How to Identify if Your Hunger is Real or in Your Head

Changing your relationship with food is challenging. Emotional eating is a common problem for people of all sizes, as the brain releases a rewarding dose of happy hormones like dopamine when we eat. Eating is a quick and temporary fix when you’re stressed, sad, or bored. It can become a vicious cycle, as many people feel bad about their snacking habits. Eating again can temporarily silence the bad feeling, but it returns in ten-fold later.

However, emotional eating isn’t the only reason we reach for snacks. If you constantly feel hungry or notice you’re snacking more often, your emotions may not be to blame. Other dietary habits can trigger hunger cues. Answer the following questions to identify if your hunger is real:

  1. When was the last time you ate? If it’s been five hours or more since you last ate, your hunger is likely legitimate. However, if it’s only been a handful of hours, move on to the next question.
  2. Was your protein solid, soft, or liquid? Protein shakes and Greek yogurt are a great way to meet your protein needs. However, your body tends to process them faster. If your protein source when you last ate wasn’t a solid protein like chicken, you’re most likely truly hungry. If your protein was solid, ask yourself the next question.
  3. How big were your bites? Taking bean-sized bites allows you to fit your protein more compactly and comfortably than taking larger bites. These bigger bites take up more space but leave gaps. While you may have felt full at the time, the big bites cause premature fullness, and you feel hungry faster. Pausing between bites can help protein settle better as well. If you took tiny bites with pauses in between and still feel hungry, consider the next question.
  4. Did you have anything to drink with your meal? You may find it an odd concept at first to not include a beverage with your meal. However, drinking liquids while you eat can lead to premature fullness. Liquids also expedite the digestion process, which can leave you feeling hungry well before your next planned meal.

If none of the above applies to your hunger, it may be psychological or emotional hunger. If you’re still not sure, do a mental check-in with yourself:

  • What emotions are you feeling?
  • Are you bored, stressed, or depressed?
  • Do you have physical signs of true hunger? For example, rumbling stomach, hunger pangs, or feeling empty.

You don’t want to wait until you’re starving to eat your next meal, but identifying emotional hunger can help you avoid unnecessary snacking. People also often misinterpret thirst cues as hunger cues, and drinking fluids is usually enough to resolve the hunger sensation. You can find an activity to do to keep your mind occupied and silence the boredom hunger. You shouldn’t ignore persistent hunger, though. Reach for a protein-dense snack if you’re still hungry despite hydrating and addressing potential boredom.

Sometimes, people struggle to lose weight even if they change their eating and exercise habits. Contact us if you’re frustrated by minimal weight loss despite making lifestyle changes. Bariatric surgery may be a good fit to help you reach your weight loss and wellness goals.

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