Why does it seem like my stomach is constantly talking to me? I’m sure several of you have this problem too! Could it be that I am imagining I’m hungry, but I am really bored or tired? Has it become habit to eat at certain times of the day, for example a late night snack? There are many reasons why we may feel hunger more than we’d like and there are also some reasons why we may mistaken hunger for something else (thirsty?). Click HERE for a recent article that touches on the following reasons your body thinks it is hungry and ways to combat these false signals.
1) Lack of sleep – Falling short on sleep (not getting 7-8 hours of shut-eye per night) affects hormones that regulate appetite. Leptin, the “fullness” hormone, decreases with insufficient sleep and ghrelin, the “hungry” hormone increases with lack of sleep. Also, if you are awake more hours in the day, that allows more time to think about eating and craving food.
2) Medications – Some drugs including mild steroids, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications may stimulate appetite and lead to higher calorie consumption and weight gain.
3) Thirst – Dehydration symptoms mimic hunger symptoms (low energy, tired), leading us to confuse hunger for thirst. Try drinking some water or unsweetened tea and wait about 10 minutes to determine if still need to eat or if you were just parched!
4) Time of day: “mealtime” – Our hormones adapt to our eating style and food habits. For example, if you always skip breakfast, you will not be hungry in the morning; If you are a late night snacker, you will always be ready for your treat before bedtime. By eating consistent, balanced meals throughout the day (not going longer than 4-5 hours between consuming some nourishment to prevent overeating at the next meal) will “re-train” your hormones. This will allow us to become Intuitive Eaters and listen to our hunger and fullness signals that let us know when we should eat and when we should stop; not just eat because it is “lunchtime.”
5)Post-workout – While replenishing glycogen stores (think complex carbohydrates) and repairing muscle (think lean protein) is recommended post-intense workout, we often overestimate how much food we need. Choose a light snack with this combination within 30 minutes of your workout and if it is time for your next meal, make sure to include all components of the balanced plate (1/2 fruits/veggies; 1/4 lean protein, 1/4 whole grain).
6) Post-meal hunger – It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to receive a “full” signal from your stomach after digesting a meal. If you feel hungry soon after eating, give it some time to determine if you have had enough or if you need a few more bites. Take your time while eating by chewing slowly, putting down your utensil between bites, and being mindful during mealtime.
7) Social eating – We often mimic those who surround us. In today’s social scene we often suggest having lunch, having drinks, or meeting for dinner. If we see others indulging then we give ourselves permission to do the same. Try suggesting other social activities aside from eating or be the one to set the stage and make healthy eating infectious!
8) “See” food – The smell of fresh baked cookies, or the site of a freshly frosted cake stimulates your appetite. This can even occur when viewing television commercials for fast food or the cooking channel. If you can avoid the pathway through these temptation, it is much easier to keep cravings in check.
9) Stress/boredom – Emotional eating and actual chemical reactions causing hunger pangs result from anxiety or stress. Keep in mind that food will not solve the underlying stress and that there are other forms of coping. If you are bored, find a new hobby, call a friend, or take a walk. Do something that helps provide a more peaceful environment conducive to weight-loss success!
A food journal is a great way to start looking at your overall eating style. By keeping track of what you eat and when you eat, along with the day to day activities that take place surrounding meal and snack time, it is easier to assess what may be triggering your hunger or if you are truly physically hungry. We often fear hunger; our natural instinct is to not go hungry for survival. However, in today’s environment, I promise we will not go hungry. We are overfed and undernourished. Our goal should be choosing foods that are satiating and healthy vs. the fillers that just tide us over til the next time we think we should eat something.
Krista Haynes, R.D.