a lot of time being either STARVING or overfull is bound to make even the most sunny of personalities dark and gloomy. Being in a starving state is never pleasant but it is perfectly okay and normal to get hungry during the day, after all it’s your body’s way of communicating with you. Perhaps we could all do with a ‘re-frame’ of our language when it comes to hunger?
If you have no idea what hunger and fullness feels like to you, or you feel like you a lot of non-hungry eating it might be time to book in a with Accredited Practising Dietitian.