Before we dive into today’s topic about hunger and appetite I want you to sit back a minute and think about these next three questions.
You might have never asked yourself these questions before so I really encourage you to sit for a minute to think about your answers. Feeling hungry is something we experience often but probably something that we don’t give much thought about.
- How do you know you are hungry?
- When you are hungry what physical sensations do you feel in your body?
- When you are hungry do you feel different mentally or emotionally?
What is hunger?
Hunger is a physiological response of our body, rather it is an internal drive to eat. For me hunger feels like I am running on empty, my stomach will growl and I’ll feel stomach pangs. If I wait too long to eat my mood changes and I get irritable and/or it becomes really hard to focus.
Before we even feel hungry our body sent out multiple messages that culminated in those feelings of hunger. The hunger messages all start due to one reason, our body needs to replenish our nutrients and these nutrients provide us with energy. Hunger is like our car’s gas gauge getting near to empty. We literally need to refuel.
What is appetite?
Let’s say you just went out to breakfast with your friends. You decide to go take a walk before going home. You pass by a bakery and you see them putting out fresh treats from the oven. You step into the bakery and pick yourself up a fresh doughnut and it’s delicious. That is appetite. Appetite is more of a desire to eat, an external influence and it can occur with or without hunger.
Appetite can be affected by many different factors. Some of the biggest factors that can affect appetite are our senses. Seeing and smelling food can make you want to eat.
Sometimes you are offered a special food you only get once a year (I’m looking at you Girl Scout cookies), or the time of day might make you feel like eating.
Why is hunger and appetite important for gut health?
Hunger and appetite are gut feelings that have a direct impact on our digestion and beyond. In fact, we have hunger hormones. Ghrelin is a hormone made by our stomach and its role is to stimulate hunger. All those times your stomach was growling well ghrelin was the hormone that made that happen. Leptin is another hunger hormone and it has the opposite effect of ghrelin. Leptin’s role is to suppress appetite by sending out stop signals to our body.
These hunger hormones are impacted by what we eat, lifestyle factors such as stress and sleep, plus awareness of how hungry and full we are.
Awareness is probably one of the most influential aspects of these gut feelings. We often lose touch with hunger and fullness.
It’s quarantine and you’ve been managing your kid’s school and zoom lessons all day. You nibble on snacks and whatever your kids leave over from their lunch. Finally the kids are done and everyone turns to you asking what’s for dinner and you haven’t even eaten a solid meal all day.
It’s a busy Saturday morning, you’re running around doing errands and you start to feel hungry because you skipped breakfast but you have a couple more places to go to before you have to get ready for another thing later that evening so you push your hunger to the side because its not a good time for you.
You’re at work and you have multiple projects going on with different people needing your attention throughout the day. You finally get a chance to sit down and breathe and you look at the clock..it’s already 3pm. You forgot lunch.
Move from reaction to intention.
A lot of the time when it comes to eating we are reacting. We wait to that point where we get super hungry and eat whatever we can so we don’t feel hungry anymore. I call this chasing hunger and when we are chasing hunger it can feel like we are never satisfied, we lack enjoyment with our food, and it can be a domino effect. When we are chasing our hunger we are more likely to overeat, choose foods that don’t always make our gut happy, eat really fast and feel bloated after, and more.
Instead of chasing our hunger we can eat with intention. Eating with intention is one of the pillars of my mindful gut method. Eating with intention means tuning back into the body, tuning back into the eating experience, making an intention around how you want to eat and knowing that it’s ok if you’re not on point 100% of the time.
Use a hunger and fullness scale.
A hunger and fullness scale is the perfect tool to get you started with getting back into touch with your gut feelings. This tool allows us to check in with how our body is feeling because there are different types of hunger and fullness.
How to use the scale
The easiest way to start using this tool is to rate yourself on the scale before and after each mealtime. When you are rating yourself, know that there is no right or wrong answer. Look at your ratings objectively, without judgement. At the end of the day look back at the data and see if you notice any trends. I highly recommend using this scale in conjunction with your food diary!
Hunger & Fullness Scale
Use this tool before and after meals to help you build awareness with your hunger and fullness levels.
Amanda is a pizza loving registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in mindfulness and gut health. She quickly realized that gut health goes beyond the gut; it is also about honoring our gut feelings. She is the creator of The Mindful Gut™ which uses science and strategy to help people improve their gut health.