How many times a day do you find yourself meandering towards the kitchen in search of something to eat? I know for myself eating is on my mind many times throughout the day. Is it boredom, is it a distraction from work or is it a true hunger? Today I will differentiate between these various eating "triggers".
What Is Hunger?
Hunger is an urge to eat. Appeasing the urge creates satiety, after which no desire to eat exists. In contrast, appetite—"trigger", refers to signals that guide dietary selection, often in the absence of obvious hunger. Appetite comes mostly from a psychological state but can also have a physiological dimension, such as the desire for salty or sweet foods. Further, these forces mainly are “positive” signals.
Social influences like religion, philosophy, presence of others, taste, anxiety, stress, psychological disturbances, environmental factors such as climate and metabolic factors (hormone levels, caloric requirements), aromas, meal time, memories, and certain food advertisements are the external factors that influence our eating habits and patterns.
Hunger is mostly regulated by internal cues to eating, while it is largely the external influences that govern appetite. The physiologic basis of appetite and hunger is not completely understood but it is clear that both internal and external cues regulate how we eat.
Hunger That Means the Body Is Ready for More Food
What is true hunger? True hunger means that the stomach is finished digesting the last meal and is ready to begin digesting more food. On average it takes the stomach about 3 1/2 hours to empty itself after a meal. If less time has passed than this and you are feeling hungry you can do a simple test to find out if your sensation of hunger is actually stemming from an real emptiness of the stomach or your appetite is at work. Offer yourself a salad. Does that sound satisfying? If you truly are hungry, a healthy meal will sound good to you. If you are simply wanting to entertain yourself with food you will want something more interesting like a processed carbohydrate or refined food that is more of a "fun food".
Hunger Stemming From Anxiety
Food is comforting. Often times a person will feel hungry because they need comforting. Food is often used to self-medicate by numbing or calming oneself with the comforting feeling that food offers. If you just ate two hours ago and you are feeling hungry, sit down and ask yourself if you are anxious, upset or stressed out about something. Often times, recognizing your emotions and comfirming them along with some deep breathing can alleviate the need to calm yourself with food.
Hunger As a Result of Boredom
What is hunger from boredom? Sometimes we find ourselves hungry even though we have just had a meal an hour or two ago. A good thing to do at this point is simply to find something to do for an hour or so and set a timer so you do not eat before the hour is up. Hunger from boredom is very common and can easily be averted by simply finding something to do other than eat. Eating out of boredom is a habit that can be broken fairly easily by practicing a pattern interrupt. This is when we break a habit like eating of boredom by adding a new habit to our routine. This could be going for a walk when you feel hunger from boredom or drinking tea(one of my faves) instead of eating, etc... Just develop a habit that is different from the one that was not serving you in a positive way such as eating when bored.
Hunger Because of Nutritional Deficiency
The main purpose of consuming food is to give our body nutrients which are fuel for our body so it can function properly. When we eat foods with other than optimal nutritional value and the body does not receive the minerals, fats, vitamins and fibers that it needs, it will send out a hunger signal to let you know that it still needs some nutrients. This is why a person that eats an other than optimal diet can continue to experience hunger even though they have just had a meal. Remember though that this is not true hunger but appetite disguised as hunger. This appetite may also trigger cravings of certain foods that the body needs more of for the nutritional value. A person who eats an optimal diet will require far less food than a person who consumes a Standard American Diet (SAD) because all of the food they put into their systems gives the body the necessary nutrients for optimal functioning.
Hunger From Food Cravings
A food craving(social trigger) is an insatiable desire for a certain food that may not go away until that particular food is consumed. One way to test if you are actually hungry or if you are just experiencing a craving is to ask yourself if a salad would satisfy you in the moment you are craving something. If you truly are hungry, a salad will probably be a welcome meal. If you are having a chocolate craving and are not actually hungry, a salad will not seem appetizing. When I worked at Jenny Craig I would tell clients that if they were craving something to distract themselves for an hour or so and if the craving did not go away to have a small amount of what they were craving. Usually if you give yourself time to think about it you will realize you did not really need that particular food. The best part is the feeling of empowerment when you resist the temptation. You will also create a new habit and resisting will get easier and easier!
I hope this will help all of you pinpoint particular eating "triggers" and make new, healthy habits in there place! For healthy eating tips, check out my Healthy You Series.