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Eating According to Your Body's Needs

Hunger Is Your Friend

Body of Knowledge

Stomach muscle contractions cause stomach growls. When food is in the stomach, the muscles move food through into the small intestine. When your stomach is empty, however, you can hear and feel the “growls.” Usually, this is a signal that you are hungry, and it's time to eat.

Hunger is good. Hunger is a natural part of your body, and it would be disastrous not to feel hunger. Without the capability to feel hunger, a wild animal would die from starvation. Hunger is a grand thing because it tells us when it's time to eat. Every time you feel true hunger in your stomach, it's time to eat. For some of us, that's three times a day. For some, it could be six times a day. For some, the frequency of feeling hunger pangs varies from day to day.

It's never wise to do things to avoid feeling hunger. You are supposed to feel hunger so that you can know when it's time to eat because eating helps sustain life. You may be thinking that your hunger is out of control. Most often, it isn't out of control; rather, you have either denied or ignored your true hunger feelings for so long that you don't recognize them. You can trust real stomach hunger.

However, there's a sort of fake hunger. It comes from stress and anxiety or other emotions, sometimes from appetite stimulants such as alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or a lack of sleep. The fake hunger is just that. The communication doesn't come from a hunger pang; more likely it comes from the mouth, as in an oral chewing need, from emotional feelings, or from thirst.

Feeling true hunger pangs and understanding how your body communicates hunger are important tools. They make a big difference in your overall success, regardless of which eating program you use.

How to Feel Hunger

Hunger is a pain, and it is felt somewhere above, below, or behind your belly button. Hunger feels different for different people. For some, it is almost like a muscle contraction. For others, it's an empty or void feeling.

To become acquainted with your hunger, wait to eat until you feel a hunger pang. For most people, it takes about two to five hours after the previous meal to feel hunger.

Pay close attention to your stomach initially to feel hunger. Identify where the physical feelings are located. Listen intently to any rumbling or growling. Perhaps you are chuckling at the thought of “listening” to your stomach, but learning your own body signals is remarkably powerful.

What Gets in the Way

Listening to your hunger is incredibly useful in getting to your ideal size. Unfortunately, many of us have a tough time getting the message because certain conditions block us from “hearing” them. Here are a few of the common blockages:

Low blood sugar. If you miss feeling the hunger pang and instead become lightheaded, jittery, irritable, or cranky, go ahead and eat. You could have low blood sugar, which speaks more loudly than hunger pangs, at least at first. When you eat based on sound nutritional advice—by getting protein, fats, and carbohydrates at every meal—your low blood sugar will lessen, and you can feel your hunger pangs better.

Painkillers. If you are on painkillers, either prescription or over-the-counter, you might not be able to feel the sensations of hunger. Other medications, such as anti-seizure or anti-convulsant medications, can also block hunger feelings. If this is your situation, be sure to read A Fist Full of Food.

Nervous stomach. If you feel anxiety as pain in your stomach, you might mistake the anxiety pain for a hunger pang. If this happens to you, see A Fist Full of Food.

Too busy to feel. If you get so busy that you can shut out the world, most likely you can also shut out hunger feelings. Set your watch or alarm to ring every hour to remind you to ask your stomach whether it's time to eat (that is, if it's hungry).

No experience. Perhaps you have ignored your body's hunger communications for most of your life. You may not be able to feel them because you are out of practice. Some people, in fact, never let themselves get hungry. If this is your situation, take time to listen and hear your body's faint and subtle hunger messages. The more you are able to take the time to listen, the louder the messages become. Eventually, you will hear them talking to you loud and clear.

Smile when you feel stomach hunger. It is confirming that you haven't been overfeeding yourself. And good news, when you feel stomach hunger, it's time to eat. Then eat just the right amount of food to feel comfortable and not full.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Healthy Weight Loss © 2005 by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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