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The Many Faces of Hunger: When Is Being Hungry Not Really Being Hungry?

In their book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works,” co-authors, Evelyn Tribole, M.S.R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S.R.D.F.A.D.A., say, “A dieting body is a starving body.” This is because when you’re on a diet, your body doesn’t know that food is plentiful. It is fooled into thinking that you’re in the midst of a famine and your body responds accordingly by adapting and changing the way it functions, conserving energy to compensate for the lack of fuel.

Do you struggle with these challenges?

Do you often feel sluggish and tired all the time? • Can’t stop thinking about food? Cravings got you by the nose? • Do you take huge mouthfuls of food, often swallow without chewing or drag out a meal for hours? • Do you find yourself binging and overeating many times throughout the day? • Do you often exercise more so that you can eat more? • Are you usually moody, depressed, irritable, grouchy, or angry?

If your answer was, “yes” to most of these questions, there’s a good chance that you’re walking around hungry too often without even knowing it. The result of all this emphasis focusing on everything outside of your body, shuts down your awareness to what is actually going on internally. With all that shouting in your head, it’s difficult to hear the soft whispers of your body until your hunger becomes so ravenous that you end up eating everything that’s not nailed down. Have you ever eaten yourself into what I call a ‘food coma’?

That’s the point at which you’re passed out on the sofa or feeling the pain of nausea or you just can’t get up because your body is so bloated that your stomach feels as big as a beach ball about to explode. I know I’ve been there because I feared that I would never be able to eat that food again, so I had to eat as much as I could while I had it. How ‘bout you?

In order for you to avoid this situation, you’ve got to re-establish trust with your body so that it will stop reacting as though it is starving. You must biologically recondition your body so that it can return back to healthy functioning. Your first step to doing this is to become aware of the different signals your body uses to indicate that you are hungry.

How Biological Hunger Shows Up in Your Body

Tune into your body by paying attention to how you feel more often. Each time you eat, ask yourself, “Am I hungry? What’s my hunger level? Remember a time when you felt hungry once before. Think about how your mouth felt, how did your stomach feel? If you can’t pinpoint those specifics, then the following list shows some general guidelines of body signals indicating hunger.

I also recommend using The Hunger Scale. This is a numbered scale that measures different levels of hunger by defining what is occurring in the body.

I’ve listed them in order of intensity from mild to severe as follows:

• mild gurgling or gnawing of the stomach • growling noises • light headedness • difficulty concentrating • uncomfortable stomach pain • irritability • headache • feeling faint

These physical reminder sensations occur when you haven’t eaten a meal for between 5-9 hours. That simply means that the body’s reserves of energy are depleted and you need to eat to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings.

The Many Faces of Your Hunger

There are other types of hunger that push you to eat when you’re not really hungry.

Emotional Hunger or emotional eating: When you’re eating and experiencing conflicted or intense emotions, it’s not your body that’s pushing your hungry buttons, it’s your emotions. This is because, rather than being driven to eat by your body’s physiological needs, you are getting triggered by your need to eat whenever you’re under stress, feel bored, excited, joyous, tired, anxious or angry. These are just a few of the feelings that you may experience when you are getting triggered by the hunger that is known as emotional eating.

Besides emotional eating, there are several other types of hunger that we all experience to some degree or another. If you are an emotional eater, you will feel especially vulnerable and pressured to eat in these situations:

Taste hunger – When you eat because it just tastes so darned good or because you want to be sociable and fit in with the crowd and not stick out like a sore thumb. For example you may find yourself feeling the need to always eat cake whenever you’re at a birthday party or you’ve just got to order yourself up a double order of chili dogs whenever you route for your favorite team. And let’s not forget about the must have double buttered popcorn you’ve got to get when you’re hanging out with friends at the movies.

Many people feel they must eat cake at a birthday party, have a hot dog at the ballgame, popcorn while watching a movie, or whenever the occasion calls for eating. Oftentimes people eat whether or not they are actually hungry. Think of all the times you’ve eaten just because someone offered you food and you didn’t want to hurt their feelings or be thought of as snotty.

Think of the bride who eats her wedding cake despite being hungry – it’s perfectly okay and understandable. Everybody eats to be sociable and gets carried away sometimes. Practical hunger – When you’re eating according to the clock. For example, you look at your watch and say, “Oh it’s 12:00, it must be lunch time” How hungry you are, is entirely dependent upon when you ate last and how big the meal was. Your stomach has an internal clock that is very different from the watch on your wrist. By eating on automatic, you are not listening to your body’s signals.

To determine if you’re really hungry, ask yourself, “When was the last time I ate, and how does my body feel? If you want to synchronize your stomach’s hunger with your social plans, then eat smaller meals during the day. I like to call this, “eating to fill a corner, rather than a cavern.” Emotional hunger – This is eating in order to squelch the volume on uncomfortable and overwhelming emotions ranging from sadness to joy. The only way to deal with this type of hunger is to cope with the stress in your life and to legalize all foods so that they won’t be so deeply emotionally burdening to you. Remember learning how to master food and feel safe around what you may now consideration ‘temptation’ is a process. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to learn a great deal about yourself. To my way of thinking, self-acceptance begins by making peace with food.

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