Can you count the number of times when you feel like eating a burger just because the McDonalds’ ads are playing? Or why you always felt hungrier during exams or when stressed? Or why you feel like eating something sweet even after a full course meal? That’s because the feeling which we think is hunger is not the real hunger. There are different kinds of hungers and our inability to distinguish between the real and false hungers causes a problem.
To understand more clearly, think about the hunger that you felt after a meal, was it intense or did it die down on its own? Generally the hunger after a meal would more likely be a craving or some kind of sensory suggestion that would come up suddenly and would not be really satisfied even after eating. Also you must have observed that we crave for certain foods: Chocolates, sweets, tangy foods like tamarind or junk food but hardly ever for other regular food items. So all foods don’t stand equally with us and nor are all hungers we feel, equal!
The Issue: Mindless eating
The reason why we fail to distinguish between different hungers is that we hardly pay attention to what we eat. We have such easy access to food that the moment we feel even close to hunger, we grab something and put it in the mouth. Even when we are actually eating, we do not pay complete attention to our food which means we never know when we are full and end up overeating. No wonder we are overweight and regularly suffer from indigestion. Sonal Modi, Chief Dietician at DENMARC, Diabetes Endocrinology Nutrition Management and Research Centre says, “Mindless eating could be one of the reasons for the rise of obesity.”
The key lies in listening to the signals given by your body and distinguishing between different hungers and eating the right foods at the right time.
Here are the types of Hungers:
Emotional Hunger or Heart hunger: As the name suggests this type of hunger is our reaction to our emotions. We are so used to reacting this way that we have even stopped noticing it. For example when we are feeling low or sad we crave for foods that give us comfort. Foods like chocolate, sweets and ice creams are what make us feel good after a rough day. We eat these foods more for calming ourselves and making us feel better than to satiate hunger per se.
There is nothing wrong in eating something that gives us pleasure but if we let foods act as our emotional crutches, there will soon be a dependency and a weight problem to address. So be conscious of your reactions to emotions and ask yourself why you are eating something?
- Issue: We turn to food for comfort and to deal with our problems by eating. After eating we feel guilty and beat ourselves up.
- Times when we eat emotionally: When bored, stressed, angry, sad, depressed, frustrated or while socializing.
- How to deal with it: Be aware of your emotions and your cravings. Divert your mind from food to other positive things when you get sudden cravings.
- Do other activities like going for a walk or even drinking water to deal with emotions. Sonal Modi says “When feeling stressed out or low, rather than turning to food, you could exercise and curb the craving. Exercise is a positive stress buster and you will also burn calories.”
- And the times you eat comfort foods, mind your portion.
Sensory Hunger: A hunger which is not a real one and which is set off due to our senses is sensory hunger. In this case our sense of sight, smell, touch, sound and taste causes our hunger. The concept of mindful eating talks about the following types of hungers,
- Eye hunger: We see something delicious and its sight makes us hungry. Even watching TV commercials with foods causes this hunger.
- Nose hunger: When we enter a bakery store, our mouth waters, this is because the smell of food stimulates us to feel hungry.
- Mouth hunger: We eat because we crave the taste and feel of something, hot or cold, crunchy or soft, salty or sweet, etc. Often the crunchy feel of chips makes us eat them.
Dealing with sensory hunger: If you find yourself craving for a sweet or spicy dish, you needn’t always curb your desire, Sonal agrees. She says “You needn’t always overcome your cravings; you can always find ways to eat healthily.” For example if you want to eat something sweet why not go for sweetened yoghurt or a fruit?
Mind hunger: This is totally intellectual hunger meaning it is your brain that decides you need to eat. It is observed that when you are mind hungry, your thoughts start with ‘I should’ and ‘I shouldn’t’ eat. The thoughts may start like this: It has been long since I ate biryaani and your mind says ‘I should eat biryaani’ and you find yourself craving for it and finally eating it.
- If you feel hungry and find yourself saying ‘I should eat’ or ‘I shouldn’t eat’ it is your mind which is creating the craving and you need to divert your mind away from it.
Stomach hunger or Normal hunger: The ‘real’ thing among all types of hungers, this type of hunger actually denotes our body’s need for food. Stomach hunger hardly ever comes suddenly; it comes gradually many hours after a meal and goes after we eat food. Unlike emotional or sensory eating when we end up feeling guilty about binging, eating after stomach hungers makes us feel good.
- Stomach hunger is accompanied by a feeling of emptiness and of rumblings in the stomach.
- If you ignore it, it may become too intense and you may binge on unhealthy foods so have frequent meals to avoid hunger pangs.
Cellular hunger: This is a hunger on a different level altogether. This happens due to faulty diet which means the carbohydrate, protein, fat ratio in your meal was not correct. Too much of carbohydrates mean that the glucose level in the blood rises giving extra bout of energy to the body. This energy is used up quickly and hence just hours after your meal, the blood sugar level in your body goes down and your body craves for sugar treats. This hunger comes suddenly and is intense and impossible to ignore. When your body is deprived of glucose, the hormone system kicks in and your brain also decides that eating is of vital importance which is why you become irritable and have difficulty concentrating. You need to eat something sweet to refuel glucose levels preferably something more solid so that you are not left hungry soon after that.
- One way of avoiding cellular hunger is by eating frequent meals and ensuring that you eat a well balanced diet (good proportion of protein plus complex carbohydrates).
Other than these there is also something which is called as water hunger where we feel we are hungry, but it is water that we actually need. This type of hunger also spreads gradually and eating will not satisfy it. This state is different from thirst as our body is just mildly dehydrated. You can avoid this state by constantly sipping water. Also whenever you feel hungry soon after meals, try sipping water, it may just suffice!
Now that you know the types of hungers you will be more conscious about the times you feel like eating. By concentrating on food and listening to our body we can eat mindfully and maintain your healthy weight.