All of us have food cravings from time to time.
But finding yourself in the pantry or at the drive-up window might have more to do with your mood than your actual need for food.
It could be that you’re using food to deal with stress, boredom, anger, loneliness, or a host of other emotions. Or you may be struggling with a food addiction. In either case, indulging in such cravings usually means seeking out foods which are high in calories and fat.
So how can you tell if you’re experiencing a craving, or if you’re truly hungry and need to eat?
Here’s one way to recognize the difference:
Hunger usually occurs when you haven’t eaten for several hours. Your body will send one of several signals when your stomach is getting empty, anything from growling/gurgling belly sounds to headaches or feeling light-headed.
Hunger is the body’s way of telling you that you need fuel, and hunger doesn’t pass with time. When you feel true hunger, you’ll most likely seek out nutritious foods (not candy or cake).
Cravings, on the other hand, can masquerade as hunger. They push you to eat particular comfort foods—chocolate, sweets, fatty foods—even though your body doesn’t need more fuel.
Satisfying these cravings can feel good at first, but often leads to feelings of guilt. Cravings may be even stronger when you’re “dieting” or giving up your favorite foods.
The good news is that cravings do pass with time when you resist them. Distract yourself when craving the wrong foods by engaging in some activity.
Another option might be to fulfill that craving with a small amount of something healthy. For example if you’re craving sweets, how about a handful of grapes or a few slices of mango?
Self-awareness is key in distinguishing between hunger and cravings.
Below is a picture of the Hunger and Fullness Scale, which describes just that: varying degrees of hunger and fullness. It’s a tool that can help us identify how hungry or full we are.
Level 5 is neutral, neither hungry nor full. Level 4 is where we’re starting to think about food, at Level 3 our stomach starts to growl and our thoughts increase about getting something to eat.
At Level 2 there’s lots of stomach growling, our stomach may actually hurt, and we need to get food now! At Level 1, ravenous, we’re past the point of hunger and can have headaches, difficulty concentrating, and low energy. At Level 0 we’d be weak, dizzy, have a stomachache, and be mentally impaired.
On the fullness side, Level 6 would be lightly full, we’ll be hungry again in 1-3 hours. Level 7 = moderately full, satisfied, hungry again in 2-3 hours. Level 8 = Full, comfortably full but would not want to eat more. Level 9 means we’re stuffed, past the point of comfort (our stomach may hurt). And Level 10 is when we’re so uncomfortably full that we feel sick.
It is normal for your hunger and fullness to fluctuate all day long. Staying in the moderate ranges (from a 3-7) will help you avoid extremes in hunger and fullness.
If you start eating when you are lightly moderately hungry you are more likely to stop eating when you are lightly to moderately full. If you start eating when you are empty or ravenous you are more likely to eat until you are stuffed or sick. This scale can serve as a guide to help us mindfully connect to our bodies and our true hunger signals.
Hari Hachi Bu
The long-lived, Okinawans in Japan, who stay healthy well into old age and have the highest percentage of centenarians in the world, follow a practice called Hari Hachi Bu, which teaches people to stop eating when they’re 80% full.
It’s something they say before meals as a reminder to stop eating when they feel 80% full. One of their proverbs says that “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we followed that example?
By getting back in tune with your hunger and satiety signals and paying attention to what/why you eat, you’ll soon be on the road to a much healthier lifestyle.
Interested in more tips for healthy eating? Check out this free training class where you’ll walk away with tips you can begin implementing today.
Keep your mind on things above, not on worldly things. (Colossians 3:2, GW)
(Photos from VisualHunt)