Most of us are aware of the discomfort we feel when we’re hungry. That gnawing sensation in your belly—otherwise known as hunger pangs—sets in when your stomach is empty, telling you it’s time to fuel up. Ignoring hunger pangs can lead to weakness, headache, loss of concentration, irritability, and just plain tiredness.
However, it’s important for one to recognize real hunger vs. appetite. Hunger is the biological need for food, while appetite is a psychological desire to eat foods that especially appeal to you. Seeing, smelling, or thinking of food may give you an appetite even when you are not truly hungry. Eating when not hungry can result in consuming more calories than you need.
The next time you think you’re hungry, try asking yourself, “Am I truly feeling hungry, or do I just have an appetite for something in particular?” You may also want to try mindful eating techniques in order to separate true hunger from external triggers, such as boredom or emotions, that lead to overeating (see Mindful Eating: Eat, Drink, and Think).
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- Dairy products contain whey protein, which quells hunger, according to research.
- Whole potatoes, particularly boiled potatoes, are more filling than processed potato products, such as French fries and mashed potatoes. Potatoes also promote increased cholecystokinin.
- Vinegar conatins acetic acid , which boosts and prolongs fullness, so it may be beneficial to include it in your meals, such as in a salad.
- Whole grains, such as rye, contain indigestible carbohydrates that promote the feeling of fullness.
Hunger and Timing
Hunger typically occurs four to six hours after eating. The onset of hunger is impacted by many factors, including composition (nutrient content) and size of the previous meal, nutrients in the blood stream, blood sugar levels, physical activity, sleep habits, gender, age (hunger pangs may become less frequent and severe with aging), the weather, certain medications, and some physical or mental conditions. EN identifies some key strategies and foods that can help combat hunger.
Simple Strategies to Fight Hunger
- Include lean protein sources, such as chicken breast, beans, and fish, at every meal. Protein triggers cholecystokinin, a hormone that signals the brain to slow down the emptying of the stomach. Cholecystokinin also acts to decrease the hunger-promoting hormone in the body called ghrelin.
- Choose minimally processed, higher fiber-containing carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread, barley, and oatmeal, which help to suppress ghrelin.
- Get plenty of Zs. Inadequate sleep is associated with greater hunger from increased ghrelin and decreased levels of leptin, which is a hormone that suppresses appetite and signals the brain to stop eating.
- Chew your food! More chews per mouthful of food works to reduce hunger and increase fullness.
- Establish regular eating habits and avoid skipping meals. A regular eating plan dashes mid-meal hunger attacks and promotes better meal choices.
- Break the fast. Start the day with a healthful breakfast.
—Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD