We are all born with an innate understanding of our appetite. Newborns instinctively crawl up to their mother and latch on to her breast moments after birth. Young children self-regulate their food intake, knowing when they are hungry and when they have had enough.
But it can be easy to lose touch with these natural hunger and fullness cues. In our busy, often rushed lives, many people allow external cues to control how much they eat, rather than internal body signals. Over time, a lot of people have become unsure of what hunger actually feels like.
Reconnecting with your hunger and fullness will help you eat more mindfully, enjoy food, and live a happier, healthier life. If you’re a parent, mindful eating is also a great way to role model to your children – so they stay in tune with their amazing ability to self-regulate eating.
Non-hungry eating includes overeating, grazing, picking, nibbling and bingeing. This type of eating, sometimes called psychological hunger, can be triggered by certain places, by people, or by emotions.
It’s normal to do some non-hungry eating as part of a social event or as an indulgence (read more in our emotional eating blog). But when we do too much non-hungry eating it throws our eating pattern out of balance and can make it harder to maintain a comfortable weight.
Some common reasons for non-hungry eating are:
- confusing hunger with thirst
- allowing ourselves to get too hungry
- eating because it’s there
- ‘just in case I get hungry later’
Our top 5 tips to reconnect with your hunger
Wait for the physical sensations of hunger
If your schedule allows, wait for some physical signs of hunger before eating. Do a mental scan of your mouth, stomach, and whole body. Signs of hunger include:
- slight pain in the upper stomach
- difficulty concentrating
- lacking energy
- stomach growling or rumbling
Rate your hunger
When you’re thinking about eating, ask yourself: “On a scale of one to ten, how hungry am I?” Are you bored? Are you procrastinating? Or are you actually hungry? Is it really hunger or is it thirst?
The hunger scale
10 – stuffed full
8 – overfull
5 – full
2- getting empty
0 – absolutely empty
It’s important to stay within a comfortable range of the hunger zone; never feeling starved or full to the point of discomfort. Try to keep your hunger between a 2-6 rating using the hunger scale. This means eating when the physical signs of hunger appear, and ceasing when you feel satisfied.
Check in with your hunger and fullness whilst you eat as well. Stop eating when you’re no longer hungry, even if there is still food left on your plate (you can save it for later).
Ask yourself: “I can have it if I want it, but do I really feel like it?”
This question is great because it recognises that in order to make sustainable, long-term change to our eating, we can not be overly restrictive. While “but do I really feel like it?” encourages you to consider your hunger specific to that moment.
Eating a meal slowly (around 30 minutes to complete a meal) leads to significant decreases in energy intake, greater feelings of satiety and greater water consumption compared to eating quickly (taking less than 10 minutes to eat).
What does fullness feel like?
- content, you could walk away from your food without thinking about it
- a loss of interest in the food you are eating
- a subtle sensation of stomach fullness
If 30 minutes to eat a meal seems daunting, remember that health is relative to ones starting point, so just try to slow down on your current pace.
Incorporate more colour into meals
Colourful fruits and vegetables add volume to increase stomach distention, which sends signals to your brain that help you feel full. Opt for crunchy salad vegetables, greens, vegetables, beans, or legumes. Colourful foods are also incredibly beneficial for your immunity, energy levels and mental health – win-win?
- If Not Dieting, Then What? by Rick Kausman
- Find Your Happetite
- Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat by Dr Michelle May
- How to Raise a Mindful Eater by Maryann Jacobsen