Hunger seems like a simple thing – we’re either hungry or we’re not. In fact it’s a lot more complicated because different factors drive us to think or feel that we are hungry. Learning to listen and understand the differences is key to being able to manage how we eat, the quantity of food we consume and what we choose to nourish ourselves, in as wide a sense as possible. During my struggle with disordered eating it was revolutionary in my thinking, to get to grips with what I thought was physical hunger, by understanding all the other drivers which were encouraging me to eat.
Having researched and defined my own connection with hunger, I believe there are eight types:
1. Stomach hunger – the one we all know as rumbling and gurgling and a feeling of being empty. But we all eat a lot of food so our stomachs stretch and hence the rumbling feeling we get is sometimes our stomach contracting, as we learn to eat less. At the Clinic we work hard on understanding physical levels of hunger to create some perspective around the symptoms.
2. Emotional hunger – one where feelings drive us to eat with the desire to alter, deny or answer emotions through food. It comes on quickly and is usually a craving for a specific food (often high sugar and fat).
3. Nutritional hunger – when the body is craving particular nutrition. Our bodies are complex and need an array of nutrients to function properly. We often experience this type of hunger if our body is looking for an improvement in the quality of our diet. In the western world most people are not underfed but many are malnourished. In these situations, are body will encourage our appetite until we satisfy our nutritional need.
4. Hydration hunger – we are often thirsty when we think we are hungry. Filling water bottles is a relatively new thing - historically much of our hydration came from food and we can confuse the signals for physical or nutritional hunger. Drinking in response to what we think are physical hunger cues can be a good weight management strategy (as well as ensuring we drink enough water!).
5. Variety hunger – when we are eating a limited number of foods all the time with little variety. Our taste buds are bored, our eating process is bored, so we keep eating to satisfy that hunger, even if we are full. This type of hunger also ties in with nutritional hunger.
6. Blood sugar hunger – when our blood sugar levels dip low and we can be driven to eat specific foods to get our energy levels back. We often choose high sugar foods which create an instant serotonin release - this satisfies blood sugar hunger, sadly though, the high crashes pretty quickly so this kind of hunger can be a viscous circle unless we change our diet to eat slower release carbohydrates. (For a graphic of this sugar cycle, see my article on Energy giving eating.)
7. Senses hunger – two elements to this: our eyes, ears or nose are stimulated by a food or by others eating and it makes us think we are hungry to join in and to eat the food which has excited us! This can be wonderful of course, but too often it will have an impact on our weight. Secondly: the senses need to be satisfied as well as our stomachs to be full. The mouth, for example needs a variety of flavours and textures. The eyes are satisfied by beautiful and colourful food.
8. Time hunger – the clock says lunch or dinner-time so we eat. Have we asked ourselves if we are really hungry and how much we need to satisfy our appetite?
You can hear me talk about these types of hunger on my YouTube channel here:
Hope these definitions help you to understand your hunger better. It can help you eat only when your body (or occasionally your emotions) need food but also, to broaden the things you do in response to some of the hungers. That can include new activities, recipes, and routines.
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