Snickers is on to something. Their slogan, “You’re not you when you’re hungry” caught my attention in a new way recently. It’s true. We don’t morph into celebrities, but we do find ourselves irritable, even unfriendly, and perhaps (and unfortunately so), dizzy and lightheaded. We’re not thinking clearly because our body requires nourishment. Our blood sugar drops because our brain and body need energy. And since it’s no fun to feel this way, and let’s face it, who wants to deal with anyone being so cranky, take steps to prevent a case of “the hungries.”
First things first, let’s differentiate between hunger and appetite. Hunger is the body’s physical need for food. Typically we feel physical cues that alert us to make the effort to meet one of our most basic needs. Even when we’re not recognizing the physical signals, as they may be very faint or seem nonexistent, our body’s requirement for food does not change. This can be especially challenging when we’re sick or under a great deal of stress. It takes patience and attention to learn what our body is telling us.
Appetite, on the other hand, is what we’re craving, in the mood for, and the way in which our senses play a role in deciding what to eat. Something looks delightful, smells heavenly, and so on. Step one is identifying we’re hungry, step two is recognizing the role of our appetite to inform our decision about what to eat. Once we’re attuned to both, we can engage in an enjoyable eating experience.
Often these two steps happen so quickly, we don’t notice how we chose, particularly when we’ve allowed ourselves to be overly hungry. We’re on auto-pilot and out of tune, and this leads to reactive eating. When we react as a result of hunger, the likelihood of overeating increases.
Preventing hunger is not always an easy feat, and one many feel they do not do well. It involves planning, and at least a mild amount of organizational and time management skills. The payoff is worthwhile. Here are some guidelines and helpful questions to ask yourself along the way.
Step 1 – Awareness
Increase awareness of your hunger signals and the role of your appetite. This is an evolving process that takes practice. Slow down and pay attention to your body.
– What does hunger feel like for me?
– When during the day do I find I am hungriest?
– What are warning signs that I am heading toward “the hungries?”
Step 2 – Advance
Improve your nutrition know-how by observing what is and is not currently working for you. Do you need more protein? A larger snack?
– Over the course of my day, when are the longest gaps between meals?
– What types and combinations of foods satisfy me most?
– If feeling hungry at what seems an odd time, consider when and what you last ate.
Step 3 – Action
– Brainstorm a list of “go-to” meals and snacks that provide satisfaction and enjoyment. This can include convenience options available at various types of stores and restaurants.
– Grocery shop regularly – and with a list!
– Take items with you on the go. The easier, the better.