Hunger or Craving
Do you know when you are truly hungry?
Food is so accessible, sometimes I think we end up responding to cravings so often that we don't allow ourselves to feel true hunger. In response to this confusion, I thought it might be helpful to blog today about the difference between hunger and craving.
First of all, it's easiest if you think of hunger as a physical need for food. When you are hungry, you will feel weakness due to the lack of food. Your body tells you in physical ways that you are hungry. You might just feel an emptiness that you know will progress to weakness if not fed. Or you could have symptoms such as a headache or dizziness that tell you that you are hungry. In any case, when you eat, these symptoms subside; and, you don't need to eat any particular food to stop the hunger...any food will satisfy it.
Craving, however, is a desire for a specific food. It has little if anything to do with hunger. Instead of needing food, you are wanting the taste, the crunch, or the texture of a specific food. When you are seeking sweet, salty, or spicy foods, this is not hunger. This is craving. Cravings can sometimes be created by hormone shifts. But most often emotions create cravings. Your desire for a specific food fools you into thinking that you are hungry.
Often, cravings are situational. Something in the environment reminds you of a certain food, and this reminder creates a craving. For example, you just ate dinner, but you go to the movies, smell the popcorn and feel as if you need to have some. You don’t really need it. It’s a craving. Or, you meet a friend for coffee and you see the doughnuts lined up in the display case. This visual cue reminds you how much you love doughnuts. This thought creates a craving.
Have you ever wondered why you eat when you aren't hungry? Or, are you one of the lucky ones who actually pays attention to why you eat?
I have been working on this. I must say when I first started paying attention to hunger versus craving, I had great difficulty distinguishing between the two.
For me and for most of us, the mere sight of food causes a reaction. Our tasks to counteract these urges are (1) to pause and bring our eating to a conscious level, (2) to be honest with ourselves as to whether we are eating for fuel or to satisfy a craving, and (3)to strive to eat for fuel and ignore cravings.
This may start out, as it did for me, as a difficult task, because we know that hunger must be satisfied to keep our bodies in top shape. What we need to realize is that cravings come and go and weaken over time the more we ignore them. For example, those who have given up sugar and salt have said that it may take a month or 6 weeks for the cravings to subside, but once they do, they have little sway over your eating.
To help yourself along, ask yourself when confronted by the hunger versus craving dilemma, if it is logical to be hungry. Then, trust yourself to be honest. Remember that hunger comes from your stomach and is meant to notify you that you need food. Craving comes from your mind and notifies you that you want the taste of a specific food.
Since our goal is health, our wise choice is to eat when you need food and to wait for cravings to subside.