Are you hungry? Or are you full?

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on April 29, 2003 · 0 comments

Eat when you’re hungry. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Hunger and satisfaction are simple words for a complex process that tells us when to eat and when to stop. Get a handle on that process, and you have a powerful weapon in your personal weight-control war.

If eating were simply a matter of refueling our bodies when they needed more energy, life would be very simple. Feel hungry? Eat. Feel full? Stop.

But for most of us, eating is far more complicated.

Hunger is the group of sensations that motivate you to eat. Satisfaction refers to the way you feel when you don’t need to eat any more. More simply put, hunger is the need for food and satisfaction is the result of getting enough.

But hunger and satisfaction mean different things to different people. Some people “feel” hunger in their stomachs, others in their heads. Some claim it’s a feeling of weakness and nausea. Others eat at certain times during the day, or when they see or smell food, not giving much thought to their body’s signals.

Descriptions of satisfaction vary, too. They range from a pleasantly full, to feeling stuffed, to being uncomfortable. Some eat until their plates are empty and declare themselves “finished and satisfied.” Others eat so often they never feel hungry or satisfied.

An easy way to get in touch with your body is to rate your feeling of hunger before you eat, and your satisfaction afterward.

Use a five-point scale, with 1 “not hungry” and 5 “uncomfortably hungry.” On the satisfaction scale, use 1 for “not satisfied” and 5 for “uncomfortably full.”

You’ll be surprised at how effective this simple exercise can be. It makes you stop and think about whether you truly need food, or are just tempted to eat because you are stressed or bored, or see a delicious doughnut.

On the other side, many people have lost touch with their sense of satisfaction from eating. If you almost always rate your sense of satisfaction as 4 (very full) or 5 (uncomfortably full) something other than food is causing you to eat. If you sometimes leave the table feeling not full, examine why. If you’re not eating enough at meals, are you eating more at other times?

Social situations have a lot to do with how much we eat. Studies have shown that people eat more with their families than with co-workers. They eat more when there are more choices, like a buffet. Meals high in carbohydrates (like pasta and potatoes) and low in fiber and protein cause overeating. And the more you chew, the less you eat. Sounds contradictory but it’s true.

Fluids (like soda) are less satisfying than semifluids (like soup) which in turn are less satisfying than solids (like salad). The salad offers the most chewing. More chewing stretches out the time it takes to eat, giving your body time to register fullness and signal your brain to stop eating.

Take a few seconds before and after you eat to rate your feelings of hunger and satisfaction. You’ll start listening to your body, and tune out the wrong signals that have tempted you to eat too often or too much.

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