Hunger is a familiar sensation. It’s a way for the body to tell you it needs sustenance. However, you don’t always eat because you’re hungry. Hunger is essential to survive, but it’s not the driving force that has you finishing snacks when you’ve already had a meal. Cravings can occur because of a nutritional deficiency, but they can also be because you want a pleasure boost.
As a result, many people don’t know when they’re hungry. This is when you end up with mindless eating. Many people struggle with weight loss because of eating from emotional cues rather than giving the body what it needs. One of the ways to maintain a healthy weight is to practice mindful eating. But to have the awareness necessary for healthy eating habits is to know the different types of hunger and how to respond to them.
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How does hunger work?
A sensation occurs in your stomach where it feels empty and can start to grumble. The hormone ghrelin is released and signals that it’s time to eat. It’s released when the stomach is empty. After eating, the body shuts down the release of ghrelin and releases leptin which tells the body it’s time to stop eating.
However, sometimes you may eat when you’re not hungry but because you’re bored, celebrating, stressed, or perhaps your mouth is lonely. You should aim to eat for nourishment and to remain healthy.
Due to the lack of mindful eating habits, you may eat for social cues rather than your body’s cues. Being easily distracted or eating without paying attention can lead to overeating, leading to health complications. Recognizing different types of hunger and responding appropriately can help you learn to better recognize the body’s hormone cues.
Types of hunger
1. Eye hunger
This is when you want to eat because the food looks appetizing. Well-presented or decorated meals such as cakes or pizza are more likely to trigger cravings than fruit. You can use this to help you eat healthier meals. When eating fruits and vegetables, arrange them colourfully and try to garnish them to please you more and reduce the impact of cravings for unhealthy snacks. Nose hunger also falls here because the sensory reception of food smells can trigger hunger. Even when you’ve just eaten, the smell of sauteed onions can make you want to eat.
2. Mouth/taste of hunger
As you grow older, you develop particular tastes for food. Often this can be driven by your body’s nutritional needs. For instance, when you’re going through your period, you may gravitate towards red meat. If you indulge in these cravings often, you may condition your body to eat at almost all times. Growing up, meals were scheduled. When schedules no longer restrict you, it’s easy to fall into a habit of eating whenever you have a craving. Your mouth will want various textures or tastes. To control this hunger, chew your food in small bites and savour each bite. Appreciating each bite helps sate any cravings for a few hours.
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3. Physical hunger
This is caused by scheduled eating. If your body is used to receiving food at specific times, it will release the hormones to make you feel hungry even if you’re not hungry. A diet rich in ultra-processed foods or anxiety can also trigger hunger pangs even when you’re not hungry. Give it some time before you eat to know if you’re hungry or just having cravings. If the sensation subsides, you can wait a few more hours before eating.
4. Cellular hunger
As a child, you instinctively know when you need to eat. After ageing, this ability slowly fades to allow your body to function outside of a feeding schedule. However, you may not always know which nutrients your body needs. When you have more awareness of nutritional cravings, you can change your diet to meet these needs. Mood problems can cause specific cravings, while others are because of dietary deficiencies. If you’re craving bananas, this could be because you have a potassium deficiency. Salt cravings could be because of dehydration or lacking electrolytes.
5. Emotional hunger
Food can trigger happiness. As a result, it’s possible to lean into eating to get a jolt of joy. When you’re feeling down, happy, or bored, your body can make you want to eat. Emotional hunger becomes a problem when you make eating a coping mechanism. Emotional eating is a habit that needs to be addressed to preserve your mental health.
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6. Practical hunger
This is the hunger that occurs because your body needs refuelling. This means eating when you are hungry or eating beforehand because you know you won’t have time to eat later. This can be an essential tool to stay nourished if you have a busy schedule or won’t have access to food.
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How does this help you?
Understanding your body’s nutritional cues will help you create better eating habits to avoid unhealthy weight gain. Fed state is when your body has gotten food, providing energy. When you’re not in a fed state, your body’s hunger cues can be caused by multiple factors. It’s important to know what type of hunger you’re experiencing to avoid unhealthy habits and eat healthier.
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