There Are Two Ways to Eat, With Radically Different Consequences

Auriane Alix

Are you and your hunger friends?
Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

When you put down the fork, you’re satisfied. But you feel like you could still eat a little more. What if you get hungry when you’ll be out this afternoon?

I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly what I used to do. But not anymore.

I’ve been working on my relationship with hunger and satiety for some time, and I’ve discovered that there are two ways to eat. You can either eat to satisfy hunger, that is, fill the emptiness you feel in your stomach, or you can eat to prevent hunger from occurring. Two approaches, two radically different end results.

Ever heard of the Hunger Scale?

Below is a chart, called the Hunger Scale. You can find many on the internet, but this one’s provided by The Derbyshire Community Health Services.
Screenshot by Author from a document provided by The Derbyshire Community Health Services.

This is a good tool for learning to get back in touch with your hunger and satiety levels. It says you’re supposed to eat when you’re feeling hungry enough, but before falling into the “I need to eat something right now” sensation. You should then put down the fork when you’re still a little full since your brain needs about 20 minutes to send satiety signals.

That’s what Zane Andrews, an associate professor of physiology and neuroscientist at Monash University, who studies how food (and the lack of it) affects the brain, tells The Huffington Post:

“Generally there is a delay — a disconnect between when you put food in (and your brain goes ‘this is nice’) to when it gets to your gut (and your gut goes ‘hang on, brain, you better slow that down, mate’). There is a 20 minute window, generally speaking, where you’re not getting some of those feedback signals.”

When you keep eating beyond your satiety level “just in case”, you’re basically stuffing yourself. For some reason, you’re afraid of being hungry. When really, it’s okay to have a lil’ snack a few hours after your last meal, because that’s when you’re hungry again.

Hunger is a natural sensation and not something to be feared

“Your body should naturally feel hunger (3 on the scale) around every 3–5 hours after you eat a meal.” — The Derbyshire Community Health Services

Eating beyond satiety has multiple consequences: weight gain and losing touch with your body’s signals — that is, losing confidence in your body’s signals — are among the most problematic.

On her blog, The Appetite Doctor, Dr. Helen McCarthy explains:

“I call this ‘Insurance Policy Eating’. Taking action now to protect yourself later. But what if you don’t need the extra food? If it’s eaten but not used for energy it will be stored as fat. Rather than eating more than you need for lunch you can stop when you’re just full, knowing that if you are hungry later, and it’s not dinnertime, you can eat something to tide you over — a planned snack.”

Human beings are afraid of running out of food. It’s in our genes, reminiscent of prehistoric times when our ancestors were in constant danger of starving if they couldn’t find something to eat. Except that now we have supermarkets and refrigerators, both accessible almost 24/7.

Being hungry is absolutely no problem, and we should learn to recognize this feeling and honor it when it appears, rather than adopting counterintuitive behaviors to try to push it away as much as possible.

The bottom line

Yeah, I still have some work to do on that too. This is the essence of intuitive eating. Getting back in touch with our body. As I like to say, it knows better than we do.

At my next meal, I’ll try to stay in tune with my satiety and drop the fork as soon as I reach the point where I’m satisfied. Even though that piece of cake looks very tempting. If two hours later I find I’m hungry again, so much the better! I’ll have an apple, some whole wheat cookies, or whatever feels right at the time. Why not just that piece of cake I was craving earlier…

Because hunger is natural, and no food is either good or bad. It’s just fuel.

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