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    'Hunger' vs physiological hunger is a big issue to understand 
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    Our environment plays a significant role in how we respond to both forms
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    There are a number of tools that we can use to better get a handle on our hunger
'The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favours, it always wants more tomorrow'
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

What's the biggest battle in achieving our goals of health, weight loss, performance or physique changes? 

Honestly, I would put hunger right up there as a major battle field. 

Yes, there are other big factors but day to day we face an innumerable amount of triggers that can play on our desire and need to eat.

What is hunger?

Okay let’s face it.

Most of us (myself included) express that we are hungry when we want food, not necessarily when we need food.

For this reason, hunger in the 21st century Western world is an interesting one because we have confused the need for food with the want of it.

Normal hunger (the actual one), is the outcome of having an empty stomach or one that is less than full. We then have an actual appetite for food1.

However, we mostly express feeling ‘hungry’ when we have a momentary desire for the feeling that eating something gives us - food reward.

With true hunger, we are looking to eat to supply actual needs but with ‘hunger’ hunger (reward-based hunger), we are acting more on a want and feeling rather than a physiological need.

Why does this matter?

Hunger is of particular importance to manage because of the environment we live in.

No longer do we have to seek out food in a way that costs us energy2.

No longer do we have to go days without a meal or food availability.

Because of the availability and highly rewarding aspect of food in our current environment, hunger is rarely something we experience. If and when we do, it is more so a reflection of our desire to eat food that makes us feel good, a social occasion or a cultural norm.3

If we can find a way (or numerous ways) to battle the drive for reward and focus in on when we are truly hungry, chances are, we will manage our day to day a little better and keep up more in line with our goals.

How to manage hunger:
The ‘hacks’ that work

1/'Surf the urge'

Research into sobriety and addiction has indicated that urges last approximately 15 to 30 minutes4. We can apply this rule to how we approach hunger and our need to sometimes satisfy that transient need.

Surfing the urge is a method of waiting out the present pangs of hunger. Akin to riding a wave where it peaks, you just have to wait for it to pass. You sit there and wait for them to naturally fade out and weaken. Each time you do this, you weaken the intensity and frequency of subsequent urges.

Another little tip may be to become more aware of when and where the urges to eat arise. Being more mindful of these situations may be of help to further ‘surf the urge’.

2/Use the 'Satiety Index'

The satiety index is basically a list of the foods that make us feel the fullest. Foods are ranked on their ability to satisfy hunger5.

Utilising this list is easy. You don’t have to choose all the foods that are highly satiating but perhaps create your own index of ones that you use each day to satisfy hunger and ward it off for longer. This doesn’t have to be used all of the time, however. You could save it for times when you are being more careful with what you’re eating or are deep in the trenches of a dieting phases for a particular goal.

There are individual items that satisfy hunger immensely such as boiled potatoes, oatmeal and various fruits and vegetables.

Outside of that you can choose foods according to their macronutrient properties - high protein and relatively high carbohydrate with an emphasis on fibre appear to do the job.

 From a snacking point of view (if this is your downfall), you could opt to create a ‘satiety snack list’ to help you keep hunger locked up as long as possible.

3/ Try some 'time restricted feedings'

Different methods of fasting have become increasingly popular in recent years.

While they are not anything magical in and of themselves, they do provide a set of interesting benefits. It has been commented on6, that feelings of hunger tend to pass after a few days of intermittent fasting.

As a complete but related side-bar, I’ve used this method myself and with a number of clients and a return piece of feedback is always this:

‘I’ve really begun to realise what true hunger is and when I am just feeling hungry out of boredom and routine. It’s kept me honest, if you will’. 

As noted earlier, being able to discern real hunger vs the hunger we might feel due to routine lunch times, food availability etc., is a real battle that is winnable. 'TRF' methods help win that battle.

4/'High nutrient density, low energy foods’

This is an easy one and likely a boring one.

Remember all those times that you were told to eat your vegetables?

A big reason why relates to the fact that most fibrous vegetables have a fairly good nutrient, calories and ‘hunger’ economy.

Most vegetable sources tend to provide a decent hit of essential micronutrients, minimal calories when eaten in high volumes and provide some serious hunger evasion.

A practical tip here would be to attempt to make some of your snacks during the day vegetable based. The ‘classic’ versions include carrot sticks, celery and others. While you don’t have to go for this, there is a reason why sources like these are useful.

5/‘Low palatability foods’

Have you ever eaten rice without a sauce and found that you just didn’t want to finish it?

Conversely, have you ever had rice with soy sauce or sweet chilli sauce and found yourself chasing the last grain around the bowl because it tasted so good?

Welcome to the world of low vs high palatability. When you want to manage hunger, choosing foods that are ‘less tasty’ is a big winner.

Interestingly enough, you can develop a palate for these ‘less tasty’ foods and make them part of your regular dietary pattern more frequently.

Wrapping it all up...

  • 1
    Hunger is something that we cannot avoid. Our current ‘bountiful’ food environment doesn’t help us navigate true hunger too well
  • 2
    Getting to grips with managing hunger is a big one because if we can, more restrictive and burdensome methods of monitoring energy intake don’t have to be used. If you know when you’re hungry, or how to ‘surf the hunger urge’, you have made it my friend.
  • 3
    There are many tools and tips that you can use to help manage hunger. Starting with the basics of higher quality food sources is a good start. Then identifying foods that promote better hunger management could be the next step. Then it’s just a matter of making them part of your daily routine and lifestyle. Once this happens, you are on to a winner.





1.Rogers PJ, Brunstrom JM (2016). Appetite and Energy Balance. Physiology & Behaviour (164) 465-471

2.Guyenet S (2017). The Hungry Brain

3.Lowe MR, Butryn ML (2007). Hedonic hunger: A new dimension of appetite. Physiology & Behaviour (91) 432- 439

4.Bowen S, Marlatt A (2009). Surfing the Urge: Brief Mindfulness-Based Intervention for College Student Smokers. Physiology of Addictive Behaviours (23:4)666-671

5. Holt SHA, Brand Miller JC, Petocz P, Farmakalidis E (1995). A satiety index of common foods. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (49) 575-690

6 Donnelly LS et al (2018). ‘For me it’s about not feeling like I’m on a diet’: a thematic analysis of women’s experiences of an intermittent energy restricted diet to reduce breast cancer risk. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (epub)

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