In the United States, we are blessed with copious amounts of food everywhere we look. It is rare to grow up in the U.S. without ready, steady access to nutritious food. Because of this, many Americans adopt an early habit of eating when they are not really hungry. Over time, we can stop identifying the actual signs of hunger–instead mistaking depression, loneliness, thirst, and boredom for hunger. Routinely eating when you’re not hungry will almost inevitably lead to obesity.
Here are some simple tips that can help you determine if you’re actually hungry.
1. Drink a glass of water.
For some people, thirst and hunger are so similar that we can’t distinguish the difference between the two feelings. This is especially common if you usually get nutrition from your drinks–that is, if you routinely drink sodas, juice or milk products. Drink a tall glass of water if you think you may be hungry. If the hunger persists, it may be the real thing.
2. Ask yourself when you last ate.
If it’s been more than two hours since your last meal or snack, you’re likely to be at least somewhat hungry. However, if you’ve eaten in the last hour or two, the feeling you have may be boredom or craving, not hunger. If you think you’re hungry shortly after a meal, wait half an hour to see if the feeling subsides. If not, get yourself a snack.
3. Call a friend.
Many people feel false hunger when lonely or depressed. If this describes you, you may benefit from calling a friend or relative to chat for a few minutes, especially if you’ve had a stressful day. If you still feel hungry after doing this (or anything else you enjoy), you are probably hungry. Contact your health care provider if mood disruptions cause you to frequently overeat.
4. Think of something you could eat.
Picture a healthy, low-calorie food, such as an apple or a carrot. If this sounds appealing, you are probably hungry. If the only thing that whets your appetite is a slice of cake, you are probably coping with sugar cravings or fat cravings. Get yourself a snack only if the idea of a healthy meal appeals to you.
5. Take a multivitamin.
Sometimes, cravings for specific foods are caused by nutritional deficiencies. Address these deficiencies by taking a balanced multivitamin supplement containing trace minerals. This may help to address your cravings, especially if you are deficient in a specific micronutrient. Fortunately, because multivitamin supplements are ultimately safe for the vast majority of people, this simple intervention is almost always worth a shot. Talk to your doctor if you think you have a nutritional deficiency.
Visit the National Institutes of Health for more common-sense weight loss tips.