There are three different types of hunger: hangry, hungry and what I will call “mouthgry” or mouth hunger. Hangry happens when the body’s natural hunger mechanisms have long gone unfulfilled, the body’s glycogen stores have been depleted, and you feel irritable and foggy. Hungry occurs due to fluctuations in satiety hormones, leptin and grehlin. Leptin tells us we’re full. Grehlin tells us we’re hungry. Leptin levels decline and grehlin levels rise 4-5 hours after eating – motivating us to eat. And “mouthgry” happens when the mouth is just crying for a little something-something, not due to any real hunger, but as a reward, a titillating mouth pause from life’s burdens. If you feel you are constantly hungry, it’s important to know what kind of hunger you’re experiencing and to observe personal eating patterns if you really want to change it.
Hangry, Hungry, Mouthgry
Personally there is no excuse to ever experience hangry. It is so easy to keep a protein bar or peanut butter and crackers at your work, in your car or on your person. No excuse, it’s a no-brainer, period. And mouthgry is much more complicated. It could be from eating too many refined carbs that cause fluctuations in blood sugar, or it could be related to your personal level of life satisfaction and personal contentment. This is a much bigger focus than what will be covered here and requires personal reflection, re-prioritizing and some serious de-cluttering, both physically and mentally. So that pretty much leaves addressing feeling hunger.
How To Manage Hunger
The key to managing hunger is to make sure each of your meals contains a good amount of fiber from real foods, a good amount of protein from low-fat sources and just the right amount of fat from the heart healthy fats and to eat 3 spaced meals a day. Personally, I’m not big on snacking if meal planning is given its due diligence, but a snack prior to exercise certainly makes sense. Here’s how you can keep hunger at bay.
- Don’t skip breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day and sets the pace for the day. Focus on fiber and protein. It is recommended that we get 25 grams of dietary fiber based on a 2000 calorie diet. The best sources are from whole grains, beans, nuts and produce. You’ll know something is whole grain if the first word under the list of ingredients starts with “whole” or “100% whole”, not “enriched wheat flour”. Some good breakfast examples are a veggie omelette with whole grain toast, a smoothie, or plain fat-free Greek yogurt mixed with fruit and topped with 2 tbsp of nuts. Oatmeal, teff or even quinoa topped with nuts and some Greek yogurt is another great breakfast that will keep you full until lunch. If you don’t have the time to make an omelet, one of my favorite breakfast solutions is to take a slice of a frittata and put it in a whole grain wrap with some spinach and salsa.
- Reduce your high glycemic carbs. These are the carbs that shoot your blood sugar up quickly. This is a correlation between a high glycemic diet and low leptin levels. Examples of high glycemic foods include donuts, fruit juice, corn, potatoes, white rice, pasta and bread and sodas.
- Include heart healthy fat in every meal. Research indicates that getting adequate amounts mono- and poly-unsaturated fats raises leptin levels. Good sources of healthy fats include nuts, soy, avocado, flax seed, olive oil, canola oil and nut butters. These fats also will lower your bad cholesterol, LDL, and raise your good cholesterol, HDL. Be mindful of portions by looking at the calories per serving size because fat is high in calories (9 calories/gram vs 4 calories/gram for carbs and protein).
- Boost your protein. In this Psychology Today article eating sufficient protein caused rats to eat less: “They found that the regimen sparked production of glucose in the small intestine, and that this increase, sensed in the liver and relayed to the parts of the brain involved in the control of appetite, caused the rats to eat less.”
- Increase your volume each meal with nonstarchy veggies and soup. Not only will this please your eyes, but it will fill your belly. Adding nonstarchy veggies to eggs, casseroles, and soups will give you volume, without all the calories. Make sure the soups are broth based without added cream or lots of cheese. Here’s one of my favorite chicken soup recipes and using frozen veggies and canned beans makes this a quick preparation.
- Distract yourself. Hunger does come in waves. If you’ve eaten a balanced meal a few hours earlier, go for a walk, get a drink and know that it will pass in a few minutes.
Feeling hungry is normal. I notice with my own hunger it can be uncomfortable at times. It effects my thinking and makes me want to make quick food choices. Even now, it’s been four and a half hours since I had my smoothie and I notice my hunger is a little uncomfortable. I’m thinking about the half sandwich and extra salad I made for dinner last night. I always keep quick meal ingredients stocked like my peanut butter or low-fat cottage cheese I put on Wasa crackers, a portion of last night’s meal or even the salad we make extra at dinner to have for lunch today. I never let my hunger get to the point where I could eat a horse. And I certainly don’t let myself get hangry. It takes a little planning, but my body rewards me for my effort. And that’s something to “nay” about!