Hunger is something I often talk about with clients.
There’s a lot of misinformation about hunger.
On one side of it, you've likely heard that hunger is bad for you. That if you're hungry, you're...
addicted to sugar
not going to lose weight
your hormones are off
and so on
On the OTHER side of it, you've maybe heard you have to be hungry! That it's just a part of the game. Hunger = results = happiness. As a woman, this is something you learn growing up in your teens. You need to order the salad. You need to eat as little as possible. Ignore those hunger cues, that's just mental weakness talking.
Well I'm here to tell you that hunger is NORMAL!
You should get hungry at times. In fact, you have a hormone that literally tells you when you're hungry or not: grehlin.
Now, although you should get hungry & should expect hunger cues to be a regular part of your life, they shouldn't be so overwhelming that your body & mind start to be affected. Things like hanger, brain fog, irritation, food obsession, etc. are all on the extreme sides of hunger that you should generally try to avoid as best you can. (YES you're going to forget a meal or go too long without eating and will get hangry...we just don't want to make this the norm).
As a coach, we deal with these nuances of hunger quite often. From breaking down some of the myths to hunger to teaching clients how to listen to their hunger cues, there's a lot that goes into it.
In fact, hunger can be a massive tool in helping teach intuitive eating. It can also be used to create a calorie deficit without tracking diligently.
In today's blog, we'll break down the most common types of "hunger" related issues we see & how to best fix them so you can eat like a champ, feel great, and look good too.
What is NORMAL?
Before we get into those types of hunger, let's first discuss what is normal when it comes to hunger.
Thoughts about food, stomach growling, hunger-related thoughts & feelings around times you typically eat, even thirst, are all normal signs of hunger.
Extreme signs of hunger include (sort of mentioned above) hanger, extreme irritation, brain fog, loss of mental acuity, difficulty with decisions, fatigue, weakness, shaking, jittery-ness, etc. These are all usual signs that you've gone too long without eating.
When should you expect to be hungry? Generally, two times!
First, times around your meals you typically eat. Your body is tiiiiightly regulated by this thing called your circadian rhythm. If you typically eat around 7am, 12pm, 3pm, and 7pm, then expect hunger around those times!! Don't believe me? Try switching up your meals to 2hrs later than typical (9am, 2pm, 5pm, and 9pm). You'll see two things. First, you'll see how starving you are at 8am (1hr after) and secondly, how full & NOT hungry you are for your new meals. This will last for about 12-17 days until your body adjusts to the new routine.
Second, you will start to see signs of hunger 2-3 hrs after eating. That's not saying you need to eat immediately 2hrs following a meal, but more goes to show why you struggle when you eat a lunch at 12pm and go 8hrs until dinner and wonder why you're plagued with nighttime cravings. Your body has been hungry for almost 6hrs! Consider throwing in a meal to break that time window up.
Generally, I find that eating four meals, 3-4 hours apart supports one's hunger & helps with afternoon & evening cravings. It also usually fits with most peoples' schedules as it's often when you're getting out of work. That 3rd meal can be more of a snack, too, especially if you're hitting the gym. Grab a protein shake & a rice cake and you're good to go!
The takeaway here is to understand that hunger isn't bad for you all the time. Hunger is your body's way of (1) getting fuel for your body and (2) establishing routine! Start to learn to honor & respect your hunger rather than fighting it tooth and nail because you believe you shouldn't be hungry after eating a 100-calorie salad for lunch & thinking your body will be happy with that.
Now, let's get into those scenarios.
Scenario #1. No hunger
Scenario #1 is a very common one that honestly will also tie in with the ones below, so expect some crossover.
No hunger can come from two polar opposites.
The first reason why someone may have no hunger is that they're simply eating too much. That would make sense because it means they're full often and our "full" hormone, leptin, is highest. To see if this is you, simply track your intake for 5-7 days (including the weekend) and compare to your ideal maintenance (bodyweight x 12-14). If you're 300+ calories over, then start taking a few weeks to bring that intake down a bit to that maintenance range. Expect hunger, though, and consider working with a coach for the first three months to tackle habits around eating an appropriate volume of food to increase satiety without jacking up calories. If you start losing weight, increase your intake slightly until your weight stabilizes.
The second reason why you may not have hunger is because you've stayed in a calorie deficit for too long and your body's ability to regulate those hormones diminishes slightly AND your body has slowed down certain processes & movements to match your new (low) calorie intake. This is the process of metabolic adaptation. If you're eating 1200-1500 calories (or anything below your BMR = bodyweight x 10), and not losing weight and not experiencing hunger, then you are likely metabolically adapted. Are you doomed? Absolutely not! Next steps for you would be a slow reverse diet with one of our Clar-e-ty coaches to bring your intake up to a more manageable and healthy intake :)
Scenario #2. Too busy to eat
This is a very common one.
Even something us coaches struggle with as well...because we LOVE what we do so much that we often get carried away with content and answering your check ins we forget to eat...at least for me, I won't speak for Coach Ashley ;)
Whether it's that you don't wake up early enough or that you just embrace that hustle grind, it can sometimes happen to the best of us. You find that you're working working working and bam it's 12pm...or 3pm and you've yet to eat or you've skipped lunch. By that point, the jitters have already set in, especially if you DIDN'T forget your caffeine intake that day.
This is also incredibly common to moms! Unlike what Delta recommends, they don't eat for themselves before feeding others. They wake up & it's kid-centric until they're 1. at school 2. napping, or 3. out of the way. Again, that could be 2pm!!
This scenario is a bit different to tackle than scenario #1 because there's more gray area. We know you need to eat & it's not helpful or productive for you to skip meals. Otherwise, you likely wouldn't be this far into reading ;). IF you're a regular skipper of meals, you likely notice that in the moment, you're fine but it's later in the day that's the problem. Maybe you're exhausted for your workout. Maybe you have no control when it comes to snacks and sweets at the end of the day. That tells us maybe we should tackle the habit of skipping meals to set up your later hours for success.
First, I'd recommend setting an alarm to remind you to eat...and most importantly LISTEN to that alarm when it goes off. No snoozing. No "5 minutes". Just get up and eat. Remind yourself how much better you will feel having eaten. Make your meals hellllllaaa simple and easy. Either have them prepped in tupperware or glass container so it's a quick microwave away or something easy to assemble if you're working at home. Don't expect, if you're a busy bee, to stand there and cook a meal that takes an hour to chop & cook. Make it as simple as a sandwich or rice, chicken, and veggies so it's grab & go.
Next, if that's not feasible. Maybe you do have to go long hours or if you're a parent, not on as tight of a schedule. Still set an alarm but instead of a full meal, have a snack instead, something that's small & easy. A protein bar, protein shake, yogurt, small salad, etc. are all great options. Make it a productive snack as a just in case.
This is also something we see happen ALL the time on the weekends, simply because you're out of a routine. SO the solution is to CREATE a routine! Set alarms. Eat at consistent times. If you're not having as many meals as your weekday, then just make each meal bigger. Make it nutrient dense so weekend nights can be enjoyed.
Just a little pre-planning here will go along way...and most importantly...following through on those plans is the final step.
Scenario #3. Hunger = Starving
A lot of people nowadays equate starving with hunger. That just isn't the case, by now I hope you know. I have many clients that claim to never be hungry...only to skip a meal until they're starving and inhale an entire pint of ice cream 3 hours later.
That tells me one big thing...they WERE hungry! They just maybe didn't know the signs of "normal" hunger as opposed to starvation.
A reminder that normal hunger will consist of light thoughts about food, maybe small bouts of a growing stomach, thirst, and a feeling of an empty stomach. Expect these around consistent times (or try to first establish consistent times to help your body regulate hunger hormones for you).
Starvation consists of hanger, extreme hunger, loss of mental acuity, fatigue, jitters, aggressive stomach growling, and irritability.
The best way to go about this is to keep a notebook for a week and write down some thoughts.
Thoughts about food (and timing)
When you start to feel hungry & what those symptoms feel like
When you start to feel hangry or starving
Outside of that, then we start eating at consistent times that you decide based on your schedule. For 2 weeks, this might mean you eat when you aren't "hungry" but again pay attention to how you feel mid-meal and 1hr after. Are you satiated? Does your hunger (eat slow) show up as you take your first few bites? Does your brain fog lift? Do you feel energy? That tells us that maybe you were hungry, you just didn't know you were.
In these meals, make them smaller than usual JUST so you don't have to force feed yourself. Make them something that you can eat half of & save for later or another day.
You will find that after 1-2 weeks, you start to learn your hunger cues better & your body is finally fueling itself & you have control around food...because you're not waiting for your breaking point to eat.
Scenario #4. Stress city
Stress plays a HUGE role in hunger.
Your body when sensing stress dives into sympathetic "fight or flight" mode...which lets you tackle that stress.
Except imagine you're running from a bear trying to kill you...does it make sense to be hungry?? NO! Your body needs all energy to survive & run faster.
This system is set up for your body to respond to acute stress.
Then "rest & digest" is where your hunger cues come back & you refuel the energy you spent tackling stress.
Except most of us are stressed 24/7...either by under-eating, overexercising, job stress, financial stress, personal or relationship stress...and that wreaks havoc on our hunger.
From my experience, I see two typical responses to stress:
Just doesn't eat at all
Eats everything in sight
The solution is pretty similar for both.
You have to remind yourself to eat for the first scenario...because your body needs calories & you know you'll have a breaking point eventually...likely with foods not suuuuuuuper productive for your health (i.e. alcohol, sweets, pizza, comfort food).
You need structure...via meals...in the second scenario so you can have control around food & fill it with nutrient dense foods before moving onto ice cream & booze.
Best solution is to set a reminder just like scenario #2 to eat. Make those meals easy. If you're one who doesn't eat much when stressed, make the meals smaller. If you're the latter, make those meals a bit bigger. Fill with protein & veggies for volume & micronutrients!! And you'll find you're more equipped to tackle that stress.
Lastly, stress responses are also learned. How you respond to stress is likely how your parents, or college roommates even, responded to stress. It's not set in stone!! You can reverse that narrative. It will just take conscious effort & not giving in to that stress time and time again.
That sums it up!
Our four most common hunger scenarios, why they happen, and how to tackle them!
If you struggle with hunger, apply for coaching below or check out our many free resources to help you reach your goals!
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