Hunger can be a physical or emotional need. Understanding the need to eat is fairly straightforward. Meeting nutritional needs allows our bodies to operate to the highest potential, and will keep us feeling better. So to ease your hunger, it is advised not to turn to destructive habits, substances or negative people. This will not fill the physical or emotional emptiness that you’re feeling. Instead, find something wholesome to eat or talk to a good friend or loved one.
Maybe if we look into to why we are hungry, it can help us tease out these feelings. Feelings are, for a recovering person, very difficult to identify and challenging to discern. When we use the recovery tool known as HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, and tired) to assess our situation, we may see that being hungry is more physical and less emotional. Maybe being hungry is bringing up your emotional need for something else? Or maybe hunger comes from the physical triggers that we will explore more in this blog.
Some reasons that you are hungry
So, it’s 3:00, past lunch yet many hours before dinner, and you are hungry. All you can think about is the next time you get to eat and what you are going to eat. It’s all you can do not to scarf down whatever is in the nearest vending machine. But what gives? You ate a good lunch, why are you ravenous now? Turns out, our brains and bodies are frequently conspiring to trick us into thinking it’s time to eat when it really isn’t.
I bet you didn’t sleep enough last night. Ever notice your grumbling stomach is a bit louder on the days after a fitful night’s sleep? That’s because too little sleep has been linked to higher levels of the hormone ghrelin, which is responsible for triggering hunger. This recent study from Northwestern University showed that people who regularly stay up late are also more likely to eat unhealthier food, weigh more and eat more during the evening, compared with people who go to bed early. And to make matters worse, when you’re sleep deprived, you’ll usually crave carbohydrates, and calorie-laden foods, as your body searches for alternate sources of energy. Researchers at the University of Chicago think this could be a clue as to why people who regularly get too little sleep are at a greater risk of obesity.
You had dinner at your Mother’s last night and ate too much. Science doesn’t have a completely fool-proof explanation for this sensation yet, (of eating too much, not the sensation of eating at Mom’s) but there’s no denying that you are hungrier in the morning after going to bed stuffed to the gills. Contrary to common belief, it’s not that your stomach is stretched out, but more likely a result of the type of foods you overindulged in. If you overdid it on starches, you could have triggered dramatic changes in your blood sugar that trick the brain into thinking you’re still not full. I believe that this phenomenon is the reason why we will eat cold pizza for breakfast after a night a watching the World Series and downing four other pizzas, chips and soda.
You’re pre-menstrual. Guys, you are off the hook here. But many women intuitively know this, and now there is proof to back up those thoughts that PMS is really the reason you ate the whole container of Ben and Jerry’s. During the pre-menstrual phase, progesterone production increases. This increased hormone production boosts your appetite but also increases your general malaise about your body in general, as if you weren’t already emotional enough.
You could have had granola instead of Pop Tarts. The most important meal of the day is breakfast. It is also the one that is most under pressure to be eaten dashing out the door, while driving in the car or standing at the bus stop. Eating the wrong thing for breakfast can throw off an entire day. A 2013 study suggested that one of the most important breakfast component is protein. A serving in the range of 300-400 calories of fruit, plain yogurt, eggs and yes, even a turkey sausage or bacon is an ideal breakfast. In this study, people who ate high-protein breakfasts were less likely to reach for fatty, sugary foods later in the day. You might also be getting too little fiber or fat, both of which help keep you full. As many as 31 million people in the U.S. skip breakfast each day, with men ages 18 to 34 leading the pack. So that is why so many people join you in the break room at 3pm.
Some medication’s side effects include weight gain. In the last 20 years, the number of meds with weight gain side effects has increased from one in 10 to one in four. The drugs you should be concerned about are drugs for chronic diseases, like diabetes and psychiatric problems, because you may have to be using these drugs for a long time. Even innocuous meds like over-the-counter sleep aids can cause weight gain by slowing your metabolism, or by altering the hormones in your body that control your appetite. If you use a drug for chronic conditions that require life-long treatment, experts suggest discussing your medication with your doctor. There could be a similar drug without the weight gain side effect.
You are hooked on diet soda. A zero-calorie sweet drink sends a message to the brain that calories are on their way. Then, no calories are actually delivered, this triggers the brain to send out hunger pangs to compensate for that bait-and-switch. More research is being completed on this, so in the meantime, it’s probably a good idea to cut out or at least cut back on artificially-sweetened pop.
Open a bottle of water, you’re actually just thirsty.A little mild dehydration can give you a sluggish, fatigued feeling and, just like when you’re sleep deprived, the body often turns to calories for fuel. That means, when you experience what you think is hunger, it’s really thirst. Weight-loss experts often suggest drinking a glass of water and then waiting a few minutes before giving in to the craving for something to eat.
You are on a tele-conference call and you’re bored. Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain linked with motivation, stimulation and reward. Dopamine makes us feel good about eating, so we don’t forget to do it, which is not exactly a problem for most of us! So, in the absence of more stimulating fare, like drugs, alcohol, sex, or internet gaming, the handy dopamine neuron-stimulating electrode in our brain triggers a lever whenever we fancy a thrill, like during a telephone conference call, and the food starts calling to us.
You’re emotionally impaired, angry or stressed. Yes, there’s a biological reason for emotional eating, too. Think fight or flight. Our natural stress response is technically an evolutionary tactic to help us avoid becoming someone else’s dinner. In the face of stress, hearts race, muscles fire – all to give us the ability to run away or be eaten. Once we are safe, our body relaxes and our brain sends messages to refuel and replenish for the next harrowing experience. So stress activates a couple of brain systems to increase appetite. It seems to trigger cravings for sugary or fatty foods, and a flight to the corporate cafeteria before they close.
So what can a person do to avoid the constant and dreaded desire to eat when they are not really hungry?
Of course, the most obvious advice is to avoid it in the first place: drink water, avoid stress, chose foods that will keep you full longer, avoid carbs, and eat foods that are high in volume and low in calories, like leafy greens, which are also full of protein and fiber. Beyond that, all you can do is some damage control: eat a sensible, filling breakfast (oatmeal, granola egg-veggie scrambles!), walk around the office, straighten the copy area, talk to your colleagues, and know that the hunger will pass.
Next week’s blog will focus on making decisions when you are hungry and what the research says.
This blog was based on the following research:
Sleep Deprivation Could Increase Hunger, What a Study Suggests. (7/10/12 ) Huffington Post. See more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/sleep-hunger-deprivation-_n_1659954.html
Night Owls at Risk for Weight Gain, People who go to bed late and sleep late eat more fast food and weigh more, (5. 4. 2011) Marla Paul, Northwestern University web site – See more at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2011/05/night-owls-weight-gain.html
Why Am I Hungry After A Big Meal? (7.18.2012) Meredith Melnick, Huffington Post. See more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/why-am-i-hungry_n_1677364.html
Differential associations between ovarian hormones and disordered eating symptoms across the menstrual cycle in women, (6. 07. 2011), Sarah E. Racine MA, Kristen M. Culbert MA, Pamela K. Keel PhD, Cheryl L. Sisk PhD, S. Alexandra Burt PhD and Kelly L. Klump PhD. Article first published online: 7 JUN 2011, International Journal of Eating Disorders. Volume 45, Issue 3, pages 333–344, April 2012, Wiley Online Library. See more at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/eat.20941/full
31 Million Americans Skip Breakfast Each Day (10.11.10). Huffington Post. See more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/31-million-americans-skip_n_1005076.html
Why We’re Saying ‘No Thanks’ To Diet Soda, (7.24.2013), Amanda L. Chan, Huffington Post. See more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/24/diet-soda-health-risks_n_3606906.html
The Mayo Clinic Web Site, De Hydration definition, 2014, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, see more at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/basics/symptoms/con-20030056
Do You Eat Out of Boredom? The biology of boredom eating…and how to beat it.(12.4. 2011), Psychology Today. See more at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bad-appetite/201112/do-you-eat-out-boredom