What’s Driving Your Hunger?

That sensation of hunger that comes when you sit down to lunch and your stomach is growling or feels empty is different from the drive to eat when you walk by your co-workers desk of chocolate and grab a handful. Last week’s post looked at how we are biologically wired to want to eat sugar, fat and salt.

This week I wanted to describe how our eating is driven by different kinds of hunger.

Most people admit the best reason to eat is when they feel hungry. This is called Homeostatic Hunger –a physical need for food. Hormones released by our gut and fat prompts our body to fuel-up so that we have the energy to do all the things we need to do in the next few hours. Our bodies are not like a vehicle, where we can fill them up once and go for the day. In fact our homeostatic hunger kicks in regularly during the day to ensure we get the fuel in when we need it.

The types and amounts of food we eat can have a significant impact on our appetite and energy.

Eating meals that contain a balance of a lean protein combined with a higher fibre grain along with some fruit or vegetable and perhaps a dairy or soy based food will increase your sense of fullness for the longest period of time. Eating meals that are high in refined or white grains and fat such as most processed foods will actually distort your hunger so that you’ll need to eat more to feel full. I work with my clients to find patterns of eating the fuel their body with the right combination of foods at the right times to best help them manage their appetite.

Eating when we are not physically hungry is called Non-homeostatic hunger . This hunger is regulated by the brain and it tied to reward pathways. Whenever we eat for emotional or stress reasons, or when we eat mindlessly, we are engaging in non-homeostatic hunger. From an evolutionary standpoint, non-homeostatic hunger is beneficial as it motivates us to eat more palatable (high in fat and sugar) foods to ensure our survival. Unfortunately in an environment where we have easy access to highly palatable foods 24/7, and our brains are often in a state of stress, this non-homeostatic hunger system can become deregulated and contribute to problem eating behaviors.

If you wonder what rules your eating behavior most of the time, revisit this post and use the hunger scale. If you find yourself eating most of the time when you are at a hunger level of 3 or 4 then your non-homeostatic hunger drives are likely sabotaging your health and weight loss goals.

Check back next week for tips on fighting these drives.