Carolinas HealthCare System
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Nine Ways to Know If You Are Really Hungry

Often, weight-loss patients do not understand the difference between “head hunger” (psychological hunger) vs. physical hunger. Below are some tips to help distinguish between these two types of hunger.

1) Watch the Clock

When was the last time you had something to eat? Hunger cycles peak approximately every 90 minutes. Try to pass through the next cycle and eat every three or four hours.

2) Listen for Grumbling

A growling, grumbling stomach is usually the strongest cue you’re really hungry. But it may not appear right away. Tune into your stomach area and pay attention to any sensations there, like emptiness, mild nausea or rumbling. If you have eaten recently, be sure it’s not just your stomach digesting food.

3) Look for a Slow Build

Physical hunger comes on gradually, while emotional hunger is sudden.

4) Watch for Low Energy

Do you feel a little weak, shaky or fatigued? This is usually a clear sign that your body needs some fuel. Beyond the physical weakness, you may also feel emotionally depleted, resulting in irritability, moodiness, and a quick temper.

5) Wait 15 Minutes

The symptoms above usually get strong once you are very hungry, but before that they can be much more subtle. If you aren’t sure if you’re really hungry, just wait a little while. Find something else to distract you and then check in with yourself a little later. If you are truly getting hungry, your stomach and the rest of your body will definitely let you know!

6) Is it a Craving or Actual Hunger?

A craving means you want a particular taste! Ask yourself what you’re hungry for. True hunger can be satisfied with any food. If only a particular food will do, you’re not really hungry.

7) Are You Hungry or Just Bored?

At times, for lack of anything better to do, some people snack. This is usually due to a craving, rather than hunger. When you find yourself wandering for food, try to do something that’s not food-related to hold your attention.

8) Are you Hungry or Thirsty?

Thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Drink a glass of water then wait a few minutes and see if the desire to eat subsides.

9) Are You Hungry or Just Tired?

Being tired can create a sensation in or around your midsection, which can be mistaken for hunger. If it’s late, go to bed.