Check Your Fuel Gauge Before You Fill Up

By Michelle May, M.D.

Do you sometimes confuse wanting to eat with needing to eat? Learning to tell the difference is an essential skill for breaking your eat-repent-repeat cycle.

Filling up your gas tankYou were born with the innate ability to know when and how much to eat. Have you forgotten how to use this information?

  • Maybe you never feel hungry because you eat regularly in response to other emotional and external cues.
  • Maybe you ignore hunger until you’re starving then eat anything you can get your hands on.
  • Perhaps dieting has caused you to dread feeling hungry or taught you to eat by the clock to prevent it.

Why Using Hunger Helps

  • Using hunger and fullness to guide your eating helps because:
  • You’ll eat less. If you aren’t hungry when you start eating, how do you know when to stop?
  • You’re more likely to choose nourishing foods. If you’re eating because you’re stressed or bored, what kinds of foods do you crave?
  • Food tastes better when you’re hungry. Hunger really is the best seasoning.
  • You’ll feel more satisfied because food is great for satisfying hunger but not so great for satisfying other needs.
  • You’ll notice you’re hungry before you get too hungry, decreasing the likelihood you’ll overeat.
  • Most importantly, when you recognize that you want to eat because of some other need, you’ll have the opportunity to address it more effectively than with food.

Trust Your Body Wisdom

To break your eat-repent-repeat cycle, develop the habit of asking yourself, “Am I hungry?” before you eat. Think of it this way: When you see a gas station, you might consider stopping to fill up-but first you’d check your fuel gauge.

How to Tell if You’re Hungry

So how do you know whether you’re hungry? Pause and take a few deep breaths. Do a brief Body-Mind-Heart Scan and look for physical symptoms of hunger. Here are the most common signs:

  • Hunger pangs
  • Growling or grumbling
  • Gnawing
  • Empty or hollow feeling
  • Slight queasy feeling
  • Weakness or loss of energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Light-headedness
  • Slight headache
  • Shakiness
  • Irritability or crankiness

Notice that hunger is physical. It’s not a thought, a craving, or a rationalization.

You’re not asking the question, “Am I hungry?” to decide whether you’re allowed to eat but to figure out why you want to.

Get in the habit of checking your fuel gauge before you fill up. You’ll soon find yourself eating less, feeling more satisfied, and meeting your needs more effectively.

(Based on Chapter 2 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. Download Chapter 1 FREE!)