Eat when hungry, stop eating when full. It couldn’t be more simple could it? Well maybe not, but most people still fail to live by this basic principle. Why?

Genuine physical hunger is when we need to eat, but humans have gradually lost sight of this true physical state and confuse it with a multitude of unnecessary cravings such as boredom eating, stress eating and all manner of reasons to stuff food into themselves and rack up the calorie intake.

What is hunger?

It is one of the body’s most primary and critical instincts. Put simply it is the body’s motivation to find and ingest the nutrients it needs to function.

It is actually a far more complicated process than you might at first think and involves an interaction between the digestive system, endocrine system and of course the brain.

It is widely felt that we feel hunger when we are nutrient depleted. It is also thought that we enter the hunger zone when our blood glucose level drops. Here are some accepted signs of hunger

  • Empty stomach
  • Growling stomach
  • Light-headedness
  • Headache
  • Loss of energy
  • Weakness

We all know about the rumbling stomach – invariably it happens at the most inopportune times! This can be caused when it is empty or when it is digesting food thanks to the release of digestive fluids and contraction of stomach muscles.


Why do we eat when not hungry?

Habits and learned behaviour have a lot to account for when it comes to this! Mind hunger is affected by external matters and not just because we are internally hungry. For example, if a clock says 1pm or 7pm we set the process of eating in motion even if we’re not actually hungry.

Our emotional state can also play a huge part in our eating habits

When anxious, stressed, fatigued, angry, under pressure, we can turn to food even though hunger is not involved. Psychological hunger can have devastating effects and lead to chronic obesity and a variety of illnesses and ailments.


What might be less well known is the dehydration can offer a false hunger reading and have us reaching for food. Hunger and thirst are both controlled by the hypothalamus which sends the same signal to cover both scenarios – hence it being easy to read the signal wrongly and reach for food instead of liquid.

Staying properly hydrated is a truly effective way to stave of apparent hunger cravings. 

When are we full?

When we are properly in tune with our body we are fully able to read the signals from nerves in the stomach that we have taken on enough food to be full. We feel satisfied and understand that it is time to stop eating. We don’t have to be ‘stuffed’ (it is better not to be!) but to simply have taken on enough food.

However, once again that is not as easy and clear cut as it might seems. It takes around 20 minutes for the stomach to send signals of satiety to the brain. Therefore if we eat to fast we end up ahead of ourselves, and by the time we realise we are full, we are actually stuffed!

The answer is to eat at a steady and reasonable pace.

Food Types

The type of food we consume dictates how we feel in terms of hunger or fullness. In fact this is probably the biggest factor of all when it comes to this whole subject. Detailed studies show that protein appears to stave off hunger more effectively than anything else.

Protein provides greater satiety than carbs and fat. Fat appears to have the least effect in keeping hunger at bay.

It seems that water is key when it comes to food and satiating properties. Food that is low in energy density and high in water content boosts satiety.


Mindful Eating

In more recent years the phrase Mindful Eating has come to the fore and a quick dip into LinkedIn will allow you to unearth any number of Mindful Eating Experts. But what is it?

You could also call it ‘intuitive eating’. It doesn’t mean sticking to a planned diet to reach your goals, but rather allows for the body to become better attuned to what it needs, how much and when – taking proper cues from feelings of genuine hunger and fullness.

To help in this regard there is a Hunger & Fullness Scale

Based on this scale it is recommended to eat when you judge yourself to be sitting at 3-4 on the scale. Once you reach 6-7 you should stop.

The Hunger & Fullness Scale

  • 1. Extremely hungry, dizzy & weak
  • 2. Very hungry, low energy, irritable, stomach rumbling
  • 3. Pretty hungry, stomach growling a bit
  • 4. Starting to feel a little hungry
  • 5. Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
  • 6. Pleasantly full
  • 7. A little bit uncomfortable
  • 8. Feeling stuffed
  • 9. Stomach hurting, very uncomfortable
  • 10. Way too full and feel sick!

This scale is a very useful way to see how you really feel and help with the whole eat when hungry stop when full conundrum!

Connect here with WatchFit Expert Diane Youdale

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