Hunger is a primary human survival mechanism that helps us survive starvation. It is a discomfort in the body triggered by a need for nutrients. Physical hunger is best described as a belly-centered sensation. It is an empty or hollow feeling in your stomach, with or without stomach growling. It comes on gradually and may come and go before becoming a steady sensation.
Physical hunger is not a sensation in your mouth or throat or a craving for a particular food. Those feelings can be related to physical hunger, but they are not necessarily a need for food.
After years of food restriction, some people tie hunger to feelings like fear, deprivation, anxiety, punishment, or danger. The challenge here will be to separate the physical feeling of hunger from those emotions. Hunger is a mild sensation in the stomach, not unlike thirst, which is a mild sensation in the throat/mouth.
A sudden desire to eat may stem from an emotion, a time of day, or the site/smell of food. These types of false hunger usually subside in about 20 minutes. If you were unsure if you were experiencing false hunger, wait 20 minutes to see if you were still feeling hungry. If you are, it is probably physical hunger.
When you start to experience mild hunger, pause - maybe for 5 minutes, maybe for 30. If this task feels daunting, start with the five minutes, and increase from there.
Responding appropriately to hunger cues means not treating physical hunger as an emergency. When you sit down to eat, you should be feeling hunger sensations and be looking forward to eating.
The number of calories we need each day varies greatly, depending on our size, our metabolic rate, and activity level. We all have an amount of food that is just right for us. The ability to recognize and honor your internal fullness cues will help you find that just right spot. It is also a valuable skill if you can apply it to any eating experience.
Feeling satisfied means you no longer feel hungry, but you aren’t uncomfortably full. Ideally, every bite you take leaves you feeling better when you start eating. After a certain point, eating more starts to make you feel worse. When you’re comfortably satisfied, you should not have any feelings of hunger left, but you should also feel as if you could take a brisk walk without physical discomfort. Your stomach should feel good – not empty, not heavy, not bloated.