Feeling hungry sucks. It’s uncomfortable, no fun, and distracting. It’s hard to get your work done when all you can think about is food or when/what you’re going to eat next. Unfortunately for most of us, we can’t just eat what we want whenever we want and still attain our fitness goals. At the same time, our bodies need fuel! So let’s learn to decipher when we should feed a rumbling stomach, and when we should just ignore it.
Are you hungry due to boredom?
Sometimes, we’re just looking for something to do, so we eat. We get bored, wander into the kitchen, and decide that food will give our hands and mouths something to do for a bit. Having a hobby that keeps your hands occupied can help. I have gone and gotten myself a snack, and had it sit there untouched for lengths of time because I was too busy with the Xbox controller or my knitting or even just doing some coloring to reach for the food rather than what I was already doing.
Are you hungry due to habit?
Maybe you always eat around this time, so even if your previous meal was huge and you’re not really hungry, your body is telling you it’s time to eat, just out of habit. Maybe you always snack on something while watching TV, or you have to have something to sip on while sitting at the computer. This is a tough habit to break. Sometimes, substitutions can work. Swap in a calorie-free flavored sparkling water for soda or alcohol. Try eating snacks that require work, such as nuts that are still in the shell, or individually wrapped string cheese. Plain, air-popped popcorn is always a good standby for something crunchy (garlic powder and salt can add some flavor without adding calories.) Try slowly weaning yourself off of the “need” to have something to munch on or drink.
Are you hungry due to thirst?
Sometimes, we think we’re hungry, but really, we’re just thirsty. Since we can get some of our daily allotment of water from some of the foods we eat (think of how much water is in an apple), it makes sense that at times we get the thirst and hunger signals crossed. If you think you may be “hungry” because you are bored or just out of habit, try drinking a large glass of water, and see if that helps satiate you for a while.
Are you hungry due to cravings?
Cravings are a bit different, because you’re hungry for something very specific. This is when you will need to “know thyself” and/or experiment to find out what works for you. Some options for handling cravings are:
- Eat a tiny portion of what you are craving.
- Eat a much healthier version of what you are craving.* (Craving something sweet? Try fruit. Salty? Some salted nuts. Crunchy? Carrot sticks. Etc.)
- Write down what you are craving, and if your eating plan involves a cheat day, make sure you get your fill on that day, and that day only.
- Draw a picture of what you are craving. I don’t know why or how this works, but I have tried it a couple times and by the time I was done sketching (I am a terrible artist, btw) I no longer craved what I had drawn.
* The caveat here is only if this actually works for you. If you try a bunch of alternatives, and none of them works, and you end up having what you were craving in the first place, you just ended up eating a lot of unnecessary food. Next time, try the option of just having a little of what you were craving to begin with.
The Apple Test
If none of the above applies, it’s time for the apple test. Or carrot test, or whatever healthy snack one feeds to kindergartners these days. Are you hungry enough that you would eat an apple? Or some carrot sticks? The idea here is not to pick a food you hate, but a food that is considered “healthy”. So often, when we get “hungry” we tend to reach for processed snack foods. If you are hungry enough to eat fresh whole food, then you truly are hungry. If you wouldn’t eat a small handful of almonds, but you would have no problem polishing off a slice of cake or pizza, then you’re probably not really that hungry.
Recognizing the difference between cravings, boredom, thirst, habit and true hunger is a skill that will greatly help you on your journey. It won’t make the hunger go away, but being able to objectively realize the difference between true hunger and the other types makes it much easier to deal with.