Hunger Types: What Causes You to Eat Even When You Are Not Actually Hungry?
Do you ever inhale food, particularly something sweet, salty, crunchy, carby, or cheesy and only after finishing the last bite question whether you were even hungry? Do you find yourself preoccupied with your next meal--right after finishing a meal? Do you feel like you are always hungry? The good news is: You probably aren’t. The bad news is: You will keep eating when you don’t need food, unless you understand the difference between needing to eat versus needing to be fed, and then learning how to manage those two things.
Needing Food versus Needing to Be FedWe experience a variety of types of hunger. Some hungers represent a physiological need for caloric intake. Other hungers don’t. While an urge to eat can result from a mix of these, most often one or the other is the driver. And which one is the driver should determine what you do. Identifying the source of hunger is the first step. Common types of hunger are described below.
Brain Hunger.By brain hunger, we mean that you feel an urge to eat because of either a physiological need for nourishment and energy or for a psycho-physiological reason other than nourishment and energy.
Brain Hunger - Nourishment. Your brain, needs calories to function. It does not need nearly the number of calories ingested in a standard American diet. Identifying brain hunger is the most difficult. That’s because who have regular access to food rarely experience it. Even “brain fog” is not a clear indicator that your brain needs calories. It may mean that you are experiencing sugar or caffeine withdrawals or need sleep. If you practice intermittent fasting, over time you better learn to sense the genuine need for nourishment. In the meantime, the best way to identify it may be by eliminating other forms of hunger.
Brain Hunger - Stress Reduction / Mood / Stimulation. Turns out your brain is super smart and knows how to protect itself. Your brain likes to reduce stress and regularly works to self-sooth. Many stress-reduction and self-soothing behaviors are healthy, like jogging outdoors with a friend in the sunshine (with sunscreen) or meditating. Many we do unintentionally, like reflexively taking deep breath after we spill a drink, crying, or completing your morning routine in the same pattern each day. But some stress-reducing or self-soothing behaviors are troublesome. Think blaming others, yelling, alcohol / painkillers, cutting, or nail biting to name a select few. We also self-sooth with food.
Mouth Hunger - Stimulation or Taste.Mouth hunger is essentially when you feel like chewing on something or tasting something. You know the moments where you exclaim to your friend: “I’m not hungry; I just need to chew.” It’s much like the urge to smoke or knaw on a pencil. It’s like your mouth is a bored teenager, looking for trouble. It might also be that you have a taste in your mouth that either tastes bad, making you crave a new taste, or you have a taste leftover from eating that gives your brain the queue that food tastes good: eat more.
Muscle Hunger - Energy and Performance.Muscles need the energy to produce contractions. Energy is stored in muscles as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Muscles contain only limited quantities of ATP. When depleted, ATP must be re-synthesized from other sources: using creatine phosphate, using glycogen, or aerobic respiration. If you’ve ever worked out after fasting for a long period, you know exactly what muscle hunger feels like. You are depleted. Your workout doesn’t work because you have no juice.
Stomach Hunger.This is where your belly growls. Stomach hunger is the fussiest of hungers. It’s there one minute and gone the next. Have you ever had your stomach growl mid-morning but get busy with work and then forget to eat until 2:00 pm? Have you ever had your stomach growl and then feel satisfied after drinking a large glass of water or a cup of coffee? Have you ever eaten a meal and 10 minutes later feel like your stomach is empty? Yup, that is stomach hunger. Unreliable stomach hunger.
Now that you know the different types of hungers, the next step is learning how to manage each of them. Tune back in next week as we cover how to manage needing to eat when you don’t need to be fed.
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Also here more on this topic from our founder Sara Grey!