Hunger Pains

I have been thinking a lot about hunger lately.

Hunger can be good.  I remember being struck when years ago Oprah talked about going to bed at night with that little empty feeling in your stomach; she said you need that feeling if you are going to lose weight.  I think she is right about one thing for sure… to lose weight, you – I – need to let the body get hungry.  Physically hungry.

But hunger can also be bad.  Either because it is not true physical hunger, or because I let myself get past “good” hunger to the point of crazed, shaky I-need-to-eat-now-or-I-will-hurt-someone hunger.  The latter invariable leads to crazed, shaky shovel-in-any-food-as-fast-as-I-can eating.

What I realize is that my past eating habits included so much snacking that I rarely let myself feel true physical hunger.  The kind that comes from your stomach emptying and your body being ready for more fuel.  Most of what I have felt over the years has been another kind of hunger.  Emotional hunger maybe – I was feeling hunger in my head or heart.  Or I was imagining hunger because I was picturing something I wanted to eat – feeling hunger with my eyes.  Anywhere but in my stomach which is where true hunger lives, when we let it.

Surely you know what I mean.  Hunger that comes from something other than a physical need.  Stress, or anger, or frustration, or boredom, or craving, or wanting.  “I’m hungry,” I’d say to myself.  But that was not true.  Well, maybe it was – but in reality I was hungry for something other than food – but food was what I reached for.

I would like to be able to tell you that recognizing this about hunger has made it easy for me to change.  Easy for me to ask myself if I am truly physically hungry or if it is something else going on.  But the truth is, I still eat knowing that I am not hungry.  But I have gotten better:)  And maybe, after all these years of constant snacking, I don’t know how to recognize true hunger when I feel it.  Wait – that is wrong.  I can recognize true hunger when I feel it!  What I can’t recognize is when I am NOT feeling it but think I am.  Does that make sense?

So I am going to concentrate on listening to my body, not my head or my eyes or my heart, for my hunger cues.  I am going to work on not eating unless I am truly physically hungry.  What about you?  Do you eat only when truly hungry?  Do you have any tips for the rest of us?



Filed under dieting, emotions/emotional issues, making a change

42 responses to “Hunger Pains

  1. I sometimes snack in the evening when I’m not really hungry. I think it’s more a habit because if I’m busy I don’t do a lot of snacking. For me, keeping busy is the key. You are right, it is hard to know when you aren’t hungry.
    .-= karen@fitnessjourney´s last blog ..Mother Knows Best =-.

  2. Thanks for commenting on my blog! This hunger thing can be a tricky thing. I don’t have snacking issues right now because I have Invisalign braces and I can’t eat unless I remove them and then brush and floss before I put them back in. This has put a stop to mindless eating!

    I am an emotional eater so I still have the desire to eat something under times of stress but I am learning to deal with the feeling instead of stuffing it down or medicating with food.
    .-= Tami´s last blog ..This Little Piggy =-.

    • Karen

      That reminded me that once I saw a suggestion that to keep from snacking you should use those teeth whitening strips. Whitening bonus while not eating. Hmm.

  3. sunnydaze

    I’ve recently come to realize this very same thing. It’s like, “What are you really hungry for?” Is it food or are you eating to try to satisfy/push back some other feeling? The Solution book that I’m reading addresses this very issue and helps you to become more aware of your feelings and listen to your body to see if you are truely hungry or just emotionally hungry for something else. It says that if you find yourself reaching for food when you recognize that you’re not physically hungry to ask yourself what it is that you’re feeling (angry, lonely, bored, happy…) and to just let yourself feel those feelings for a few minutes and you’ll see that the “hunger” has passed. This has really helped me. I do not snack at all in the evenings – after I eat dinner that’s it! I have small a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack to tide me over to the next meal. So far, so good. 😉

    • Karen

      You are doing so well! I looked into that book to see if my library has it and they don’t. Sigh. I would love to see you write on your blog about more of what you have learned from it.

  4. I’m in complete agreement, Karen. If I have any little sign of hunger, I pounce on it because…well, I’m not sure why. Am I afraid of being hungry? It seems that way. But it’s not like we live in third world countries where food isn’t readily available to eat when we’re truly hungry! So why the rush to fill even the smallest sign of hunger? I wonder what my day would be like if I actually waited to be hungry… but like you said, it’s a double edged sword. Wait too long and you end up gorging more than you normally would.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..Three cheers for Friday =-.

    • Karen

      My husband knows that you do not ever want to make me wait too long to eat a meal if I am good and truly hungry! I get very, very grouchy. But I could certainly let myself get much hungrier than I usually do.

  5. I def. don’t have any tips. Sorry 😦 I will say…depending on what your goals are, there are times when I force myself to eat snacks so that I will not overdo it on the following meal. As of right now, I eat 3 meals and have 2 or 3 snacks consisting of a complex carb and a protein. This has worked for me. I like the idea that you are going to listen to your body. For me…that is very difficult, but necessary! Good job ma’am!
    .-= Corletta Brown´s last blog ..What a great day today has been thus far….Oh yea…it’s Friday!!!!! =-.

    • Karen

      Well that raises another whole issue – if what I snack on makes a difference. And I am sure it does. Your choice is very smart. I think when I overeat when snacking it is pure carbs without that protein to balance it out.

  6. I broke my full and had enough many, many years ago. It takes a lot to fix it and for me the first step was awareness and being hyper sensitive to it. Every time I eat, asking, am I hungry, really, and I tired, bored, sad, lonely, etc. It was tiring but I’m may 50% of where I hope to be one day but it feels great just getting that far.

    I agree though, you do have to go looking, the answer doesn’t always present itself when we’ve buried it so well.
    .-= Rita @ The Giggly Bits´s last blog ..Couch to Triathlon: Where’s that Program? =-.

  7. I have the sme history and relationship with hunger (both kinds). What I’ve been trying to do is to cultivate respect… to visualize my body and my mind as an integrated whole… to respectfully (not critically) ask myself, “What do I really want? What is under the hunger signal I’m feeling right now?” and to give my body/mind time to come up with an answer. Sometimes the answer is, “I don’t know what I want, but I’m pretty sure it’s not really food.” It’s a start anyway.
    .-= Peacefulbird´s last blog ..Reasons for Overeating =-.

    • Karen

      I keep thinking about this and things you have written and am still working on a whole post about the idea that there is or isn’t something behind my eating, more than habit and boredom. “I don’t know what I want, but I’m pretty sure it’s not really food.” I think that is true for me too.

  8. Genie

    I do so remember Oprah saying that! I’m OK with the mild hunger; sometimes it makes me feel virtuous. However, the point-of-physical-pain-hunger, which I call “the menopause hunger” or the Ugly Hunger Monster hunger, is the one that I have trouble handling.

    The only thing worse than that is the emotional hunger. Yeah, there just seems to be no way to break its bond with food. Too established in my life; too much weaving in my fabric. So many metaphors, no cures.

    Oprah is one to talk, isn’t she? For all of the help she can summon with her money, she can’t beat the Hunger Monster either.

    • For the past year I have been eating 3 meals and 2 snacks and have never felt hunger AT ALL. I would still overeat.

      Lately I have not been eating every 3 hours and have allowed myself to feel hunger and this is what I found….hunger is the best “seasoning” out there.
      Have you seen the commercial where a couple of hikers have stopped for the day and they are tearing into a peanut butter sandwich as if it is the best tasting food in the world??..I understand that now.

      I agree with everyone who has expressed the idea that it is good to feel some hunger, but not good to let the hunger get to the point where you lose yourself to the overwhelming desire for ANY food.

      This post has me thinking…thanks!
      .-= Mary´s last blog ..Decisions, decisions =-.

    • Karen

      Genie – I used to think if I was just rich I could hire a personal chef and trainer and I’d be thin. Then I looked at Oprah and realized what you have. That bond with food thing you write about… me too!

      Mary – I agree with your seasoning idea. So well put. It amazes me how incredible an apple tastes when I am truly hungry for food.

  9. I’m great at determining if I’m hungry or not. It’s just that I don’t care. I want to eat and then I feel bad for eating when I knew I was only bored or stressed.
    .-= Adrienne´s last blog ..He Needs To Take A Picture =-.

    • Karen

      I feel bad when I do it too! And when I am doing it I KNOW I will feel bad. You’d think I’d just stop already!

  10. Diet Buddy

    The Beck Diet Solution has a great exercise where you were to eat breakfast and not eat again until dinner and track your feelings. Here’s my posting about it:
    Enjoyed your post!

    • Karen

      Funny you should mention that. I have the book from the library (after seeing so many bloggers talk about it) and recently got to that chapter and thought that I would soooo not do that! Of course, I have only read (skimmed mostly) the other chapters and not done any of the exercises. Hmmm. Some would read something into that.

  11. If I know I’m not hungry because it hasn’t been that long since the last time I’ve eaten, then I’ll do something else (from drinking water to knitting to playing the piano to exercising) and see if it goes away. Many times for me I’m actually thirsty instead of hungry.
    .-= Siobhan´s last blog ..peer pressure or how normal people eat =-.

    • Karen

      You are a wise woman Siobhan and I need to follow your example. And that is interesting what you say about being thirsty because I remember now having heard that before. That many of us misinterpret that cue. I don’t drink enough either:)

  12. Great stuff here! I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve been delaying lunch until early afternoon. Not pretty. 🙂

    One thing I noticed last week is that I’ve somehow developed a habit of saying, “I want a snack” when I’m not really hungry, but just wanting a taste of something sweet (or crunchy/salty), as opposed to saying, “I’m hungry.” It seems to set me up to literally have a nibble vs. a full serving. Not sure why it works for me, but it does.
    .-= Cammy@TippyToeDiet´s last blog ..WYSIWYG Weekend =-.

    • Karen

      I don’t do moderation well so don’t know if I could to that. But the idea of labeling it something else is interesting. I need to think about that more and see if I could change how I eat by changing how I label it.

  13. erm, scroll down for “In Neck I Trust” LOL
    .-= Sunny´s last blog ..Thursday Night “Must See TV” / (Male Pin-up Nite) Review =-.

  14. For years I never felt hunger. I finally realized that feeling hungry was a natural thing, one that signaled that my body was responding appropriately. It was really a life changing realization and one that helped me immensely on my journey.
    .-= Diane Fit to the Finish´s last blog ..Food That Moves =-.

  15. I am a BIG TIME emotional eater…big time. I have been working with a nutritionist who is non-traditional in that he offers unlimited text support. when I have a PM craving, I’m to text him no matter what time it is or call him. In the beginning, I was texting him all the time. He has lost 140 lbs himself so he’s been there. Once I got through the beginning, I do sometimes eat when I’m not hungry, but it’s almost always emotional.

    To get through it, I will BRUSH my teeth, and drink tons of water. Also, journaling. I was really surprised how much brushing your teeth will help you get past that desire to eat when you know you aren’t hungry. I encourage anyone to try it!!

    I always feel a sense of satisfaction if I go to bed slightly hungry. Not sure why, but I do.
    .-= Julie Lost and Found´s last blog ..Choices at a Crossroad =-.

    • Karen

      I am going to try the teeth brushing. And I am the same way, if I feel a bit of hunger I am glad for it. Too bad I don’t let myself get there often.

  16. Such a pertinent question. I have been working on this very issue this week in my “fix my head” routine. I have been doing some exercises to learn the difference between genuine hunger, desire and cravings and identifying the triggers that stimulate desire to eat and cravings and to try to develop strategies for addressing those triggers. Learning so much.
    .-= Nona´s last blog .. =-.

  17. I agree! The weird thing is when I was a kid I was skinny skinny but I never ever remember being hungry…I just didn’t like eating..well I am making up for lost time now however, so I know I need to be careful! Right now I am eating every 2-3 hours 200-300 calories each time for a total of 5-6X…its working…I don’t have to get hungry!
    .-= sian-girlgetstrong´s last blog ..Review: Family Fun and Fitness- Whiplash, the Scooter with a Twist =-.

    • Karen

      I think we could learn a lot from kids. I am amazed to see my boys not think about food for hours. They can happily hang out with friends or play video games or other activities… and just not come up for food.

  18. For so many years, I was actually AFRAID to feel hungry. I was scared of being hungry and not being able to eat. So I spent years eating all day long to avoid that feeling (among others)!

    Now I don’t mind feeling hungry. I think it’s good for us to feel it before we eat. I don’t think it’s healthy to eat meals and snacks all day long. I also find that what I eat makes a huge difference in how hungry I am. When I eat eggs and fruit for breakfast I often am not hungry until past lunch time. Now I will only eat when I am actually hungry (like a baby does) not just because it’s meal time.

    • Karen

      I am still working on the idea that some food will keep me satisfied longer. I honestly think I would be truly physically hungry between each meal if I ever let myself feel that way. You are right about babies – I never thought about that. When do we parents mess that up?

  19. Hey Karen…thought I’d come check out your blog too and when I saw this post, figured I’d share here what I what I wrote in response to YOUR response on mine.

    A big component of getting to this place (for me) was addressing some health issues (namely a hormonal imbalance, Epstein-Barr virus, and Lyme disease, all of which had my thyroid and adrenal functions out of whack…not so much that I have a thyroid or adrenal disease, but those systems were “laboring”). I’ve been seeing a naturopathic physician since last November and she highly recommended seeing a hormone specialist. Together the two of them have looked at me in a way no “regular” doctor ever has. It’s very holistic. I am off prescriptions (Lipitor and birth control) too.

    Another significant piece of the puzzle was figuring out, as someone else suggested above, what I really was hungry for…the answer for me was expressing myself as a writer. I am a freelancer but up until a year ago I spent my time telling other people’s stories. When I started my blog last January (2009) I started expressing mySELF!
    .-= KCLAnderson (Karen)´s last blog ..What if? =-.

    • Karen

      I wonder about that last part… the “what am I really hungry for” piece. And it there is something, like your self-expression, or if it is just years of habit with snacking.

  20. So easy to eat when you’re not hungry. Also, to keep eating when you know you’re comfortable. I like the twenty minute rule after eating sensibly to see if you actually aren’t “full”.
    .-= Mark´s last blog ..Home Gym Equipment Tips to Transform Your Life—Part 26 =-.

  21. Pingback: Waisting Time , Archive » The Witching Hours

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