4 Ways to Decode Your Hunger

How to understand your hunger cues.

Posted Dec 07, 2019

Quiz: When the thought, "I'm hungry," pops into your mind, your first internal response is:

  • a) Am I really hungry or just bored/stressed/anxious?
  • b) I am always hungry, 24/7!
  • c) Maybe if I just ignore the feeling, it will go away.
  • d) I'm hungry. Oh no, now what do I do?
  • e) I shouldn't be hungry; I just ate.
  • f) I know just what I need/want to eat.

As you can see, knowing when and if you are really hungry isn't always a straightforward answer. 

If you struggle with knowing when to eat, you aren't alone. It's not easy to decode hunger cues. In part, it's because the signs aren't always clear, or they have become skewed from years of dieting

Source: istock

In Hanger Management, I dive deep into the reasons why answering your hunger is complicated and provide tips for hearing your hunger accurately and mindfully again. Here are a few examples:

1. Be curious, not critical of your hunger. Too often, our first response to the thought, "I'm hungry," is, "Oh no, how could I be hungry again!" Instead, interview your hunger like an impartial witness. When your hunger pops up, ask, "What does it want? How intense is it?" Have an open mind to your hunger.

2. When your hunger knocks, answer it. I liken hunger cues to a neighbor knocking on your door. If you try to ignore the knock, the neighbor will just knock louder until you give them whatever they want to quiet them down. The same happens with your hunger. So take a pause and welcome your hunger in. This will help you answer it in a mindful way rather than grabbing for something just to make your stomach be quiet. 

3. Change your language. Instead of answering with "What do I want," ask, "What do I need?" What we want and need are two different things. We want many things in the world that are not accessible or reasonable: You may want a Mustang convertible, but what you need is a car to get you from point A to B. Similarly, you may want French fries, but what you may "need" is a snack that gives you energy. It's OK if you need a treat sometimes, too—we need food in our lives,

4. Figure out if you're full vs. satiated. Ask yourself, "Am I satisfied?" vs. "Am I full?" For many of us, this is a language shift and is very different than stopping when you are "full," which is often a heavy physical feeling. Satisfied is more mental and physical in nature. Continue to check in when you eat to see if you are "satisfied."  

Find more ways to decode your hunger in Hanger Management.