There are 7 Types of Hunger…Which one are you?
What does hunger feel like to you?
It’s a question I often ask clients who have experienced a funky relationship with food—to some degree or another (i.e. 75% of women, or something crazy like that).
Typical answers range from:
- A growling stomach
- Low energy
- To… “I have no idea…”
In fact, it is this latter comment (“I have no idea”) that is all too common amongst a vast majority of eaters—individuals who have NO IDEA when they are really hungry, or when they are really full.
After all, thanks to the slew of mixed messages, beliefs, food rules and dietary practices we receive from childhood on, there is NO clear definition for what “listening to your body” really means.
Any of these sound familiar?:
- “Eat 6 small meals per day.”
- “No food after 8 p.m.”
- “Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full.”
- “Wait 20-minutes to let your food digest and see if you are really hungry.”
- “Everything in moderation.”
- “NO ______” (fill in the blank with the ‘off limit’ food—carbs, sweets, fruit, grains, etc.)
- “As long as it falls within your macros or calories, you can eat it.”
- “You need 3-blocks for meals and 1 block for snacks” (i.e. Zone diet)
- “Eat a snack before dining our or a party to curb your tempatations.”
- “Substitute a sugar-free version when you crave sweets at night.”
- “Finish all your broccoli and mashed potatoes. Make a happy plate.” (i.e. your mom)
- “Don’t let good food go to waste—little children are currently starving in Africa.”
- “Keep your metabolism revved by eating every 2-3 hours.”
- “Cycle your carbs to burn fat.”
- “Consider skipping breakfast and fasting for at least 12 hours for that slight edge.”
- “Go ketogenic and curb your hunger for at least 5-6 hours at a time.”
- “Just drink coffee with butter and MCT oil for breakfast.”
- “Nothing too heavy in the middle of the day.”
And how many times have you…
- Been at a party, and found yourself reaching for a handful of M&M’s or snacking incessantly on the Chex Mix party bowl—regardless of how hungry or full you are?
- Denied yourself eating anything more outside of your regimented diet plan for the day?
- Found yourself thinking…and thinking…and thinking about food—your next meal, tomorrow’s meal, etc.?
- Ordered dessert—even though you were completely stuffed?
- Thought about mixing things up—adding some variety to your diet routine…but refrained out of fear of the uncomfortable?
- Reached mindlessly into the bottomless chip bowl or popcorn bucket when “in Rome” at the Mexican restaurant or movie theater?
With so many different ways HOW to eat, WHEN to eat and WHAT to eat, it’s no wonder we’re all confused about what “hunger” and “fullness” really feels like.
To make matters even more confusing, get this:
There are about 7 TYPES OF HUNGER!
Hunger is NOT just limited to an emptiness you feel in your stomach.
This is where the practice of MINDFUL eating comes into play—creating awareness around how you feel at mealtimes (physically, mentally and emotionally) to begin to hack what hunger feels like to you.
Understanding what type of “hungry” you are (and what that feels like) can do WONDERS for your relationship with your body and food.
The next time you sit down to a meal, before digging in, check in with yourself:
How hungry am I?
Once we are more aware of the different types of hunger and their reasons, we can respond consciously and more appropriately to satisfy them.
7 Different Types of Hunger: Which One Are You?
Are you listening?!
- Stomach Hunger: The physical hunger your body feels when it’s tank is on empty. A growling or empty stomach is often a sign. We can actually even train ourselves to “feel” stomach hunger—you may have experienced this if you’ve ever been on a schedule (i.e. eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at approximately the same times every day). To determine your physical level of hunger, before your meals, assess your hunger on a scale from 1-10 before a meal (1=famished, 10=stuffed). Halfway through, check in again and do the same.Side Note
: In addition, awareness around what you’ve eaten and drank that day can play a big role in determining your “physical hunger”. The SAME part of your brain that tells your body that it’s hungry (your hypothalamus) ALSO tells your body it’s thirsty. Often times, folks confuse hunger with thirst if they have not properly been hydrating throughout the day (you need at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water).
- Cellular Hunger: Your body NEEEEDs nutrients—and needs them like now. This is the type of hunger where you may have felt an inner craving for something—like red meat or other protein source (iron), oranges or fresh squeezed orange juice (Vitamin C), buttery spread or creamy almond butter (fatty acids), pickles (sodium), leafy greens and fresh vegetables (more vitamins and minerals—especially after some meals of ‘junk’ or sugar), or chocolate (magnesium). Similar to checking in with your hunger in point 1, check in and assess your body’s needs—especially when you think it may be hunger (what are you truly hungry for?!).Interestingly, often times, people try to “satisfy” their true cravings in as many ways as possible other than what they are ACTUALLY craving.
Take a “dieter” on a low-carb approach…their brain, their body, may be craving carbs (especially if they workout or lead an active lifestyle), but in their attempt to “stick to the protocol”, they try to satisfy that cellular hunger (for glucose, B-vitamins, etc.) through more protein…or a ketogenic (higher fat, moderate carb) approach…only to still feel hungry (cellular hunger).
OR…the low-fat/no-fat approach: You do everything within your power to avoid fat at all costs. Instead of rounding at your meal with some avocado, cooking with ghee or coconut oil, or adding a tablespoon of almond butter to your apple, you triple up on veggies; or reach for low-fat snack versions of fattier staples (egg whites, cooking spray, fat-free margarine, fat-free yogurt, reduced-fat peanut butter, fat-free ice cream, 99% lean ground turkey, etc.), only to end up with digestive issues, lower energy levels, poor mental acuity and craving (something).
OR…the no meat or low protein approach: On paper it looks healthy…it sounds healthy…but once again, lowered energy, digestive dysfunction, lowered muscle mass, poor workout recovery, foggy brain, and more have your body lacking vital nutrients.
Are you truly listening?
- Mouth Hunger: Salivating for… A bite of chocolate cake? Creamy ice cream? Cheesy pizza? Mom’s pot-roast and mashed potatoes, or warming spaghetti and meatballs? A hearty bowl of veggies?Nothing quite like…fried chicken and mac & cheese? Or, nourishing bone broth?
Can’t get the thought of SUGAR—something sweet—out of your head?!
Whatever we think of as tasty, appealing and satiating food is often conditioned—socially, habitually or influenced by our upbringing (i.e. mom’s home cooking or “Southern food”, “Tex-Mex”, ethnic food, etc.).
For some this means fast food or sugar. For others, veggies, crisp refreshing salads and hearty meat and potatoes make their mouths water. Mouth hunger has a HUGE brain-body connection.
Are you really hungry—or are your tastebuds?
- Eye Hunger: Similar to those tantalized tastebuds, eye hunger is the “in sight, in mind” kind of hungry wherein you crave it and hunger for it when you see it. To satisfy your eye hunger, consider actually focusing on your food—and the presentation of it—at your meals. Instead of mindlessly watching TV or ignoring the food before you, engage it—visually. Take time to make a plate with your presentable meal (rather than quickly stuffing your face with food in your lap while driving; or eating straight from the bag or box; etc.).
- Nose Hunger: The taste of food is CLOSELY LINKED to the smell of food. Who hasn’t smelled chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven and not gotten a little thought of hunger or eating? Or smelled warm stew or chicken soup on the stovetop, and wanted a hearty bowl then and there? Fresh cilantro and thought, Hmm…Mexican food sounds good? The process of eating, digestion and satisfaction through food actually begins before food even touches your tongue. It begins with the thought of food—and often times those thoughts are spurred on by nose hunger. Are you hungry because of what you just caught a whiff of? Are you satisfying your hunger with food that is sensory-fulfilling and pleasing? Enjoy the smells of your food for nose-hunger satisfaction.
- Mind Hunger: How many of you find your mind easily wandering? One minute you are thinking about checking off your morning to-do list (dry cleaners, bank, text Sarah, e-mail Rick, etc.)…the next—you are thinking about the spat you got into with your significant other last night…the next—what you want to “be when you grow up” (your next career move)…the next—the party you are hosting in 3-weeks and sending out invitations.The mind is fickle (to say the least)—constantly shifting and changing its thoughts and directions.
And it can be the exact same way with your hunger—allowing your shifting thoughts, beliefs, worries, anxieties, woes, etc. determine “hunger.”
When our mind is anxious or worried—food can bring a sense of tangible steadiness and ‘peace’ for a time being.
When our mind is stressed, our food can bring a sense of peace and calm through pleasant tastes, and chemicals that light up our brains (serotonin for instance—the feel good brain chemical).
When our mind is adamant about adhering to diet rules and protocols we’ve been told, then we stick to those rules and regimes with no second thought about anything different. Mindfulness about how your mind (thoughts, beliefs, stressors and concerns) is affecting your hunger can bring new awareness to “listening to your body.”
- Heart Hunger: The mac-daddy of them all. Heart-hunger is highly connected to your emotions—how you feel (in your soul). For instance, you might consider certain foods “comfort food” because you were given it as a child, or because you’ve associated it in our mind as a treat for when we’re feeling down. Other foods may be “trigger foods” because you know you got sick eating it before, or every time you eat that one type of food, you tend to binge or overindulge.
Often times, emotional eating boils down to a desire to be loved or cared for; to fill a hole or void—ultimately which cannot be satisfied through eating.
Feeling “not good enough”; “bad about yourself”; “frustrated with being stuck”; “not loved” or “wanted”; “down on yourself”; etc. are all instances when heart hunger may take over your body hunger cues.
To satisfy your heart hunger, you need to find the void your heart is craving. As you really stop to think about it…try noticing the emotions coming up around your need to snack or eat…what are you REALLY wanting?