“How much should I eat?” is a question I am commonly asked. The answer to this is partly related to your personal nutritional requirements and whether you are experiencing health or illness. The types of foods you eat, your activity levels and how mindful you are of your cues for ‘hunger’, ‘satisfied’ and ‘full’ will also have an impact. Today I am going to introduce our appetite mechanism as the first instalment in the series. In future posts I will address how our choice of food and other lifestyle factors can influence our drive for eating.
What is Appetite?
Our physiological mechanism for appetite involves two main hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Appropriate levels of ghrelin produce the sensations of hunger, encouraging us to eat. Once we have satisfied our hunger, leptin is released to switch off our appetite. However these cues may be overridden by other factors.
The desire to eat can be stimulated by our senses. We have to delve below these, such as the aroma of our favourite food, to tune into whether we are really hungry and NEED to eat. Your physiological cue may be a feeling of emptiness inside your stomach or stomach noises such as gurgling. You may also feel tired or notice that your concentration span has reduced.
The Steps for Tuning into Your Appetite
Matching hunger with the right type and quantity of food comes naturally for some, whereas it takes focused effort for others. This is particularly important for people who carry excess body weight, as they may be misreading their appetite cues.
Step #1 Pause
To reconnect to your cues, I suggest that you pause before eating and ask yourself:
- “Am I hungry?”
- “What do I feel like eating?”
- “How much do I need?”
Step #2 Notice Satiety
The next step is to recongise satiety. Satiety occurs when you no longer sense the physiological drive to eat and before you feel full. Eating to full means you feel pressure on your stomach wall. If you were to continue to eat past fullness you would experience increasing distention of your stomach, as well as feelings of discomfort. You may also feel tired and lethargic.
Step #3 Be Patient
Be patient with yourself as you reconnect with your eating cues. Some people find an appetite scale useful. I recommend a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘very hungry’, 5 ‘neutral, satisfied or no obvious hunger’, and 10 for ‘over full’. On the scale between 1 and 5 you are learning to gauge satiety. Above 5 you will tune into the feelings of fulness. If you are unsure how much to eat, start with a small serve and see how you feel while you are eating.
By taking a mindfulness approach you will soon become more trusting of your appetite cues. In upcoming posts we will explore other tips for trusting your appetite.