Understand the different types of hunger

Learn how you can recognise and manage the different types of hunger.
Published 29 October 2015

Types of hunger

Understanding and recognising whether you are physically hungry, eating because you are bored, tired or stressed, or eating just because food is there, is a key skill to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight for life. We know that there are two main drivers to eat:

1. Physical hunger

You’re likely to feel an empty feeling or a rumbling in your stomach and you could also feel light headed too, depending on how hungry you are.

Ignoring physical hunger isn’t a good idea, as this is when you’re more likely to make rash food choices – usually sugary or high-fat foods. You can stay one step ahead of physical hunger by eating regularly throughout the day.

2. Head hunger

This type of hunger isn’t necessarily linked to a real need for sustenance. This type of hunger might happen when you’re stressed, frustrated, upset or bored or just because food’s readily available.

By learning to recognise if and when you’re most prone to ‘head hunger’ you can plan strategies to avoid it – perhaps carrying a piece of fruit with you when you know ‘head hunger’ is most likely to strike.

Most of us aren’t particularly good at recognising when we’ve had enough to eat. That’s because over time, with plentiful food around us, we’ve learned to ignore our own natural hunger and fullness signals. Instead of eating until we are comfortably full we tend to eat until the food has all gone, regardless of the portion size.

Once you’ve learned what sparks your hunger and start paying more attention to your body's hunger signals, you’ll be onto a weight-loss winner.

There are also a few other things you can do to help manage your hunger and maximise your weight-loss efforts….

Slow down when eating

Research has found that eating quickly significantly raises the risk of being overweight, as does eating until you feel stuffed. And, if a person eats both quickly and until they’re stuffed, they’re at an even higher risk of being overweight.

The body has a natural signalling system to let us know when we've eaten enough, for example the wall of the stomach will expand with the food you have eaten and a signal will be sent to the brain. But this signal takes time to get to there, and certainly more slowly than the fast-paced lifestyles and eating habits many of us are now used to.

If you eat too quickly, your natural signalling system can’t keep up and you don't get the message that you’ve eaten enough, until it’s too late and you’ve eaten more than your body actually needs.

Although it’s difficult to say exactly how long these signals start to kick in after you’ve eaten, most health experts agree that it takes at least 20 minutes.

It can be challenging to find the time to physically sit down and eat a meal or a snack – deadlines, children, all kinds of things conspire to take up the time you’d rather be spending on a long, lavish meal.

But remember that you don’t have to sit there for hours – simply slowing down and spending an extra 10 minutes at mealtimes could be time well spent if it means kilos off at the scales!

Get into a routine

When you’re trying to lose weight, establishing a daily eating routine of regular meals and snacks, consistently throughout the week, has been shown to be one of the key factors for weight-loss success.

Studies involving people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off for good, show that there are some key behaviours that contribute to that success. One of them is eating three regular meals with snacks in between. This is so successful for weight loss because eating regularly throughout the day helps to maintain energy levels, keeps you one step ahead of hunger and in control of food choices.

These studies also reveal that people’s overall eating patterns can have an impact of weight-loss success. People with regular eating patterns over the whole week, including weekdays and weekends, tend to be more successful in their weight loss and weight maintenance than those who are ‘careful’ all week and then ‘splurge’ at the weekends.

Those who tend to splurge at the weekends may be more at risk of getting into the habit of overeating. It could also be more difficult to get back on track every Monday morning.

Taking a more balanced approach throughout the week is more likely to give greater weight-loss success and be easier to stick with.

Don't become distracted

Sitting down and focusing on what you eat during a meal could really help with your weight loss. There are some interesting studies that reveal watching TV and/or listening to music while eating increases the amount people eat. So set the table and enjoy what you’ve put on your plate, free of any distractions.