Hunger - “a very great need for food: a severe lack of food: an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that is caused by the need for food”. The definition of hunger, according to the Miriam Webster dictionary, is pretty simple. However, hunger in today’s world is a lot more complicated than the physiological need for calories, water, and salt. Hunger is actually driven by a mix of factors including hormones, quality of your diet, emotions, sleep and stress.
Have you ever noticed that there are some days when you just can’t seem to fulfill your hunger? We should always consider that feelings of hunger can derive from boredom, anxiety and even habit; however, often we are not eating or combining the right types of foods or are subject to lifestyle factors that create an environment that intensifies our hunger. Read on to learn some tips for honoring your hunger.
1. Protein and Fiber Balance
Protein and fiber both aid in promoting “satiety”, or fullness. Providing yourself adequate protein and fiber from your meals is important on a regular basis to help sustain overall satisfaction from what you eat. Protein increases thermogenesis, the production of heat by your body, which allows you to burn more calories. If you are trying to lose weight, adequate protein allows you to burn more calories and preserves muscle mass. Fiber takes up space in your digestive system without the calories which can help you feel fuller longer with less calories in addition to the positive benefits fiber has for cholesterol and keeping glucose levels at bay. Fiber also slows down the digestion process so you will have a sustained release of energy following your meals.
Many people skimp on protein and fiber at breakfast. This meal will supply you with about 21 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber. Try this on next time:
½ cup cooked whole oats
¼ cup slivered almonds
2 TBSP ground flaxseed
½ cup blueberries
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup of cottage cheese or a hard-boiled egg for added protein
Need a mid-day boost? Other satisfying protein and fiber combinations include the following: an apple with 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter, hummus with raw vegetables and yogurt with 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds.
2. Refined Carbohydrates
Starting your day with a meal of refined carbohydrates such as a donut and sugary beverage will increase your blood glucose rapidly just to have it bottom out and leave you hungry, irritable and tired. This action alone can set the pace for a day of fluctuating blood sugar levels which will make you hungrier. Opt for a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber and fat such as described above.
3. Fat Free Foods
Have you ever chosen a fat-free or low-fat food to find yourself hungry shortly after? That’s because fat plays an important role in satiety in addition to other vital roles such as regulating hormones, aiding in transport of fat-soluble vitamins and providing insulation. When we remove fat from our diets things tend to go awry, not only insofar as overall health, but can send our appetite spiraling out of control. Fat is satiating, and sugars that tend to be added into foods that had the fat removed have the impact to spike our blood sugar and leave us feeling even hungrier. Full-fat foods take longer to digest, giving your brain more time to register fullness, so you’re less likely to overindulge. Certainly healthy fats such as salmon, avocado, nuts and extra virgin olive oil are important to consume on a regular basis. Insofar as other fats, portion size is important. If you have the choice between one-half cup of full-fat ice cream or two cups of low-fat ice cream with tons of added sugars, go for the full fat.
4. Honor What Kind of Eater You Are
It seems everyone has an opinion on the best way to eat. Some claim it is three times a day while others swear by grazing five to six times a day. There is no “one size fits all approach” in identifying what kind of eater you are. Find out and allow yourself flexibility as we all vary in our eating patterns from day to day and can still follow our own level of consistency. Some people are “early eaters” and need more of their calories earlier in the day. They may find they eat every three to four hours and then are satisfied with a light evening meal. Others do fine with three balanced meals. Snacking is not for everyone and we often go overboard on immediately eating when we feel even the slightest bit hungry. Have you ever noticed how good a meal tastes when we are hungry for it? Certainly healthy snacking has its place. If you find that you overeat at certain meals, adding an in-between meal snack that is a good source of protein and fiber would be a good fit. Discover what style of eating provides the framework for the heathiest you.
5. Drink More Water
Even mild dehydration can present as hunger when you actually just need fluids. This miscommunication occurs in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates both appetite and thirst. When dehydration sets in, messages become mixed, leading you to reach for food when you really need a glass of water. If you are not a regular water drinker work on developing new practices. Cue yourself by keeping water in areas that you frequent. If you do not particularly enjoy the taste of water, challenge yourself to get used to the taste of plain water. Add lemon slices or cucumber for subtle flavors. We have become accustomed to having everything sweetened which can negatively impact our weight, heart, dental and overall health. You can “retrain your brain” for healthier tastes and habits.
6. Get Enough Sleep
When you have not had enough sleep it is more difficult for your body to produce leptin, the hormone that allows you to feel satiated. Inadequate sleep will also disrupt the production of the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is “the hunger hormone” and when it is out of balance we feel hungrier. Inadequate sleep will also increase our stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine. When stress levels are up, the brain will tell the body to get more energy from food to help fight the stress. Try and get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Identify barriers to a good night’s sleep such as being on the computer, texting, or an uncomfortable bed. Implement more relaxing habits before bedtime such as taking a bath or reading.