How to Manage Signs of Hunger to Lose Weight

hunger signals
Mustafa/ Arican E+/ Getty Images

Ever wake up feeling hungry, or feel your stomach rumbling after skipping lunch? Hunger signals are your body's way of communicating your hunger level and your sense of satisfaction. If you can recognize the important signs of hunger it becomes easier to eat only when you need to and avoid the mindless nibbling or stress-based eating that can derail your diet.

Identify Signs of Hunger

When you are truly hungry, your body sends a signal to your brain that you need to eat.

This signal is different than a craving which is a message that you want to eat.  

When your stomach is empty, you may feel your tummy start to rumble. You might even notice a hollow feeling in your belly. If you don't eat anything once you begin feeling this way, you may develop a headache, start to feel nauseated or have problems concentrating. You may also feel a noticeable energy drop or get light-headed.

It's important to learn to identify when your body tells you that you need to eat. Why? Because if you allow yourself to get overly-hungry, you set yourself up for making poor eating choices. You may eat too fast or eat the wrong foods, both of which can lead to weight gain.

Identify Signs of Satisfaction

As you eat, food goes to your stomach. The stomach begins to expand and sends signals to your brain that you no longer need to consume food. The signal may be subtle, but your brain will actually tell you when you have had enough to eat.

When you eat the right amount of food, you will notice that the signs of hunger begin to fade. You begin to feel satisfied and content, but not "stuffed." Experts call this feeling a sense of satiety. You no longer feel hungry and as you recognize these signs of satisfaction, you realize you don't feel like eating more.

Identify Signs of Fullness

If you are not accustomed to listening to the important signs of hunger and satisfaction, you may occasionally feel the urge to eat even when you are full. If you do, you begin to feel discomfort. Your belly feels tight, like you are stuffed.  These signs of fullness are your body's way of telling you (again) to stop eating. 

Use a Hunger Scale 

To learn to identify the different phases of hunger, you may find it helpful to use a hunger scale. This scale will help you to recognize various stages of hunger.

  1. Very hungry
  2. Hungry
  3. Slightly hungry
  4. Satisfied
  5. Not hungry
  6. Over-full or "stuffed"

Before you begin to eat, take a moment to identify where your hunger falls on the scale of 1 to 6. Then eat slowly and eat only until you have taken the edge off of your hunger. Stop eating, take a few deep breaths and think about where you rate on the hunger scale. If you keep a food diary, it's also helpful to record where you fall on the scale after eating as well.

For most of us, falling somewhere between a 3 and a 4 is a comfortable place to be.

When you identify your own comfort zone, you will find that staying there is the best way to set yourself up for making healthy eating choices on a regular basis. When you find you're at a 5 or begin to approach the 6, put down your fork, sit back, and decide whether or not you should continue eating.

Identify Signs of Emotional Hunger

While the hunger scale can help you understand physical hunger, emotional hunger can also influence your eating habits. Emotional hunger can be caused by stress, anxiety or negative self-talk.  

If you feel like your need to eat comes from an emotional source, you may want to wait five or 10 minutes after the craving strikes before reaching for any food. If your hunger is real, the urge to eat won't pass. If you still feel hungry after waiting 15 or 20 minutes, it's time to eat. But if the food craving fades, then emotions were probably driving your hunger.

Believe it or not, if you get used to using this delay tactic you will begin to notice that your emotional desire for food decreases once you start getting out of the habit of responding to it.

Learning to recognize the signs of hunger, the signs of satisfaction and fullness, and the signs of emotional stress can help you to eat the right amount of food to lose weight.  Invest a few minutes each day to recognize and acknowledge these signals to reach and maintain your healthy body.

*Edited by Malia Frey, About.com Weight Loss Expert

Continue Reading