I often tell myself when I go to bed, “Tomorrow! Tomorrow is when everything will change. I will eat super healthy and move closer to my weight goal.” The thing is, it’s very easy to say, but VERY HARD to follow. This means, no mindless munching at work (even on healthy snacks), not giving in to the ‘only 2 spoons’ of ice cream, and definitely not opening the fridge when I am bored.
We eat because we think we are hungry, but it isn’t that simple. There are a lot of different types of hunger. Once you know the difference between them you can tackle them for long-term weight loss.
Why do i feel hungry?
Hunger is the body’s way to maintain energy balance. Think of a fancy electronic gadget you own. They all can conserve power and keep the device in the right energy zone. Our brain does this exact thing for our body using hunger.
The energy levels are maintained using these hormones:
Ghrelin – the ‘hunger hormone’ which signals the hypothalamus in the brain that we need energy
Leptin – the ‘fullness hormones’ which lets us know when we are full
I found a short and interesting video explaining this hormonal function.
When our brain triggers hunger we know that the body is low on fuel. Once we eat something, we feel better. This is homeostatic hunger. Then, there is hedonic hunger. This is when you aren’t hungry due to low energy levels. It’s when you’re craving highly palatable and super tasty food.
Types of Hunger and how to tackle them for healthy long-term weight loss
I have been reading a lot on hunger and there are a lot of ways experts classify it. Having said that, for me the most important thing is not the number of types but what can I do to tackle each type of hunger. Thus, keeping the actionability in mind, the below classification seemed the most practical.
Physical Hunger (Stomach Hunger)
Physical hunger is when your body needs energy or fuel to go about the daily routine activities. This is also homeostatic hunger and is often referred to as ‘true’ or ‘actual’ hunger. Having said that, it doesn’t make any of the other types of hunger any less real.
Signs or Cues
It is the feeling you get when your last meal was a few hours ago or after intense physical activity. There are many signs of this hunger and can vary among people. It’s up to you to learn and recognise what your body is telling you. The signs could be fatigue, low energy, a growling or rumbling stomach, poor attention, headache or dizziness to name a few. It’s crucial to respond to this hunger immediately and provide the required nutrition.
- It is very difficult to tackle any other type of hunger if you don’t address this first, so eat!
- Respect your body’s need for fuel and don’t skip meals or go long internals without any food. This can cause other problems like hormonal imbalance, poor digestion and loss of sleep. The overeating that happens when physical hunger is not addressed is one of the big reasons why you are not losing weight.
- Form healthy habits like drinking of more water, eating protein and fiber-rich food. Avoiding processed/packaged food can also go a long way.
- I like to eat every 2 hours so I don’t get super hungry and can be objective while making food choices.
To know the difference between hunger and appetite, click here.
Taste Hunger (Eye, Nose, Mouth Hunger)
You look at a freakshake on Instagram and immediately start craving one. Or someone in the office is eating Thai food and now that is what you want too. This is what we call the taste hunger.
Signs or Cues
It can be triggered by any of your senses. Let’s imagine you are walking by a cake shop. The cakes in the window tempt you and suddenly you want to eat it – this is eye hunger. Vis-a-vis you smelling freshly baked cake and gosh, you want to sink your teeth in one. This is nose hunger. This type of hunger can exist along with physical hunger or by itself.
- The key here is learning to differentiate between physical and taste hunger and making rational choices.
- If you have eaten and are still craving something specific, find out what exactly that is. If it is something sweet, find a healthy replacement like a Greek yogurt.
- Distract yourself or exercise self-control as you don’t want to give-in here. I tend to imagine myself wearing something I can’t currently (because I love dressing up). Always works! You can find your own distraction by focusing on your goal.
- Don’t always deprive yourself. Eating dessert once a fortnight is fine but having one after every meal might not be the right thing to do.
You can find out more details on Taste Hunger here.
Emotional Hunger (Heart / Head Hunger)
This type of hunger is popularly known as Emotional Eating. This is when we indulge in food as a way to feel better about ourselves or the situation we are in.
Signs or Cues
Emotional hunger or emotional eating is when your desire to eat food is accompanied by a strong emotion. These could be negative (helplessness, sadness or anxiety), or positive emotions (happiness or excitement). The satisfaction after eating is short-lived and is often followed by massive guilt. This leads to a desire of repeating the process to ‘feel good’ again, making it an unhealthy and vicious cycle.
- It’s ok to eat emotionally because, well, we all need the comfort, but it’s critical that we don’t make this a habit.
- Identifying the feeling that’s triggering emotional hunger. Try to address the problem at hand instead of looking for comfort in food.
- You can deal with this by distracting yourself:
- Call a friend or a family member
- Watch your favourite TV series or those super addictive cat videos on YouTube
- Go out for a walk
- Learn to say ‘No’! Focus on the bigger goal you have set for yourself.
- I have been a victim of emotional and stress eating for a long time. For me, it was always boredom and it took me a while to understand this (huh!). Good thing is that life has gotten very busy over the last few years and so it doesn’t leave me much time to get bored. Blessing in disguise I guess. However, there are a few very interesting ways of dealing with stress eating that you can consider.
I like it when things are, well, practical. This isn’t really a type of hunger but a practical call that you make to eat food to avoid being super hungry later. It could be hunger pangs when the clock strikes 7 pm or having a quick meal before getting into a long meeting.
Practical hunger is a very useful tool to avoid getting too hungry as that can be your biggest barrier to weight loss.
I’ll skip the ‘Signs & cues’ for this hunger, as I said that this isn’t hunger, per se.
- Honestly, I don’t think this hunger needs a fix, although we need to be careful about our food choices.
- Form a healthy eating schedule that you are comfortable with.
- Always keep healthy food options handy like handful of dry fruits, an energy bar, Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, etc.
You can get more details on Practical Hunger here.
The above tips have really helped me in my weight loss journey. And I hope they make sense to you too.
If you’re having trouble listening to these hunger cues, check out this article where I covered this topic at length.