Hunger: Feeling, Managing, Eating

Ghrelin Release

You are changing the way you eat, which means your hunger-fullness cues are adjusting also. Do you remember the experiment with the sheep and ghrelin (the hunger hormone)? The sheep who were fed twice a day secreted ghrelin twice a day in anticipation of their meals. The sheep that were fed four times a day had increased ghrelin levels four times, correlating with each of their meals. In your body, ghrelin is released as a signal to you that it is time to eat. The timing that your ghrelin levels spike will adjust as you change your eating patterns. That is why it is easy for some people to skip breakfast (because they are used to it) and others feel famished when they first wake up. 

If you adjust your mealtimes and decreasing snacking, know in advance that you will experience hunger! This isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean that you will be hungry for the rest of your life if you keep up this eating pattern. Your body will adjust!  The goal is to stretch out your eating times to a pattern that works in your day without getting famished. You can do this gradually or quickly .

Hunger Tips

Here are some things to consider doing when you are hungry: 

  1. Don’t fear hunger. Temporary hunger won’t hurt you as long as there is food available on the other side. Some people have rarely experienced true hunger in their lives because the moment they feel a little bit hungry they have a snack (that was me). Take note of that feeling. Acknowledge it and decide what to do with it. Just know that feeling hungry is not a bad thing.
  2. Ride the waves. If you feel hungry at a normal snacktime but you are working towards snacking less, take 15-20 minutes before eating something. Acknowledge the hunger, and move on. If you are still very hungry after 15-20 minutes, eat a healthy snack like nuts or hummus and carrots. You may find, however, that the wave of hunger has dissipated and you are fine to wait until your next meal. 
  3. Drink water or tea. Sometimes, you may just be oral-sensory seeking, which can happen if you are feeling nervous, anxious, or even bored. Water or tea may do the trick to quench that feeling. It can also fill your belly, making you feel full temporarily.
  4. Find distractions. Take a walk, get started on a project, play with your kids, call a friend or read a book. Do something that is unrelated to food. 
  5. Fill your meals with enough protein, healthy fat, and fiber. These will keep you full longer. Eating a salad with minimal protein and fat is going to keep you satisfied for a moment but not until your next meal. So make sure you have an avocado, nuts, seeds, tofu, or other healthy protein and fat as a part of your meal. 
  6. Choose solid foods. When you do eat, chewing helps you feel more satisfied. I am all for a good green smoothie, because you can pack in a lot of nutrients in a glass, but you might feel hungrier sooner than if you had eaten the solid fruit and greens. 
  7. Eat intentionally. Decide what you are going to eat and an approximate time. Pick foods that align with your values and goals, while also enjoying what you eat. Stay away from grabbing something on a whim.
  8. Eat slowly. Eating more slowly allows your body time to respond to the food you have eaten. It provides you with the opportunity to listen to the hormones your body releases, such as leptin and GLP-1, that tell you its time to stop eating. 
  9. Manage stress. Cortisol is released when you are in a stressful situation. This is a good thing when you are running from a bear, but not great for you day in and day out. Elevated cortisol levels cause you to eat more and to feel constant hunger.   
  10. Experiment. If you are trying not to snack between lunch and dinner, but you are hungry early, eat a snack and for your next meal know that you should add some more protein or healthy fat to keep you satisfied longer.
  11. Find the balance. Listen to your body’s hunger-fullness cues and push through the hunger as you adjust the times you eat. While it is ok to ride the waves of hunger, don’t let yourself get so famished that you make bad decisions.

Feeling hungry is not a bad thing! We live in a society today that is frequently over-nourished, leading to an increase in obesity and chronic illness. Just like being undernourished, over nourishment is still a form of malnutrition. Changing this pattern takes time and can be uncomfortable, but it won’t always feel that way. Give yourself time and grace and you will get to a place of balance.

Sugino T, Yamaura J, Yamagishi M, Ogura A, Hayashi R, Kurose Y, Kojima M, Kangawa K, Hasegawa Y, Terashima Y. A transient surge of ghrelin secretion before feeding is modified by different feeding regimens in sheep. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2002 Nov 15;298(5):785-8. doi: 10.1016/s0006-291x(02)02572-x. PMID: 12419323.

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