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Are you truly hungry? Or just craving!

August 25, 2020
Mark Killick
man eating dessert

When trying to lose weight or maintain a good weight, how do you tune into your hunger and fullness cues?

Hunger and craving both encourage you to eat, but with a distinction.

Hunger is an inborn instinct. It’s the physiological drive to eat that we feel, a mild gnawing in your stomach that usually sets in a few hours after eating a meal. It’s that slight decline in energy that signals you it’s time to refuel. True hunger dissipates after eating when your body’s demand for more energy has been met.

Craving is a powerful desire for food. You generally feel cravings for a specific type of food or drink. Craving is not the same as hunger since cravings do not indicate your body’s need for energy. You may feel cravings for a specific food like chocolate, just one hour after you have had a full meal. Therefore, cravings do not indicate a need for food and neither do they result in physical weakness or discomfort. Since cravings are not physiological sensations, you can control them by ignoring them. Ignoring them for about 20 minutes can make the cravings disappear. Cravings can be brought about by hormones, emotions, associations and memories.

Hunger is the physical drive to eat while craving is the mental drive to eat.

The key is to distinguish between the two, so you don’t mistake an emotional urge to eat for a physical need. So often a person is just eating because they “want” to, because it’s a conditioned response and by tuning in to your body you can break the pattern.

This greatly reduces eating when you’re not hungry and overeating when you’re already full.

One way to do this is to become more mindful when you’re eating. Try this exercise before you eat or reach for a snack:

  • Stop – Sit quietly and tune into your body. Place your hands on your belly and tune into the area and sensations.
  • Is your stomach rumbling, or feeling empty?
  • Have your energy levels dropped?
  • Are you salivating at the thought of food?

If the answer is yes to any of the questions, carry on with the exercise. If you’re not hungry try it again later.

  • Ask – What food are you asking for? Specific foods, meat or fruit? A certain taste, salt, sweet, sour, spicy? A specific food?

Does your body want a snack or meal-sized portion?

  • Choose and Observe – Choose the food that you wish to eat. Before eating it, notice the food. Observe the shape, smell, colour, texture, temperature.
  • Eat – Take a bite and chew slowly. Notice the change in flavour and texture. Chew mindfully, and notice how fast you are eating. Become aware of when you want to take your next bite.

After every few bites, check in with the body’s sensations of hunger and fullness.

  • Check in – Rate your level of hunger. Is that gnawing feeling in your stomach still there?

Although this process sounds cumbersome, over time it will become more natural, less structured and something that you will incorporate into every meal.

Being aware of your body’s signals after eating is just as important to feelings before and during eating. In general, the slower you eat, the easier it is to tune into your body’s needs and naturally eat less.

Using this approach can help train your body into noticing the difference between craving and hunger. This can help you achieve your weight loss and weight maintenance goals.

For more information on my weight loss packages, including food psychology coaching, contact me on