Hunger is a common topic around food and getting in shape. Despite this, most people are unaware of both the different feelings around hunger and the causes of them. To reduce food intake you will often need to understand these and how they are addressed. It is common to blame yourself for being weak willed around food when you are actually just not fulfilling the needs from one of the different hungers. The main types are:

Normal Hunger – This is a natural and calm desire for food. The hunger builds gradually and evenly while coming and going in waves. You can usually resist it fairly easily until it rises to a high level. This natural feeling should be listened to. This hunger will always be present throughout your life and should be satisfied when it arises. When this is the only type of hunger you experience you will feel calm when eating and have an easy relationship with food.

Water Hunger – A thirst for water is like normal hunger in that it usually grows gradually and evenly. It is a fairly calm request on the body that you can easily manage. However, if you always eat food instead of drinking you may find yourself continually eating and not understanding why. A water hunger can occur without you actually feeling thirsty if you keep eating as it masks the thirst feeling.

This issue is easily countered by drinking water regularly throughout the day. Note, for some people drinking too much water can cause a low blood sugar hunger as detailed below which therefore increase the amount of hunger experienced.

You goal is to drink adequate amounts of water for your body, not too much or too little. How often you go to the toilet will give you a clue if you are drinking the right amount as well as the volume and colour of your urine.

Macro’s Hunger – This is one of the most common causes of hunger and perhaps the biggest reason people wrongly blame their eating on emotions. It comes from inefficient energy production and/or inadequate signals from within your digestive system. As discussed this happens after you eat a meal with the incorrect ratio or amount of Protein: Carbohydrates: Fat for your body. It can cause you to get a hunger feeling, often in the form of a sugar craving, anywhere from 15 minutes up to 3 hours after eating.

This is usually the reason that you can find yourself hungry fairly soon after having a meal despite the fact you “should” be full. The way to counter this is to eat each meal with the correct macro ratio for your body. This can be found out through experimentation and listening to the body’s reactions after eating.

Blood Sugar Hunger –This is a powerful hunger. When your blood sugar levels drop below a certain value your hormone system kicks in to regulate your metabolism. This puts an unwelcome stress on your body long term and in the short term can produce some very strong food cravings and hunger. The onset can be fast and it will cause a sugar craving.

Low blood sugar problems can be resolved in the short term by eating regularly and ensuring you are eating in accordance to your ideal macro ratio. Drinking too much water can also reduce your blood sugar which could cause you to eat more. Experimentation can reveal the ideal amount for you.

Blood sugar metabolism is a sign of many different factors and processes. Therefore, long term resolution of high or low blood sugar problems comes from addressing your body’s overall functioning and health.

Brain Based Hunger – This refers to a craving or hunger that stems from your brain. There are different possible underlying causes to this. It could be neurotransmitter imbalances or through the dopamine/food reward pathway. Habitual based behavioural cravings would come under this category also, e.g. you crave popcorn because you are at the cinema. It has been suggested that cravings can arise from low glycogen levels in the liver or deficiencies in certain vitamins / minerals in the body. The evidence is not quite so clear if this is true but if so, then it would activate this desire through mechanisms in the brain.

Regardless of the source, a brain based hunger usually operates independently to natural hunger or nutritional needs. This type of hunger is almost always mistakenly viewed as an emotional hunger. You can resolve this issue through experimenting with the different underlying causes.

Emotional Hunger – True emotional hunger has nothing to do with nutritional cravings. An emotional craving has a very fast onset, often instantaneously. For example, you receive a phone call that makes you angry and immediately you are snacking on some biscuits. Maybe you speak to someone about money and straightaway you are having a piece of cake. You may do this without even thinking or noticing yourself doing it. These cravings can come and go very quickly.

The emotional cause of your poor eating may be obvious, e.g. just broke up with your partner, or more subtle stemming from the stress of your current life situation. This area is best addressed through using stress management techniques in the short term and changing how you respond to emotions in the long term.

What Does This Mean For You?

There is a direct correlation between hunger and how much you eat. Most people can reduce food intake by covering the underlying mechanisms behind each hunger type. To prevent water hunger you would experiment with your fluid intake (water consumed while factoring in salt). For macro hungers you can simply start adjusting your protein, carb and fat proportions within a meal to see how it affects things. For blood sugar you should look at the frequency of eating as well as portion size and macros. For brain based hunger, you can reduce much of it through some targeted connections exercises for your neural programming. Emotional eating is perhaps the default state when you are stressed, if you are left with just normal hunger and emotional eating most people can get results. This is even more likely if you add a couple of stress reduction and coping methods so food is not your only outlet during stressful times.

Photo –  The six types of hunger from my book>>

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