Appetite vs. Hunger

As summer ramps up, everyone is focused on that swimsuit-ready body. While we know what we should or should not be eating, we may not be aware of why we are eating. Being mindful of why we are putting certain foods into our mouths can help reduce overeating. Pay attention to the following eating cues:

Hunger – that gnawing feeling and weakness that alerts you to your body’s need for fuel. Every bite of food that enters our body is broken down into individual molecules that are then used or combined with other molecules and reassembled into new products that the body needs. This is the biological reason that we eat.

Appetite – the desire to eat. Appetite influences us to eat when we are not necessarily hungry, like when you are full after a meal and someone brings out dessert…now you are not eating for fuel. There are many appetite triggers.

Emotions. Researchers have identified certain emotions that make people eat more. These include: depression, stress, sadness, boredom and surprisingly joy. Focus on how you are feeling when you have a desire to eat.

Environment – Social cues influence eating. In one study, researchers found that college students who were instructed to eat with others consumed up to 60% more food and alcohol than those who ate alone. People also tend to eat more when they eat in front of the TV or read during a meal.

Portion size – Most Americans have been taught at one point or another to “clean your plate”. Restaurant and take-out portion sizes have dramatically increased in the last fifty years and as a result, so have incidences of obesity. In fact, over the last twenty years portion sizes have double and even tripled, sky-rocketing the calorie count for one meal. When going out to eat, try splitting an entrée with a friend, or request that half of your meal be packaged to-go.

What can you do? Firstly, practice mindfulness when consuming food. Think about why you want to eat. Are you hungry or just bored? If that’s the case, read or take a walk in nature. If you are actually hungry, sit in a quiet place where you’re not likely to become distracted and think about your meal as you eat. What do you notice? Also, take your time while eating. It takes approximately 20 minutes for the brain to receive the signal that you are eating. Chew your food thoroughly and take smaller bites, this will enhance digestion. To trick your mind, use smaller plates to combat the urge to “clean your plate”. It’s easier said than done, but simply stop eating when you start to feel full. This will help train your brain to stick to these internal cues, and prevent you from feeling “stuffed”.