A major myth is that we need to "fuel all day" to sustain our energy levels. We're often told that if we start to feel hunger pangs, we should snack on something or we'll get "hangry" from low blood sugar, we'll lose our will power and we'll then voraciously load up on high-calorie foods.
Considering that many of us spend the majority of time sitting, and our bodies do a great job sustaining blood sugar, there’s no biological rationale for healthy people to nibble throughout the day.
In fact, being “a little hungry” is the best thing that can happen to you, whether you want to lose weight, maintain weight, or just eat healthier. It’s a true mind-body connection. If you can resist that nagging sensation of slight hunger — not ravenous or headache-provoking hunger — you'll learn to recognition the true signs of biological need and also will be more sensitive to automatically recognizing fullness, keys to eating less and avoiding mindless snacking.
Comfortable contentment is the goal.
What to ask yourself before you eat, any time of day or night:
- Are you hungry or thirsty?
- When was the last time you ate or drank anything?
- Are you eating from boredom or stress?
- Can you distract yourself?
- How does your hunger rate? (see quiz below)
We are born with the signal to stop eating when satisfied, but have learned to eat to another endpoint beyond this — too full to eat another bite. The good news is that this is a behavior that can be unlearned with practice.
Take the quiz to rate your hunger:
Aim for Level 3: You’re content and satisfied. You could eat more, but choose not to.
1. Running on Empty (Very Hungry)
You feel physical signs of hunger, such as headache, fatigue or crankiness.
2. Feeling Somewhat Hungry
You're starting to get physical signs, thinking about food.
3. Content and Satisfied
You feel satiated, but you could eat more.
4. Very full
You feel like you ate too much, slightly uncomfortable.
5. Can’t Eat Another Bite
You are stuffed and uncomfortable, wondering why you ate so much
Remember that it takes at least 3 weeks to learn a new habit, and at first this might be challenging, but it gets much easier with time.
Madelyn Fernstrom is the health and nutrition editor at NBC News. Follow her at DrFernstrom