Boston University Sargent Choice Nutrition Center

Is it hunger . . . or something else?

Biological hunger is a powerful drive. If allowed to become excessive, it usually leads to overeating energy-dense foods. Ever notice that you crave pizza or fast food when you haven’t eaten all day? The last thing you want at that moment is an apple or salad. That’s the downfall of many diets.

Thoughtful eating means managing hunger by paying attention to it:

  • Learn to recognize when hunger begins. At that point, you’ll be much more open to adding a filling fruit or vegetable to your meal or snack. The added volume will slow you down, giving you the chance to notice that you’re beginning to feel full while you’re still eating.
  • Learn to stop eating when you’re beginning to feel full. Remember that you can eat again when hunger returns.

Of course, there are many opportunities to eat that have nothing to do with physical hunger. There’s eating as a sensory response to tempting foods. There’s eating simply by habit at designated mealtimes. There’s the “clean plate club” eating your parents may have taught you. And most of all, there’s social eating with your friends. Just remember that you can shop with your friends without buying everything they buy. You can practice thoughtful eating, too.

Unfortunately, we sometimes mistake other needs for physical hunger. Emotional hunger can lead to eating out of anxiety, anger, loneliness, boredom, stress, fatigue or even happiness. Thoughtful eaters learn to recognize the difference and find better ways to “feed” emotional hunger. Of course, BU has exceptional counseling resources.