How to Curb Hunger

Monday, January 14, 2008 - 12:52pm

By Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD

Hunger is one of the most basic human drives. Propelled by intense hunger, people in a starvation situation will eat nearly anything. In our current state of societal abundance, most of us never experience true hunger. As a result, we're often out of sync with our bodies' natural regulation of hunger, appetite, and satiety.

The difference between hunger, appetite, and satiety

These three words signify different things. Appetite isn't exactly hunger, but rather a general appreciation for and interest in eating. Related to appetite are cravings -- strongly felt desires for a particular food. Hunger is a physical sensation characterized by things like headache, shakiness, decreased concentration, and a sensation of empty or growling stomach (aka borborygmus). Satiety is the feeling of fullness and the desire to stop eating. Appetite, hunger and satiety are governed by both the mechanical state of the digestive system (in other words, whether there's stuff in there) as well as hormones such as insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and cholecystokin (or CCK). The body can sense things like whether the stomach is distended or the intestines are stimulated to start shuttling things through the pipes. It also has complex feedback loops for hormones -- when one goes up, another might go down, and a third might respond to the first two to tell the body it's lunchtime.

The several factors that affect hunger, appetite, and eating

These hormones affect and are affected by physical feelings of hunger as well as thoughts and behaviors. So, for example, you can feel hungry after not eating for six hours. Or you can suddenly be inspired to eat dessert even after a full meal when you've actually consumed enough food to satisfy your body's needs. Our experience of appetite and eating is also affected by our cultural and personal habits. In some places, it's considered gauche to eat on the street whereas in North America it's not uncommon to see someone noshing while walking down the sidewalk. Some cultures feel that it's uncouth and greedy to eat to fullness; in other societies, nobody escapes a dinner party without eating till they nearly burst.

The source of problems with appetite and hunger

People who struggle with their weight typically have problems managing appetite and hunger, and responding to satiety signals . They are extra-sensitive to appetite and hunger cues, and almost oblivious to feelings of fullness. They may be easily stimulated by external influences such as the sight of food, and have frequent cravings.

Identifying and managing hunger and satiety

To achieve and stay at a healthy weight, here are some tips to manage the munchies.

Hunger is increased by:

  • Not eating regularly; the body will tend to self-regulate by overeating if it goes without food for too long.
  • Eating a diet high in sugars and starches. This makes blood sugar fluctuate, which leads to cravings and problems managing eating behavior.
  • Eating a diet low in fiber.
  • Eating a diet that is too low in fat and/or protein.
  • Stress, so be vigilant about not reaching for the ice cream when you're tense.
  • Caffeine intake -- a coffee will temporarily suppress appetite, but it may come back with a vengeance once the effects wear off.
  • Being around food stimuli. If there are cookies in the office lunchroom, or chips in your pantry, get away from them. When it comes to food, out of sight is often out of mind.

Satiety is increased by:

  • Eating regularly; every 2-3 hours is ideal.
  • Eating a diet with enough protein, fat, and/or fiber -- in other words, a "cave(wo)man" diet based around meat, poultry, fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, and lots of fruit and vegetables.
  • Eating foods that are high volume but low in calories (most vegetables fall into this category).
  • Drinking plenty of water (i.e., soup has also been shown to help people feel fuller).
  • Eating slowly and allowing the body time to respond to the presence of food.
  • Eating mindfully and being aware of what you're consuming -- mindless eating while distracted by another activity will often lead to eating more than you realize.
  • Controlling portion sizes . People will often eat all of what they're served, regardless of the size of the plate, so use smaller plates if you are cutting calories.

And by the way, it's a myth that cravings are the body's way of telling you what you need in your diet. Nobody needs a 3pm candy bar or a late-night chicken wing run.

For further information on avoiding the munchies see the following article from TheDietChannel: Beat The Munchies! Strategies to Avoid Tempting Food.