People with diabetes often focus on following a meal plan – in other words, what and how much you are eating. However, it is also important to connect with hunger to help manage diabetes – in other words, why you are eating.
Perhaps you’ve ignored hunger for so long you’ve forgotten how to recognize it. Maybe you see hunger as the enemy or blame it for diabetes. Perhaps you confuse hunger with all the other reasons you want to eat, like mealtimes, boredom, stress, or tasty food.
Many people with diabetes are afraid of hunger because they’ve been warned about (or have experienced) hypoglycemia.
At the same time, you may have learned to ignore the feeling of satisfaction, so you eat until you’re uncomfortable or even stuffed. Perhaps you still “clean your plate,” “never waste food,” and “eat all your dinner if you want dessert,” instead of stopping when you’ve had enough.
What is hunger?
Hunger is your body’s way of telling you you need fuel. You were born knowing exactly when and how much to eat – even if you didn’t have the ability to meet that need without a caregiver’s help.
By reconnecting with your instinctive signals of hunger and satiety, you can better manage your food intake and your blood sugars without obsessing over every bite of food you put in your mouth.
How does hunger help manage diabetes?
When you have diabetes, the idea of using hunger to help guide your eating may seem puzzling or even scary – especially if you’ve been told you have to eat on a schedule. However, reconnecting with your hunger signals helps you manage your diabetes in several ways:
- You’ll notice you’re hungry before you’re overly hungry and that makes it easier to choose what and how much you’ll eat.
- If you are on medicines that can cause low blood sugars, recognizing hunger earlier can help prevent hypoglycemia.
- Food actually tastes better when you’re physically hungry. My grandmother used to say, “Hunger is the best seasoning!“
- When you’re eating because you’re hungry, rather than eating because you are sad, mad or glad, it may be easier to think about choosing nourishing foods rather than selecting foods that are primarily for comfort.
- You’ll feel more satisfied because food is great for reducing hunger but not so great for reducing boredom, stress, or other triggers. Think about it. If you aren’t hungry when you start eating, how do you know when to stop? When the food is gone of course!
- There is overlap among the symptoms of hunger, hypoglycemia, and hyperglycemia. Learning to recognize the differences will help you respond appropriately to each of them. (For more on all this, see Chapter 5 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes.)
Trust Your Gut Instincts
To break out of the pattern of eating on autopilot, get in the habit of asking yourself, “Am I hungry?” every time you feel like eating. This simple but powerful question will help you recognize the difference between wanting to eat and needing to eat.
Look for symptoms like hunger pangs, gnawing, growling, emptiness, low energy, shakiness, or headache. Notice that hunger is physical. It’s not a craving, a thought or a temptation.
By connecting with hunger as your guide, you can become your own internal expert about when, what and how much to eat – even when you have diabetes.
Hunger and Diabetes: Food for Thought
- What specific signs of hunger do you usually have?
- If you are at risk for hypoglycemia, do you know what the symptoms are and how to treat it?
- What other thoughts and feelings do you confuse with hunger at times?
- What can you do to redirect your attention until you’re hungry when you feel like eating for other reasons?
- Have you noticed that some foods keep you satiated for longer than others?
This article was updated from a previous version.
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