When’s the last time you felt hungry, I mean really hungry? Many of us utter the words, “I’m hungry” several times throughout the day to our co-workers and/or family members as meal times approach. (If you are a Mom, you probably hear this quite often!) Most of us don’t actually remember what real physical hunger feels like because we eat for a multitude of other reasons. Habit – it’s lunchtime or dinnertime, so we eat. Boredom – nothing to do, let’s scavenge the kitchen for a snack. Social – you’re at a party and there’s great food being served. Emotional – something makes us feel sad and empty, so we fill the void with food. Food doesn’t really fix anything, but seems to satisfy for a short time.
A simple and effective tool to managing your eating habits is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Let’s get back to real physical hunger and how we can apply mindful practice to help us curb overeating. When our bodies need fuel the stomach releases a hormone called ghrelin, which produces the feeling of hunger. Once the stomach is stretched the opposing hormone, leptin is released which signals us to stop eating. The catch here is that is can take up to 20 minutes for the signals to be received, so many times we eat past our true point of satiety to that feeling of being stuffed.
Real hunger starts with a hollow feeling and slight ache in the belly and upper chest area. You might hear some growling and grumbling. Later, a tight feeling in the back of the throat and mouth come, and for many a change in your breath — sort of a sweet smell. In cases of strong hunger some might feel shaky, weak and light headed. If it has been less than 2-3 hours since your last meal, you are likely not feeling real hunger.
When is the last time you actually felt real, physical hunger before you put some food into your mouth? Understanding your hunger is the key to weight loss and healthy eating habits. In mindful eating practice we take notice of our body cues and eat when hungry. Food is eaten slowly, taking in the smells, textures and visual delights of it. Some even choose pretty dishes and soft lighting and music to increase the true enjoyment of meal times. When eating mindfully, one notices when they have had enough to eat and stop eating. Mindful eating makes eating so much more enjoyable!
Why not experiment a little with mindful eating, and try on the feeling of hunger to see how it feels. You might even come to enjoy feeling hungry and find that your food is even more satisfying when you eat when hungry and stop eating when you feel satisfied.
Written by Ginger Hodulik, MS, CNS