We’ve all experienced hunger. Have you noticed there’s different kinds? There’s that gnawing hunger because it’s been too long since you’ve eaten. There’s edgy hunger, what some people call “hangry“, that makes you want to lash out at the nearest person. And finally there’s mouth hunger causing cravings for a little somethin’-somethin’ that’s more about wanting a distraction from boredom, sadness, stress or some other unsettled feeling, than hunger. It becomes a problem when it happens regularly and causes weight gain.
Understanding your different types of hunger
Gnawing hunger happens when the body’s natural hunger mechanisms have long gone ignored, the body’s glycogen stores have been depleted, and you feel a pit in your stomach. The motivation to eat is regulated by two hormones: leptin and grehlin. Leptin tells you you’re full. Grehlin signals hunger. Leptin levels decline and grehlin levels rise 4-5 hours after eating – motivating us to eat. When you’ve gone more than 4-5 hours gnawing hunger happens and feels like your stomach is being attacked.
Feeling hangry is really a consequence of a poor diet. It comes from big swings in blood sugar from feeling high from a sugar kick, to a low that causes the nervous system to compensate with an adrenaline rush, leading to irritability, sometimes shakiness and restlessness – hangry-ness.
The third type of hunger, which is really not hunger but a strong desire to eat, regardless of hormones, and is about a life that’s out of balance if it happens frequently. Frequent mouth hunger is really about unmet strong emotions that are exacerbated by big swings in blood sugar wreaking havoc with the brain’s hormones. My tips below can help with the blood sugar swings and help steady mouth hunger.
How To Manage Hunger
The key to managing hunger is to make sure each of your meals contains the three components mentioned in my last blog: fiber, lean protein and some heart-healthy fat eaten in 3 evenly spaced meals. Eating this way will keep your blood sugars and energy level steady, and help you stave off all types of hunger: gnawing, hangry and mouth hunger. Here’s how you can keep hunger at bay.
- Don’t skip breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day and sets the pace for the day. Focus on fiber and protein. It’s recommended that women get 25 gms and men 38 gms of fiber daily. The best sources are from whole grains, beans, nuts and produce. You’ll know something is whole grain if the first word under the list of ingredients starts with “whole” or “100% whole”, not “enriched wheat flour”. Good breakfast examples include:
- Reduce your high glycemic carbs. These are the carbs that shoot your blood sugar up quickly. There is a correlation between a high glycemic diet and low leptin levels. Low leptin levels means you will feel constant hunger. Examples of high glycemic foods include donuts and most cereals; fruit juice and soda; fried foods; white rice, crackers, pasta and bread to name a few.
- Include heart healthy fat in every meal. Research indicates that getting adequate amounts of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats raises leptin levels – that means feeling more full and less hungry. Good sources of healthy fats include nuts, soy, avocado, flax seed, olive oil, canola oil and nut butters. These fats also will lower your bad cholesterol, LDL, and raise your good cholesterol, HDL. Be mindful of portions by looking at the calories per serving size because fat is high in calories (9 calories/gram vs 4 calories/gram for carbs and protein).
- Boost your protein. In this Psychology Today article eating sufficient protein at each meal lead to more feeling of fullness. The Institute of Medicine recommends that people consume about .8 gms of protein per kilogram of weight. That means a 200 pound person should consume about 72 gms divided over the course of the day depending on activity level, age and sex.
- Increase your volume each meal with non-starchy veggies and soup. Not only will this please your eyes, but it will fill your belly. Adding non-starchy veggies to eggs, casseroles, and soups will give you volume, without all the calories. Make sure the soups are broth based without added cream or lots of cheese. Here’s one of my favorite chicken soup recipes and using frozen veggies and canned beans makes this a quick preparation.
- Keep my list of 10 foods stocked in your house They will help you to get the fiber, protein and healthy fat as a meal or a supplement to a meal and help you stave off hunger.
Managing hunger requires knowing yourself
I don’t like being hungry. That means I rarely experience that gnawing hunger. Unfortunately I know the other hungers. If I’m hungry two hours after a meal I know it’s either because I did not eat enough protein and fiber or I’m experiencing mouth hunger. If it’s the first hunger then I make a Wasa and peanut butter and that tides me over until my next meal.
If it’s mouth hunger, then I have a pow-wow with myself. And if I’m within a couple of miles of a Holy Donut, oh dear, I must have a really serious pow-wow. 90% of the time I can talk myself out of it. For that other 10%, I give in to my impulse, enjoy it and go for a walk later. I tell myself it’s about being better, not perfect….