Hunger: Friend or Foe?

Hunger is deemed to be a four-letter word in almost every dieter’s book. It seems many people are desperately trying to find the solution to prevent hunger. In our search for the answer, is hunger really the enemy?

Hunger is a complex signaling system within our body that relies on neurons, hormones, the hypothalamus and many biochemical processes in the body. Certain hormones, such as ghrelin, act to stimulate our hunger where other ones, such as leptin, lower your desire to eat. Before you try to beat your hunger, let’s first find out how it can help you. Many people have not experienced true hunger. You may find it difficult to differentiate between hunger, stress, anxiety, boredom, or any other outside factor that may be impacting you.

We are all born with an innate sense of hunger. As a baby, you cried when you were hungry and you would stop eating when you were satisfied. Before you could even speak you made yourself understood. As a toddler, you were still in control of how much you ate. Despite the efforts of your parents to get you to eat more, you would not allow one more spoonful of anything to go into your mouth. If they were successful in getting it in, you would spit it out. The message was strong and clear: No more food.

However, your parents may have persevered at trying to get you to finish your plate. You may have been bribed with a dessert or other treat to get you to eat your vegetables. This taught you to eat all of your food because it pleased others. It didn’t seem to matter anymore whether you were hungry or not. You were taught to ignore hunger just to please someone else.

Now that you are older, you may find that you eat for other reasons besides hunger including stress, anxiety, depression, boredom, loneliness, sadness, joy, and happiness. Some people eat when they get depressed, while others lose their appetite. There are many outside factors that can influence your desire to eat. Emotional and physical factors such as stress can make you want to eat, but this is not hunger, just some other strain on your nervous system.

Hunger is described as the discomfort, weakness, or pain caused by a prolonged lack of food. Some people become irritable, shaky, or disoriented if they are not fed at their usual mealtime. Others experience hunger as feeling lightheaded, empty, low, headachy, or hollow.

Being more responsive to your hunger cues can empower you to help you get to a healthy weight. Mindful or intuitive eating is not based on deprivation, calorie counting or making foods forbidden. It is based on making peace with food, making eating pleasurable and being in tune with your mind and body. Being more connected with the hunger requires you to eat in a physically connected way – in touch with hunger and fullness.

It is time to make an ally with your hunger and let it help you on your journey to a healthy weight. Be watchful of times that you might be eating instead of dealing with some other physical stress or emotions in your life. Seek the advice of an expert if you need additional support. The Weight Treatment Center offers a variety of options to help you reach your health goals through weight loss surgery, medical weight loss, personalized counseling with our dietitian, as well as community classes.

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