Hunger or Craving? How to Tell.

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It’s the middle of the afternoon and you feel like you just need a little something.

A cookie would be delicious, but those raspberries in the fridge also look pretty good.

Are you truly hungry, or are you just craving something sweet?

How can you tell?

It’s important to learn how to distinguish between true hunger and craving. 

True hunger is when you want to eat because your body actually needs fuel and nutrients. 

Cravings are a little more complicated. Cravings happen because:

  • You’re bored; 
  • You’re anxious or stressed; 
  • You’re having a good time;
  • You’ve developed a bit of an addiction to certain foods like sugar or highly refined carbohydrates like bread, crackers, potato chips, etc.;
  • You’re tired;
  • You have a habit of always eating around this time or in this situation;
  • You’re feeling pressure because of what people around you are eating.

And when we eat for those reasons alone, we’re overeating because our body never needed those extra calories.

But, it gets even more complicated! 

Because sometimes you’re stressed and truly hungry. Or, you have a habit of eating around this time, but this is also a time when your body really does need fuel and nutrients. Or you’re truly hungry but you end up eating far more than your body needs because you’re also having a good time.

So, how do you know when your body really does need food and when you’re just using food for another purpose?

Well, the simple answer is that your body will tell you – but you and I both know that it’s not that easy.

Why? Because, while your body is giving you the right answers all the time, your body also communicates in quiet, subtle messages that can be hard to make out – especially when anxiety, stress, fun and other people are so loud! 

And, to make matters worse, many of us have spent years (decades sometimes) training ourselves to ignore those messages from our bodies…

…this is also known as “dieting.”

Dieting requires that you stop trusting your body.

If you’re hungry – ignore it.

If you’re craving something – ignore it.

If it says it’s tired – ignore it.

So, after years (or decades) of ignoring our bodies and distrusting anything they tell us, we’ve gotten very good at doing it. It’s second nature now…automatic.

This puts us in a bit of a pickle because the only way to know when your body really does need food and when you’re just using food for another purpose is to listen to your body.

So how can we get better at hearing what our bodies are telling us? How can we start to re-learn our body’s language so that we can understand when it’s hungry and when it’s craving something else?

By slowing down and paying more attention before, during, and after we eat.

When you stop multitasking while you’re eating, slow down, chew more and begin to notice how your body’s feeling before, during, and after you eat, you start to re-learn your body’s language.

This way of eating is also known as “mindful eating” (you’ve probably heard me talk about it before) and when you learn how to master the principles of eating this way, it can be life-changing!

You start to notice how your body feels when it’s hungry, satisfied, and stuffed – so you no longer have to guess.

You start to notice the difference between how true hunger and craving feel in your body.

You also give your body time to register how much you’ve eaten so you can notice that you’re satisfied long before you end up overeating.

With some practice, mindful eating can become the more powerful tool in your toolbox as you work to improve your eating habits, leave dieting behind for good, and build a new, healthy relationship with food.

 

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Sara Best

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