Are you eating out of physical or emotional hunger? Many of us have a tumultuous love affair with food. There are times we are in control, but then we break down and indulge in behaviour that we know is not good for us. On and off, up and down. And so the affair continues…
The solution lies in understanding the difference between emotional and physical hunger and the reasons behind food cravings. Awareness of the hunger’s cause is the first step, to be followed by actions that promote healthy eating and a healthy body image. The Internet provides a plethora of information on this topic but the nutritionists, counsellors and psychologists of wellness programmes will be able to assist you on your journey to a healthy relationship with food.
Feeling hungry at certain points of the day is a natural feeling that sends our brains the signal to look for food that can give us the energy we need to perform the tasks we need to do. However, if you’re feeling hungry all day long, you need to take a closer look.
It’s important to learn to differentiate between physical hunger and hunger brought on by other triggers such as smell. Here are five scenarios you may recognise that could lead you to feel hungry throughout the day.
You haven’t had any breakfast and it’s already a good few hours into the day
You are most likely feeling physical hunger. This manifests as a slight grumble in your stomach at first and is often accompanied by thoughts of food. If you don’t eat at this point, you may start feeling a little tired or dizzy, less focused or even irritable. It’s important to eat well-balanced snacks and meals at regular intervals throughout the day to ensure you are getting the energy you need from food, so even starting your day with an apple or a handful of nuts is better than skipping breakfast completely.
You exercise until you are ravenous
Exercising is good for your health, but exercising to the point that you are so hungry that you want to eat everything you can get your hands on afterwards, means you will most likely overeat. You need energy to exercise and we also need energy to recover, so try a few scenarios in which you either eat something a few hours or a few minutes before exercising, and have something filling and satisfying available at home already that you can eat when you are done – this will prevent the urge to stop for a fast-food takeaway on your way home. With optimal energy levels, you will be able to exercise better and recover well.
Do you feel hungry every day at midday regardless of what and when you have eaten during the morning? In a work routine, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of always eating at the same time and so you may be eating even if you are not physically hungry. If you had breakfast a few hours ago then yes, you will be hungry by midday, but if you had a slice of cake for a colleague’s birthday at 11:00 am, chances are you won’t be physically hungry by 12 pm. However, if this is the only hour you get for lunch, rather have a smaller portion than usual and save some of your lunch for an afternoon snack.
Hunger triggered by smell or sight
When you walk past a bakery and smell the warm baked goods, the sweet cinnamon, or just see the muffins in the shop window, you may feel immediately hungry and be tempted to go in and buy something to eat there and then, but it is worth remembering that the smell or sight of food can trigger feelings of hunger that then fade away after a minute or so if you are not physically hungry. Again, stop and ask yourself when you last ate something and whether you are physically hungry or not. If you are, make a healthy choice for something satisfying to eat. If not, keep going or buy something from the bakery which you can eat later when you really are hungry.
Much the same as the smell or sight trigger, emotions can trigger us to eat even if we are not hungry. If you find that you are wanting to constantly snack on something, even after a well-balanced meal, check what you may be feeling: celebratory, sad, angry, frustrated, bored… All of these are emotions which can make us want to eat comfort foods, which usually end up being foods high in sugar or fat. Try to take the time to figure out what is actually causing the particular emotion and deal with it appropriately. For example, if you are feeling bored, go for a quick walk outside or listen to an interesting podcast for 10 minutes – this is a much better option that ordering those fries which are going to give you excess kilojoules that you don’t need.
As important as it is to learn what physical hunger is, it’s good to know when you are full so that you don’t overeat. A meal or snack should leave you feeling energised and satisfied. Make sure your choices are well-balanced, that they contain ingredients you enjoy eating and make the time to eat slowly and savour your meal. At the end of the day, healthy eating should be enjoyable and flavourful.
Financial Mail, 22 October 2014
Sound Bites Nutrition course material and Virgin Active SA blog