Our bodies have ways of letting us know when we are hungry. It’s a part of our biology to keep us fueled and, more importantly, alive. These are called “hunger cues” and, even though you may think listening to them is intuitive, recent findings show they are often misinterpreted. Sometimes we think we are hungry when actually we’re just sleep-deprived. Or we just need something other than eats. On the other hand, sometimes we actually do need food, but we can’t pick up on the cues the body is giving us.
So, make sure you are taking care of your physiological hunger first. You can control your hunger hormone, ghrelin, by eating breakfast, including protein in every meal and snack and making sure you are not skipping meals. If you’ve followed all of these principles and are still interpreting signs of hunger, then check the physiological cues I’m going to outline below:
1.) Thirsty? This may mean you are actually hungry. We wrote an entire blog about this in the past, but a study done by Physiology and Behavior found that one study found that people misinterpreted their thirst for hunger 62% of the time. That’s pretty often! Over time, this can lead to us opening up the fridge for snacks when it should be for water which can, in turn, lead to sneaky weight gain. The best course of action, in this case, is to be sure that you are drinking enough throughout the day and staying hydrated.
2.) Want sweets and other carbs? Chill out! This likely means that you are stressed. Eating sugar has been shown to increase our serotonin which makes our brains feel content and happy. When we are stressed, our bodies are seeking any sort of way to comfort ourselves and calm us down. Naturally, that will cause it to seek out sugar for some of that sweet sweet serotonin. What to do? Firstly, breathing exercises and being social with friends can help you relieve the underlying condition which is your stress. As for the snacking, it’s always okay to dive into some desserts every once in a while. However, if you feel like it’s becoming harmful to your waistline, try breaking yourself off 2 ounces of dark chocolate and really sit down and savor it slowly when you get those cravings.
3.) Brain fog and no energy? You need sleep! Food gives us energy. Therefore, when your body needs energy, it wants to drive you towards food. Most times, these foods aren’t the most nutritious sources of energy. Are you craving a nice garden salad when you’re feeling fatigued? Probably not, so make sure you’re getting in your 8 hours. On days that’s not possible and the snack urges start, choose a snack that is high protein and/or high fiber to keep you satisfied. This could be Greek yogurt, beef jerky, cottage cheese, dried fruit or a combination of these.
4.) Have a headache? Again, this may be an issue of dehydration. It’s perfectly possible that it could be the classic sign of low blood sugar, but if you’ve had a snack and you still have a headache, that probably doesn’t mean you should eat more. Drink your water (especially if you’re hungover) and hopefully, this confusing cue won’t trick you into eating more than you should.
So what are some more definitive signs that you’re hungry? It’s not the same for all of us, but typically, if you have a rumbly stomach, are grumpy, lightheaded and/or dizzy it’s a safe bet to assume it’s actually hunger that’s bothering you.
The bottom line? Consider all of the above if any of the cues mentioned are affecting you. Take all of this into consideration before you reach for that chocolate chip cookie that you probably don’t need and are just eating because you just opened your inbox full of 43 unread emails. Keep your home (and your desk) stocked with healthy and satiating snacks that include protein and fiber and you’re likely to beat overeating.