UNC Health Care

Appetite Awareness

Post by Diane Danchi, R.D., L.D.N. Diane is a Registered Dietitian at Rex Wellness Center of Cary and Rex Wellness Center of Knightdale.

Summer is here and many are faced with a desire to lose some weight for summer styles. For so many people, this is a common life theme and success this time may not mean a permanent change in weight. The common approach is to start skipping meals or restricting and depriving of specific foods. Sometimes this restriction and deprivation feels empowering, but it often leads to some kind of rebound eating or a full blown binge. Some may believe that they cannot lose weight unless they are totally miserable, which in turn is not sustainable.

Learning how to key into your body’s true hunger and satiety is a balanced and effective approach which is helpful in weight management. We are trained from the time we are small children to ignore hunger and satiety signals, ‘eating for the kids in China,’ being members of the ‘clean plate’ club, being taught to never ‘waste’ food regardless of the impact it has on our own ‘waist!’ A new perspective on hunger and satiety could revamp your relationship with food and get your weight moving down.

There is great beauty and pleasure in eating when we are truly hungry. It means we have burned off all the fuel from the previous meal, our palate / taste buds are rejuvenated and ready to enjoy food, and it is the time food will taste best, giving us the most pleasure for the calories spent. This is the purpose of the Hunger Scale, a tool to call us back to eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied (never ‘full’ or uncomfortable). Eat at ‘3’ when your stomach is growling; stop at ‘7’ when satisfied.

With the Hunger Scale as a guide, train yourself to eat regular meals and snacks at regular times. A meal should last at least 20 minutes (so your appetite control center has time to get the ‘we have fuel’ message). If you eat faster, you will still be hungry after you eat the right amount of food and head for seconds. At the end of the meal you should be satisfied and always COMFORTABLE. Never eat to discomfort. That meal should get you 4-5 hours, then you are hungry for the next meal or snack.

With the availability of food in our culture, we are constantly exposed to challenging food cues. Recognizing these cues and effective ways to deal with them can help greatly with weight management. Most of the time we should eat when hungry and stop when satisfied. If you see an advertisement, smell something cooking, are offered something with pressure, are with other people, get stressed, bored, angry or feel lonely, you might want to eat even though you aren’t hungry at all. ‘Is my stomach growling?’ is the question to ask before grabbing that fork. If you are not hungry, learn to skip the eating event and wait until true hunger presents. Plan ahead to focus on something else like taking a walk, striking up a conversation with someone, playing an instrument, cleaning a closet, calling a friend, or planning your next vacation!

Experienced dieters will often create a list of foods to avoid when ‘dieting.’ This eventually results in feelings of deprivation with a rebound binge-eating event, accompanied by guilt and frustration. Rather than restrict food, listen to your body. If the craving is strong, honor it in the smallest portion you can without guilt, then move on. This is a life strategy and is sustainable.

A couple more tools to help management appetite are fiber and water from whole grains, fruits, veggies. They both fill you up with no calories, and a high fiber meal takes longer to digest. Dehydration can make you think you are hungry when what you really need is fluid, so intentionally hydrating wards off ‘fuzzy hunger.’

There are lots of ways to honor yourself and manage weight through understanding your appetite, so use it to your advantage and don’t let your appetite be the saboteur of your health and weight management.