How To Know If You’re Hungry

You know those days where you have ridiculous cravings, but don’t really know if you’re actually hungry? When I switched up my workout plan, I faced this a lot and frankly, got a little frustrated because I felt like I was eating for the sake of eating and not because I was actually hungry.

Sometimes cravings can trick us into thinking that we’re hungry when we’re actually eating out of habit, sadness/emotions, or boredom.

Here are ways you can combat your cravings and identify whether you’re truly hungry.

person with hair in face in front of a fridge
Corey Motta

1. Drink water.

Sometimes you think you’re hungry when you’re actually thirsty. Our bodies will send signals to us when we’re dehydrated which can be mistaken for cravings. Drink a big glass of water and see how you feel after.

2. Identify your hunger.

According to Clean Plates’ author Heather Sears, ‘naming your hunger’ is a strategy for seeing whether you’re actually hungry or not.

According to her, here are the types:

  • Visual hunger. We all have a natural desire to look at food. Seeing crave-worthy food, physical or virtual, can make us want to eat.
  • Nose hunger. Our sense of smell is linked with taste. Smelling cookies in the oven or rotisserie chicken in the store can trigger this type of hunger.
  • Ear hunger. The sounds of meal preparation (like bacon sizzling in a frying pan) can literally make your mouth water.
  • Mouth hunger. Food tastes good, so sometimes we crave that sensation whether we actually need food or not. And as one craving for flavor is satisfied, our mouth hunger can perk back up if we switch to new tastes.
  • Cellular hunger. When your body needs particular nutrients, you may feel physical manifestations similar to those you experience when you need food, like headaches, fatigue, or irritability.
  • Mindless hunger. This is when we eat out of habit or are distracted and eat on autopilot: In front of a device or TV, or at a movie, for example.
  • Emotional hunger. We may associate certain foods with treats from our past or think of them as offering relief from unpleasantness. We may have unmet emotional needs and turn to food for comfort. We might even develop habit loops around the cycle of discomfort and eating.
  • Stomach hunger. When your stomach rumbles, it could mean there’s an absence of food, but growls can occur at any time on an empty or full stomach. The rumbling is from muscular activity in the stomach and intestines and from gas moving around.

3. Focus on your present self.

When you’re feeling a craving, center yourself in the present moment. Breathe, identify stress, and notice what you’re feeling. Are you experiencing true hunger, or are your emotions manifesting themselves into cravings?

When you can identify your present feelings and behaviors, you can determine whether hunger is real or a byproduct of something else.

4. Identify your craving and see if you can eat something else to subside it.

Have you ever been craving a specific food, but realized you didn’t have it in your pantry or didn’t have the means to get it immediately? And so, as a result you settled for something else and realized you weren’t really that hungry to begin with?

Use this strategy when you have a craving—if you’re unwilling to eat anything but what you’re craving, you might not be that hungry.

5. Have a small snack.

See if you can pacify your craving with a small snack (ex: apple). If your still hungry afterwards, your cravings might be an indication that you really do need some food.

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