How many times have you let hunger pangs sabotage your diet? Convinced you were hungry, you succumbed and ate what you should not have? But were you really hungry?

Hunger pangs, or hunger pains, are a natural reaction to an empty stomach. They cause a gnawing feeling, rumbling or an empty sensation in the abdomen.

So it is natural that our first inclination is to assume it is hunger, ie that you have not eaten enough and need more food. The reality is that we need far less food to thrive than what we think. We have however trained our bodies to accept and crave excess. Now we have to retrain it.  Those pangs are not necessarily hunger, and you do not need more food.

So even if you think you are hungry on your TLC-Program, you are getting more than enough nutrition to not just survive, but thrive. Now you just have to retrain your body and especially you mind…

So, if hunger pangs can happen even if the body does not need food, what can cause them? Several situations and conditions can lead to hunger pangs, including:

The Hunger hormone:
The brain triggers the release of a hormone called ghrelin in response to an empty stomach or in anticipation of the next meal.Ghrelin signals the body to release stomach acids to digest food. If food is not consumed, the stomach acids begin to attack the lining of the stomach, causing hunger pains. Studies have shown that ghrelin increases hunger by up to 30 percent if it is administered to adults.

Quality of food eaten:
Hunger pangs can happen even when the body does not need calories. Eating carbohydrates causes a spike in insulin levels, followed by a quick drop. Ghrelin then increases, even though the food was consumed only an hour or so beforehand. Here the Ghrelin interacts with insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Falling levels of insulin cause ghrelin, and therefore hunger levels to rise.

In this way, eating even large amounts of poor quality food can increase hunger and cause the ‘hunger’ pangs. This is why, when you deviate on your diet, you often trigger hunger

Many people cannot tell the difference between hunger and thirst because the symptoms are so similar. Thirst can cause symptoms, such as stomach pains, shaking, irritability and lightheadedness. So always drink more water as a first step, it may just solve it quickly.

The environment:
Ever walk past a bakery and experience hunger pangs?  Many people have a physical response to smells and sights, like the smell of freshly baked goods or cooking. Even images of food on T.V. or online can also cause the mouth to water. Although this type of hunger is not a need for real food, it causes very real physical symptoms, including hunger pangs.

Lack of sleep:
Lack of sleep can trigger a vicious cycle. Overeating and excess weight have long been associated with sleep deprivation. Hunger pangs are also linked to a lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep.  Lack of sleep increases the effects of a chemical that makes eating sweet, salty, and high-fat foods more appealing.

Emotional state:
According to studies stress and emotional distress can make it seem like the body urgently needs food, even when it may not. There is also the childhood conditioning that taught many of us that when we are sad or upset we get a treat to comfort or soothe us. This can lead many to associate a negative emotional state with hunger pangs. A tub of ice cream after that break-up anyone?

Medication and medical conditions:
Hunger pangs may be caused by medical conditions. In diabetes or insulin resistance, hunger increases when blood sugar crashes. Hunger pangs can also indicate an infection or digestive illness that requires medical attention if pains occur alongside other symptoms ( ie diarrhoea, nausea, weakness, fever, etc)

Some medications, including certain anti-depressants and steroids may interfere with hunger signals and ghrelin release.

Dealing with Pangs while dieting:

You may be more prone to hunger  pangs at the beginning of a diet, as your body adjusts to reduced intake after excess, and again as you near goal weight and the body has less fat to burn. Certain neurons in the brain kick in to fuel appetite once a certain amount of bodyweight has been lost. Knowing it is likely to happen will help you avoid the pitfall of assuming you are actually hungry.

Ways to cope, other than eating:

  • Stay hydrated
    Sip water throughout the day. Aim to drink 8 glasses daily. Limit diuretic drinks, such as caffeine and alcohol, which contribute to dehydration.
  • Get enough sleep
    Establish a sleep routine. It helps to go to bed and get up at the same time every day and aim to sleep for 7 to 9 hours nightly.
  • Practice mindful eating
    When eating, focus on the taste and texture of each bite. Chew food thoroughly. Do not watch television during mealtimes.
  • Use distractions
    It is possible to ignore hunger pangs if they are not based on a real physical need for food. Distract yourself from it, get busy and they will settle or be easier to ignore.

Always remember… your most powerful tool to success (or failure)  is your mind. When you have these pangs, don’t see them as a negative, be gleeful!

Tell yourself, that is my tummy eating my fat! That small change of focus makes a huge difference!