Find Your Sense of Hunger

It’s actually good to feel our natural hunger cues.

Hunger is a feeling that most of us know. Our stomachs rumble. Our mouths water. Our thinking fogs. We open kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator aimlessly. These are just the external signals of the complex dance occurring internally between the brain and the digestive system.

The purely physiological aspect of hunger is triggered by two hormones our bodies rely on to help achieve a balance between satiety and appetite. The first is leptin, which is released from long-term fat stores and suppresses hunger. The second is ghrelin, which reminds us to eat. There tends to be an overabundance of ghrelin, as well as leptin, in people who are obese, so they are often resistant to the effects of leptin.

Hunger occurs when we have eaten less than what our body needs, and the brain experiences changes in the blood’s hormones and nutrient levels. Leptin gauges and signals how much fat we have on an ongoing basis. At the same time, we have a short-term system that keeps track of how long it has been since we last ate and how full or empty the stomach, intestines and colon are.

A number of things can short-circuit this system though. For example, when people lose fat, leptin levels drop, and this can cause a feeling of starvation.

Confusing signals

Our body’s system for sensing hunger is pretty simple. But when we add in other influencers, such as emotions and particular foods, our bodies can get confused about what is a hunger signal.

Leptin and ghrelin are not the only hormones affecting hunger. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when we are emoting, specifically when we are stressed. It affects the neurotransmitter serotonin and can hamper serotonin’s effectiveness at appetite suppression. This is the reason we stress eat.

But this isn’t the only time we may eat when we aren’t hungry in the basic sense. We also tend to eat when we are bored or happy or sad or tired. Sometimes we eat when we are thirsty or we just see food. And sometimes that food can mess with our hunger cues. For instance, foods with a large amount of fiber tend to make us feel full by triggering a release of hormones in the gut. On the flip side, fatty foods trick the brain into thinking we have consumed less than we’ve actually eaten. This trickery can cause overeating.

Basic hunger is triggered when the body needs energy and we haven’t provided it. The key is to learn how to silence all the other noise so we can feel this fundamental urge. If we eat when we are not feeling physically hungry, there is a good chance we will overeat. If that occurs, there are larger health issues, such as obesity and disease, down the road.

24-hour fast protocol

You can choose any day of the week for a fast to reset your hunger, but it’s a good idea to select a day that will have minimum demands on energy—with the possibility of either keeping busy on a simple project, or doing some soul-searching activities, such as vision boarding or setting goals and strategies for the upcoming season.

It’s also helpful to create space for your experience and the opportunity to become aware of your body’s cues. A stressful day or circumstances will amplify the emotional challenges of fasting.

Inevitably, the day will bring up something that you will feel strongly about and you will want to eat. When it happens, use it as a practice to breathe deeply and pay close attention to your body’s sensations. In doing so, you will discover what true hunger feels like.

Here is a sample 24-hour protocol for a Sunday fast.

Saturday, 6 p.m.

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Saturday, 8 p.m.

Saturday, 9 p.m.

Sunday, 7 a.m.

Sunday, 7:30 a.m.

Sunday, 8 a.m.

Sunday, Noon

Sunday, 3 p.m.

Sunday, 4 p.m.

Sunday, 7 p.m.

Sunday, 8 p.m.

Monday, 7 a.m.

How to break your fast

Although a one-day fast is not too hard, it’s important to mindfully break your fast to ease your body back into digestive activity. Don’t overload your stomach with a heavy meal! Instead, make breakfast a vegetable juice or something clean such as boiled vegetables with a little seasoning. Ease into other dietary experiences as you resume eating.

Make your one-day fast easier by ensuring you have healthy food (lean protein, veggies, and so on) in the house and ready to go when you “break” the fast on Sunday night with a small meal. Stocking up on healthy food is good insurance that you won’t binge the following day when you return to normal eating.

Contraindications for fasting

Always consult with a health professional before starting a new health regimen.

If you are suffering from any medical conditions, chronic pain, terminal illness or mental illness, it’s especially advisable to discuss with a physician before considering a fast. Those with kidney and liver problems, women who are pregnant or lactating, and children under the age of 18 should not fast unless under direct medical supervision.

Photo credits (in order): JenkoAtaman, Adobe Stock; Ariwasabi, Adobe Stock; Photocreo Bednarek, Adobe Stock