Is it really possible to eat less and not feel hungry?
Hunger is one of the least understood human functions. If you are like many adults, you may not know why you feel hungry when you do, and this ends up affecting how much you eat. So the question is: can you eat less and not feel hungry?
Let me give you a little test. Which of the following choices do you think is the best answer to what makes people hungry?
- An empty stomach.
- Our body’s need for energy.
- When our blood sugar is low.
If you answered 1—we feel an empty stomach—let me point out that the stomach is empty most of the time, but we don’t spend our entire day eating. So hunger would not seem to be the result of an empty stomach.
If you answered 2—hunger is the body’s need for energy—consider the fact that each pound of stored fat in your body contains 3500 calories of energy. So hunger would not seem to indicate that your body needs energy.
If you answered 3—hunger occurs when we have low blood sugar—there is no doubt that low blood sugar can make you hungry. On the other hand, even people with high circulating blood sugar such as those with diabetes and those receiving glucose through their vein also get hungry. So hunger would seem to be due to low blood sugar as well as other signals.
If you answered 4—hunger is a result of stress—let me say that while many people may eat to relieve their stress, they are usually doing so without actually feeling hungry. In addition, every one experiencing stress does not reach for food as a coping mechanism. Some people don’t eat because of stress.
So why do we get hungry?
After decades of study, my conclusion is that hunger is the brain’s way of telling you that your body needs nutrients that your cells need to function. Cells need “energy nutrients” to produce the power necessary for their internal functions, and they also need “essential nutrients”—nutrients that cannot be made inside the body—that are used in normal cell functions, such as repairing tissue, making proteins, fighting off invaders, and so on.
When you feel the hunger sensation, I contend that the brain has detected a critical level of depletion of key nutrients essential for your body. Just as the brain detects an insufficiency of water in the body and generates the sensation of thirst, it signals hunger when it detects that needed nutrients are below optimum levels.
What’s interesting to note is that most very young children tend to be completely in touch with the brain’s signal of hunger. They eat when nutrient deficiency drives them to do so and then they eat as much as their body needs to get the missing nutrients present in the food they are eating. I submit that the way children eat is the natural evolutionary way the human body was built to feel hunger and respond to it.
As children, when our bodies were low on specific nutrients, the control centers generated the sensation of hunger and helped the selection of foods containing the right nutrients needed at that time. When we ate plant and animal-based foods, the control centers of our brain began learning what nutrients were in each food item. They monitored the food intake and remembered each item’s nutrient content via the signals generated through the taste and smell receptors. We ate until the nutrient intake met our nutritional needs, as experienced by a reduction in the pleasure of eating.
So what can adults do to eat less and not feel hungry all the time? I suggest that adults can begin to listen more closely to their brain’s signals indicating when they truly need nutrients. The sensation of an empty stomach, a momentary lull in energy, a stressful situation—all these do not necessarily mean you should eat. Instead, wait for your brain to tell you through a hunger signal that your body needs nutrients. Recapture the same anticipatory excitement of each meal that you had as a child, by selecting what your brain tells you to eat, and experience the enjoyment of each bite of food. As for knowing when to stop eating, also do as you did when you were a child. Don’t feel compelled to eat everything on your plate. As soon as you notice a significant decline in the pleasure of eating a food, stop eating. This is my advice for how to learn to eat less and not feel hungry.
Cautionary Note: If you eat a lot of carbohydrates at a meal, such as bread, pasta, rice or corn, it can throw off your brain’s natural mechanism of hunger generation. This is because grain-based carbohydrates produce a lot of glucose in your bloodstream. That will then induce your pancreas to release insulin to a point where you develop a significant reduction in blood sugar that will result in feeling anew the sensation of hunger. That is why people who overconsume carbs often feel hungry again within a short time. It becomes a negative cycle of repetitive eating.
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