What is hunger?

September 2021

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What is hunger?

How we experience hunger is personal to each of us but it largely originates in the brain (don’t fall asleep just yet!). A really simple way to understand this, is that when it comes to food, we have a Wanting Brain and a Liking Brain.​

Our Wanting Brain monitors our nutrients and is truly content when we have enough nutrition going into our bodies. When we take care of ourselves and eat nutrient dense food, we meet the needs of our Wanting Brain and it feels satisfied.

Our Liking Brain monitors our pleasure and is truly happy when we enjoy our food (e.g. the flavour, texture, colour). When we take care of ourselves and give ourselves time and permission to enjoy our food the Liking Brain feels satisfied.

The secret to regulating hunger

In order to regulate our hunger, we need to meet the needs of BOTH the Wanting Brain and the Liking Brain. If we don’t, our bodies move into survival mode and we will crave more, no matter how much food we have eaten.

When we eat food we enjoy that has little nutrition we ONLY satisfy the Liking Brain and when we eat nutritious foods that we don’t really enjoy we ONLY satisfy the Wanting Brain.

Meeting the needs of BOTH at the same time is how we regulate our hunger and reduce our cravings.

You may have noticed that there is no mention of calories, and that’s because both the Wanting and Liking Brain don’t understand the concept of calories!

The diet and 'wellness' industry can be obsessed with calories but it means nothing to either our Wanting and Liking Brain and does not help us to regulate hunger.

Calories are not made equal, just take a look at the following;

OPTION 1; 200 calories of nutritious food that brings little or no pleasure

OPTION 2; 200 calories of food that fills you with pleasure but has little or no nutrition

OPTION 3; 200 calories that offer both nutrition and pleasure.

Option 3 will help us to regulate hunger because the needs of both the Wanting and Liking Brain are met.

 

If we choose Option One or Two we are unlikely to be satisfied, our bodies will move into survival mode and our cravings will increase.

 

Meeting both our nutritional and pleasure needs will help us to regulate our hunger and support our body to feel nourished. Counting calories is literally a road to nowhere!

Eating mindfully

Dietary chaos, especially over longer periods brings significant confusion to your body. Eating mindfully helps us to slow down giving the body the extra time it needs to send signals to the Wanting and Liking Brain.

Many of us who eat in a disordered way experience disconnection when eating so we can tolerate the loss of control and/or the intensity of our feelings. When we are not fully conscious of what, or how much we are eating, it takes longer for the body to send signals to both the Wanting and Liking Brain. We are likely to eat more as we feel unsatisfied for longer. Eating mindfully helps the body send clearer signals to the Wanting and Liking Brain. 

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Eating enough

We can also help our body regulate hunger by eating enough and eating regularly. This ALSO meets the needs of both the Wanting and Liking Brain.

 

Working towards eating 3 meals and 2 snacks spread over the course of a day is a great way to support ourselves. 

When we don’t eat enough or don’t eat regularly (e.g. by skipping meals) this signals to the body that there isn’t enough food and our body moves into survival mode.

 

When we deliberately restrict our food, even just a little, our focus begins to narrow and we become preoccupied with food, particularly high energy foods. This is our body responding to what is happening in order to survive.

Lets be clear, this has nothing to do with will power and everything to do with our body's natural survival response.

Restriction does not satisfy the needs of either the Liking and Wanting brain and we will eventually respond by either binge eating or overeating. Our bodies are designed for survival and its futile to fight against this!

It can take the body time to recover from being in dietary chaos and how long this takes varies for each of us. Once recovered our appetite will stabilise and our natural hunger and fullness cues will return.

Summary

Working WITH our body means meeting the needs of BOTH our Wanting and Liking Brain. By attending to these needs and learning to regulate our hunger we recover from dietary chaos.

 

It really is this simple.

Download the Hunger Scale

Learn how to regulate your hunger. The guide includes info on keeping your fuel tank topped up, getting started with the Hunger Scale and the Hunger Scale Check In, a great way to support your recovery from dietary chaos.