Physiological hunger vs habituated hunger
In an excellent article on the Biology of Hunger, John Immel, founder of Joyful Belly, talks about the 4 internal mechanisms that control hunger.
First mechanism: the physical sensation of either emptiness and fullness. When your stomach is empty, ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is produced to stimulate appetite. You’ll feel hungry.
Second mechanism: the amount of nutrients in your bloodstream. When you’re eating nutrient dense foods like, fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats you will feel satiated. However, if you don’t have enough of these foods, you’ll feel deprived and hungry.
Third mechanism: the hunger-abating hormones. Hormones in the small intestine will be released to suppress the sensation of hunger once enough food is in the gut. They give you a sensation of fullness.
Fourth mechanism: the satiation hormones. Leptin, a hormone secreted by the fat cells in your body will make you feel satisfy when you eat.
Your body is highly intelligent and wise.
It strives for balance. AND it needs your support, your love and care.
However, in this western modern society, our lifestyle is often in opposition with the body’s natural bio-rhythms. We skip meals, eat calorie rich and nutrient poor foods, we overeat, diet, detox and overeat again, while running businesses, raising children, cleaning the house and doing the dishes!
Your appetite becomes habituated to incorrect eating habits
If this is your life, then chances are what you feel as hunger is a habituated hunger, and not natural physiological hunger.
The consequences of habituated hunger is weight gain, hormonal imbalance, insomnia and other physiological symptoms linked to bio-rhythms.
In order to come back to balance, you need to reset your hunger.
5 tips to reset your hunger
#1: Eat without distractions or portion out your food. When you’re eating while reading a book, watching a movie or on the computer, you won’t be able to recognize the signals your body’s hormones are sending you. You won’t feel full and will overeat, burdening your digestive system and liver. The result is a buildup of waste and toxins due to faulty digestion.
Now I understand that sometimes it’s difficult to stop doing what you’re doing. So the next best thing is to portion out your food. How do you do that? Open the palms of your hands. This is the size of your stomach. This is the amount of food that you want to have on your plate. A little less will be even better so you leave space in your stomach so it can churn your food.
#2: Leave at least 3 hours between each meal. It takes about 3 hours for your body to digest a right-portioned plant-based meal. If you eat meat and other animal foods like eggs and cheese it will take a little longer. When you wait at least 3 hours before eating again, your blood sugar levels will have come down and insulin and ghrelin will be secreted to give you a hunger feeling again.
#3: Don’t snack, instead have a mini meal. Some natures have strong metabolism. Also when you work out intensely and regularly, your metabolism will heighten. In this case, instead of snacking, have mini meals. Or make your snack part of a mini meal. That means, eat less but every 3 hours. And eat a real meal. This will prevent you from adding sugary snacks that will spike your blood sugar levels.
What you think is intuitive is really a social conditioning!
#4: Don’t skip meals. Most of us skip meals either because we’re distracted by something or we don’t feel hungry. So it would seem that stopping to eat then is counter-intuitive, right? Wrong! Skipping meals, especially breakfast and lunch wreak havoc on your hormones and metabolism. From an Ayurvedic point of view, our hunger is stronger during breakfast and strongest during lunch. Therefore, you need to respond to your body’s messages.
“With ignored hunger ghrelin continues to increase and over time. If you continue ignoring that hunger, your body now goes into energy conservation mode because it’s not getting the energy it needs. It’s how the body compensates,” writes dietician and nurse practitioner Robyn Nohling.
“Ignore/suppress hunger >> ghrelin levels rise >> ignore/suppress hunger >> stress hormones rise because of assumed starvation >> body compensates by conserving energy >> frustration because 1) you’re eating less and not achieving your goal of losing weight OR even more frustrating, weight gain occurs from elevated stress hormones.”
What are you hungry for?
#5: Become aware of the underlying thought processes. In a previous post, I shared that, hunger can also be our body’s way to let us know that something is amiss. A person’s behavior deeply bothers us. A relationship is no longer working for us. We can’t stand our job. Stress eating feels like we’re hungry but the body is not. And it is a sign of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is when our actions are in contradiction with our deepest beliefs and aspirations. First, you want to be aware of this. And second, you want to put your big girl panties on and face the underlying issue.
“Hunger is not something to suppress or associate with shame or judgement.”
I agree with Robyn. A healthy approach to hunger and really anything is to seek to understand, rather than suppress.