How do we know if we’re hungry?

Have you ever had the experience of eating foods that you love when you are genuinely, physically hungry? When your body has signaled you that it is hungry? If you have, then you know that eating from hunger, from true physical hunger, is one of the most joyous experiences in the world. Food tastes wonderful and our bodies and brains are energized! But how do we know if we are truly? Women ask me this question all the time.

Our bodies, in their innate wisdom, send us hunger signals. Just like the little tank on the gas gauge that lights up before we run out of gas and are left stranded on the side of the road, our bodies send us hunger signals so that we don’t run out of gas, so that we don’t run out of the ability to think clearly and move energetically.

Some of us don’t have a clue about hunger because we’ve spent so long trying to control it or push it away. We’ve used coffee, cigarettes or diet soda to keep a lid on our hunger. On the other end of the continuum, some of us have never given our bodies enough time to get hungry. We’ve eaten compulsively for a variety of reasons, including fear of experiencing true body hunger.

What are your hunger signals? Everyone experiences hunger differently, but there are some commonalities. Common signals are: a feeling of emptiness in the stomach; stomach noises, gurgling or growling; light headedness; headaches; shakiness in one’s hands, arms, and legs; feelings of nausea, difficulty thinking, irritability.

But how often do we women ignore our hunger signals? Some of us have come to believe that hunger awakens the insatiable beast inside of us. The second we put food in our mouths that beast will keep us eating nonstop and will not/ cannot be satisfied. So…we don’t eat. We put off eating or we starve ourselves. I used to be one of those women who would not eat breakfast (and sometimes lunch) thinking that I would be cutting my calorie intake for the day significantly if I ate fewer meals. In truth, I was consuming more calories later in the day because I was starving and… I was obsessed with thoughts and images of food throughout the day. (Can you relate?)

So if we eat when we’re hungry, we’ll awaken the insatiable beast. Right? Wrong, so very wrong! We can teach our bodies to trust us when we respond to the hunger signals that they send. We do that by feeding them.

But I eat all the time, you say. I eat when I’m hungry, when I’m sad, lonely, depressed, tired. I eat when I’m happy, bored, and anxious. You’re not alone and you’re addressing the difference between body hunger and mind hunger. True body hunger sends the aforementioned signals and those signals arise from your body. Body hunger comes in regular intervals, three to five hours after the last eating experience. Mind hunger, on the other hand, does not have physical symptoms and does not come in regular intervals. Body hunger is a signal that the body is low on fuel. Mind hunger signals that the emotional self is in need of something. What does the emotional self need…love, comfort, companionship, compassion, support? We’re not going to know unless we’re willing to ask.

So, to eat or not to eat is no longer a challenging question. Let’s honor our bodies by feeding them when they are physically hungry. And let’s honor our psyches by bravely asking them what they need and responding appropriately.

Author's Bio: 

Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with over 15 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women
who desire more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who want freedom from food and body obsessions and who want to develop a peaceful relationship with food and with their bodies. Ilene can be reached at 518-570-6164, or