Hunger can be a natural physiologic signal from the body requesting more fluids or nutrients or it can be cravings (learned habitual behaviors) and pathologic symptoms of a mismanaged metabolism. We sometimes forget to check in and determine why we might be hungry.
NATURAL & HEALTHY HUNGER SIGNS:
1. Dehydration. In most cases, this can be managed by drinking water.
2. Need to replenish nutrient supply. For most people, eating a variety of colors of vegetables and supplementing with protein, will meet all the body’s nutritional needs. Make a list of easy naturally nutrient rich snacks that you can have readily available – then you can make healthy choices when you are hungry and need to replenish.
HUNGER SIGNS TO BEWARE OF:
1. Insulin resistance. If your waist line has grown since after highschool and you are not pregnant, you are developing or have developed insulin resistance. As we age, we also naturally become more insulin resistant. This means that our body over-reacts to sugars and carbohydrates in the diet which leads to a roller coaster ride of high and low blood sugar levels which lead to fatigue, mental fog & “the munchies.” Solution: Drink water, Eat protein or leafy vegetables when hungry and avoid sweetened or carbohydrate heavy foods.
2. Poor food choices earlier (ie. starting your day with sugar or processed carbs). Eating sugar will cause you to crave more sugar later in the day. Sugar can trigger the same area in the brain as heroin. It IS addictive. Solution: Avoiding it is the best way to manage being losing control. Make smart food choices. Start your day with protein instead of sugars or starchy processed carbohydrates. Choose whole foods.
3. Some medication and illicit substances (ie. marijuana). Some medications and illicit substances make people hungry and eat more, usually poor quality foods like most fast food. Solution: If your meds are making you want more broccoli, that’s great, but if it makes you get “the munchies” or you notice weight gain, have that important discussion with your doctor to see if you can find a way to manage it. Also, when you get “the munchies” or are hungry, drink water, eat veggies, nuts, or a cheese stick or have a light soup.
4. Boredom. Solution: Find something to do that is NOT related to food. Do something physical – take a walk, stretch, dance, move. Connect with family or a friend. Journal, garden, read, play solitaire, play a musical instrument, work on a hobby or create something artistic, etc.
5. Emotional unrest. Solution: If you are an emotional eater, it will be important to find new ways to soothe yourself. Consider finding a counsellor to help you process and learn better ways to cope. Find other healthy outlets – take a walk, spend time in nature, contact a friend or family member who nourishes you, spend time with you pet, listen to soothing music, learn meditation, go to a religious/spiritual place.
6. Habit (ie. before bedtime or while watching TV/movie). If you link certain activities or times of the day with eating/drinking, this is a habit and can be challenging. Solution: The best way to change that habit, it to create a NEW (more desirable) habit to replace the old, undesirable habit. For example, instead of having hot cocoa after being out in the cold or at bedtime, have some hot rooibos tea which is caffeine free and deliciously different. Instead of buttered popcorn with a movie at home, try berries or baby carrots. Keep healthy snack options easily available for “break time” at work- have salty, crunchy and “creamy” options available.
7. Seeing or thinking about food/drink you like. Having a variety of options to eat actually has been shown to increase the amount of food we eat. The larger the plate, the more options of different foods at any time, we eat more and sample more. Solution: Use a smaller plate. If you are sampling, think of the size of your stomach when not-too-full (the size of your fist), and look at the total volume of food you have on your (smaller) plate. STOP adding to your plate when it exceeds the size of your stomach. If you have more foods to sample, take less of each item so that you are not OVER-stuffing your stomach as it would not feel good anyways. Really, if you look at your plate and wonder how that would fit in your body, it’s too much. It’s ok to leave food on your plate. Note: Raw leafy greens shrink dramatically when chewed up, so you can be liberal with raw leafy greens!
8. Worry that later you won’t have time/opportunity to eat (ie. busy schedule). How many of you are “go-go-go” all day long and time for eating is a luxury? As a physician who may be running behind because of an earlier unexpected patient emergency, I hear you. Solution: Keep that stash of quick, healthy food/drink readily available, ALWAYS. Nuts, cheese stick, baby carrots and hummus, celery sticks and almond butter, whatever. Remember, IF you are unable to eat, as long as you are drinking, you are going to be fine for several hours. In fact, if you do not eat, but you maintain proper hydration, worse case, you will have to eat later than desired. However, your body starts to draw energy from your personal fat stores. Unless you are medically underweight, you should be ok to be burning extra fat on your body until you can eat later in the day.
Do you have other times you “hunger” triggers? How do you manage your hunger? What are some of your snacks you keep on hand?