Am I Really Hungry? (Part 1)

overeating 1According to statistics, you and I probably eat too much. That comes as no surprise given current statistics on the amount of people overweight or obese. What does raise the alarm is that if we turn the clock back about 45 years, there was no obesity epidemic and the amount of people who were overweight was really minimal. In the early 1960’s only a third of the population was overweight and of that 13% were obese. Today, more than two-thirds of the population is overweight and within that, slightly more than one-third is obese. Something has certainly changed. Yes, we live in times of plenty (even since the economic downturn of 2008, this is still comparatively times of plenty). Yes, fast food and takeout food permeate our culture. But one thing that seems to have really changed is the fact that we eat even when we aren’t hungry. What is hunger? What is emotional eating and what are cravings?
For many years already, dieticians plan meals for their patients as opposed to relying on hunger as the stimulus for when to eat and when not to eat. There is very good reason for this. Today, we usually are eating more out of habit, boredom, or emotion. The decision to eat is affected by a host of factors including sights, smells and social settings. We eat to satisfy our appetites but also to soothe emotions, celebrate occasions, satisfy cultural expectations — and because it just tastes good. Dr. Judith Beck Ph.D. narrows it down to three sabotaging thoughts that cause people to eat when they don’t need to:

  1. 1) I’m really hungry…I need to eat.
  2. 2) I can’t resist this craving and I need to eat
  3. 3) I’m upset…I have to eat. overeating 2


Hunger is usually accompanied by a gnawing feeling in the pit of an empty stomach. Non-hunger is the desire to eat when your stomach is not empty, says Beck. One of the most important things to remember is that in normal circumstances, hunger is just never a medical emergency. It might be annoying or uncomfortable, but I often times remind my clients that on Yom Kippur, sometime mid morning you usually get a hunger pang, but by afternoon, it is usually long gone and we are no worse for the wear. Our bodies are made to survive without eating for days. So having to wait a few hours in order to eat will not negatively affect us when it happens here and there.

Research has also shown us that it takes about twenty minutes for our brains to tell our stomachs that it is full enough and we should stop eating. That is why we instruct our clients to leave the table when they have eaten their meal plan worth of food and go to another room. Almost inevitably, 20 minutes later any desire to eat more has passed. Also, we often times mistake hunger for thirst. It is important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Always try a glass or two of water instead of going for food at the outset, and this may just do the trick. Keep in mind that eating small amounts of food more often, 3 meals and 2 or 3 snacks per day will also keep you feeling full and will keep your insulin secretions steady and even, so you won’t feel hungry.


Cravings can come at anytime and they usually have nothing to do with hunger—ask any mature lady about her chocolate. Cravings are more emotionally and psychologically intense. Cravings are very easy to give into, but the moment you decide that you will absolutely not eat, the craving will diminish. This is an area where you can’t be indecisive. According to Dr. Beck, telling yourself things like “I’ll try not to have any”, or “I won’t have it now but maybe later” just won’t work. This is a case of just having to say NO!

One of the techniques I have found that helps my clients over the years to NOT eat when you aren’t hungry, or when it is not, meal or snack time is to stop yourself when you have the food in your hand, look at it, and ask yourself, “Do I need this now?”. If you get into the habit of doing that even at meal times, it can stop you from overeating.

In part 2 and 3 of this article, we will look at emotional eating and see examples of emotional triggers and how to possibly deal with those triggers to keep yourself from overeating and suffering the consequences. Being mindful and eating a well balanced diet as opposed to emotional eating will “add hours to their days, days to their years, and years to their lives.”


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