How to Know if You Are Actually Hungry

Rule # 1 - Eat when you are hungry, don’t eat when you aren’t. Easy enough isn’t it? My guess is if you ask a room full of people, they would kindly tell you “au contraire.”

Hunger is our physiological response to our bodies’ need for food. We are biologically designed to be hungry when our body requires calories- but why in the 21st century has this natural response become so complex? Hunger and thirst, in its very essence, are the most critical responses our body has for keeping us alive. Without hunger, we would not know we needed to eat, and without food well… we know what would happen.

Over the years, the idea of curbing our appetite and the endless pursuit to avoid calories has made it even more difficult for us to understand and listen to our bodies essential signals. So how do we get back to recognizing and listening to our hunger?

Well to start, lets explore some facts about hunger:

  • Hunger is a natural response by the body that signals us to seek nourishment (aka calories aka food)

  • Hunger is controlled by our hormones, specifically the hormones Gherlin (hunger-producing) and Leptin (hunger satiating)

  • Typically, your brain and stomach register feelings of fullness after about 20 minutes when you are eating

  • For most adults, our stomach metabolizes the food we eat within 3-5 hours, therefore we often will experience hunger every 3-5 hours (dependent on what and how much we ate in our previous meal)

  • With all external influences aside, each one of us would require a different amount of nutrients to keep us functioning optimally (aka each one of our metabolisms is different). Basic factors that determines our metabolism include: our age, muscle mass, physical activity, body size, sex and genetics.

Furthermore, we live in a culture where there are so many factors that influence our hunger, by either increasing or decreasing our desire to seek food. Some of these include:






  • And many, many more…

We know hunger is a natural, normal and important function in the body AND there are a number of factors that influence our hunger (increase or decrease). So while we can make positive nutrition and lifestyle choices that help regulate our hunger and metabolism, the question that remains to be answered is why do we struggle so much with understanding and listening to our hunger? Well, lets explore deeper:

  • The health and wellness industry - yup, diet culture! Without shaming or blaming diets, the reality is that when we design a diet with specific measurements i.e. caloric restrictions, this means we prioritize the rules of the diet above what our natural body cues are. As a result, we begin to lose trust with our body and what it is telling us.

  • Emotional eating - our emotions can have a direct impact on the way we eat. When we eat, we release serotonin, which makes us feel good. Since as humans we are often seeking feelings of happiness and bliss - its no wonder we turn to food even if our stomachs aren’t grumbling

So, with all that being said, how do we know if we are actually hungry? What tools can we put in place to eat when we are hungry and not eat when we aren’t? Here are some of my favourites:

  1. If you aren’t sure if you are hungry, take 5 minutes and go do an activity (distract yourself) and see if you are still feeling hungry after that

  2. Ask yourself, “would I eat an apple?” The point of this question is if you are truly hungry, you would be open to and seeking real nourishing, fibrous food. If you are not actually hungry, the odds that you would want to eat an apple are low, you are more likely to choose sugary / processed foods

  3. Check in with yourself and see if you experiencing signs of hunger, such as: stomach grumbling, losing focus / concentration, mood shifts, fatigue

If you answer yes to the above, I would highly encourage you to start listening to your hunger, and eating when your body is speaking! Don’t push it away or put it off, but trust and listen.

Another tool to add in your toolbox - don’t let yourself get to the hangry stage! I talk to a lot of people who put off hunger during the day because they don’t have time to eat or forget to eat. It is true, many of us are crazy busy and it can be difficult to stop mid-day to take time for us to grab some grub. But eating before you get to the red zone it is super important to eat for maintaining your blood sugar and preventing crashes and binges. Take a look at the hunger scale below, try to eat when you are in the green zone.



Getting back in touch with our true hunger is tough to say the least. The most important thing we can do in the process is be kind to ourselves, have patience, and trust trust trust (3 times for good luck).

Andrea Zimmering