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    5 ways to get in touch with your appetite

    The real trick to managing weight is to eat less, but not to feel hungry or deprived. Being hungry all the time is a death sentence for any weight loss program.

    The desire to eat starts with a twinge, and before you know it, you're rummaging through the fridge. But the real question is: Are you really hungry, or was that a twinge of habit, boredom, or some other emotion? Understanding your own eating habits and learning to recognize true hunger is an essential weight loss tool.

    The decision to eat is affected by a host of factors: sights, smells, social settings, and more.

    We eat to satisfy our appetites but also to soothe emotions, celebrate victories, satisfy cultural expectations -- and because it just tastes good.

    Scientists have been researching influences on appetite and hunger for decades. The body's systems are complex. "Hunger hormones" (ghrelin) in your blood and an empty stomach signal the brain when you're hungry. Nerves in the stomach send signals to the brain that you're full, but these signals can take up to 20 minutes to communicate -- and by that time, you may have already eaten too much.

    Rating Your Hunger

    When you sit down to eat a meal, you want to be hungry, but not ravenous. (Letting your blood sugar get so low that you feel ravenous often leads to binge eating.) And your goal is to stop when you're comfortably full.

    To get into the habit of evaluating your hunger, rate your hunger and satisfaction level before and after every meal. Here's a numerical scale you could use:

    0: Ravenously hungry, salivating.

    1: Hungry, belly growling.

    2: Mildly hungry; you may need a light snack to hold you over, but you could hold out a little longer.

    3: Satisfied; don't need to eat any more.

    4: More than satisfied; ate too much.

    5: Stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.

    And whenever you're about to run to the kitchen or break room or detour to the nearest drive-thru, ask yourself these questions first:

    • When was the last time I ate? If it was less than 2-3 hours ago, you're probably not feeling real hunger.
    • Could a small, nutritious snack rich in fiber tide you over until the next meal?
    • Can you drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes?

    If you find that you don't easily recognize the signs of hunger, schedule your meals and snacks. Divide your eating plan into several small meals, spaced every three to four hours. Rate your hunger each time you sit down to eat, and try to become more aware of what real hunger feels like.

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