Did you know that according to its definition, hunger is a feeling?
Hunger : /ˈhʌŋɡə/ noun : a feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat – verb: have a strong desire or craving for.
When I evoke the idea of delaying meals or limiting food to achieve health and wellness goals, I often receive fear and doubt in return. But why does restricting food or changing food habits make us freak out?
One of the most common fear is hunger.
Surprisingly, countless studies and clinical experiences show that one of the main consistent and surprising results is that the hunger feeling eases off QUICKLY, following any dietary modifications.
Changing your food patterns or food content don’t leave you overwhelmed with hunger and prone to overeating. After three prolonged fast, I can confirm that the lack of food is not the sole cause of hunger. If it were, fasting, Time-Restricted Feeding or detoxification would leave you overwhelmed with hunger and prone to overeating, which is not true.
When you start implementing fasting, Time-Restricted Feeding or when you choose to detox, you quickly realize you are working WITH your body’s hunger signals instead of fighting them.
The many faces of hunger
The biological and psychological processes involved when you are hungry are many.
Approximately three to five hours after you eat a meal you start to feel hunger pangs and may even feel cranky. The hunger-triggering hormone ghrelin prompts your feeling. However, the initial wave of ghrelin spontaneously decreases, INDEPENDENTLY of you eating or not.
The hormonal signal of hunger comes in waves. It does not exponentially increase if you don’t eat. When you do experience a natural hunger surge, you can ignore it, and it will disappear.
It does not mean that hunger is comfortable. But as discussed earlier, you build resilience at a cellular level from being uncomfortable.
The “desire side” of hunger
Beyond the hormonal signal, hunger is also a highly suggestible state. You may not be hungry one second, but after smelling food, you may become quite ravenous. Your brain reacts to sensory cues. Your body creates the feeling through your senses.
Hunger is also a learned phenomenon. In Pavlov’s experiment in the twenties, dogs would not only salivate when they saw food but when they EXPECTED food. They reacted to conditioning. And we all respond to different conditioned stimuli.
You feel hunger for many reasons. Hunger is at least the result of a hormonal, neural, and conditioned reaction. And conditioned responses can be compelling.
When you eat at very specific set times every day, the time of the day becomes a conditioned stimulus for eating. Even if you eat a huge breakfast, you tend to feel ‘hungry’ at twelve o’clock.
Time-Restricted Feeding, fasting or detoxification are opportunities for you to use conditioned eating to your advantage.
By changing the intervals that you eat, you break your current habit of feeding three times a day, so you dampen the conditioned response of hunger every 3-5 hours. You become hungry out of a physical message rather than because it’s time to eat.
Similarly, when you are not eating throughout the entire day, you break any associations between food and conditioned stimulus. You may cut the association between TV time and having ice cream in the evening or become less responsive to environmental cues such as vending machines, coffee shops or images of food.
What’s left to deal with is the hormonal hunger signal, the natural ghrelin secretion. As discussed earlier, this natural hunger surge doesn’t last: you can ignore it.
Knowing is half the battle
If your current eating habits do not give you the results you want, it may be time to review your feelings around food. Since knowing is half the battle, I encourage you to experiment and embody the experience of conquering hunger.
Time-Restricted Feeding, fasting or detoxification may help you break all the conditioned stimuli associated with hunger. It will help you reduce, not enhance hunger.