Is hunger a bad thing?


Although perfecting the appetite control centers seems overwhelming, there are a few ways to help you become more aware of your appetite and to better manage your hunger, all in an effort to help you meet your energy and nutritional needs for a quality-filled life. 

But before I go into these appetite awareness tips (next blog), I want to touch on a topic that I mentioned in my last blog.

Appetite is the desire to eat. Often times, we associate appetite to hunger. 

There are so many diet pills on the market marketed to "stop hunger". Just take a pill and you will not be hungry.
You may have recently heard a friend or training buddy say that since they started their new diet, they are never hungry. They can go long hours without eating, they have no cravings any more and they are just never, ever hungry!
Sounds too good to be true, right? 
What lucky people to never feel hungry!

Wait a minute....why are we applauding this? 
Since when is not feeling hungry a good thing? 

As I mentioned before, hunger is interesting and for athletes, it is extremely misleading.
For example, think about what you feel between lunch and dinner. From around 2-5pm, how would you rate your hunger? Do you feel like you are always hungry yet you are just sitting around at the computer, only moving your body to answer the phone, go to the restroom or walk down the hall?
Yet when you workout, hunger is gone. You are burning hundreds if not over thousands of calories and the thought of even eating a gel or drinking a sport drink sounds unappetizing. Heck, I bet there have been times when you have worked out for over 2 hours on only water (not that I am endorsing that!) yet when it comes to after dinner, you constantly struggle with saying no to the late night snacks.

Interesting, right? The times when you are burning the most calories, appetite can go away yet sitting around is often the time when you are reaching for energy-giving (pick-me-up) foods.
Certainly much of this has to do with how we metabolize our fuels and blood sugar control but nonetheless, the point is that our appetite/hunger cues can often be misleading as to when we need to eat/fuel. And more so, athletes are often "fueling" their bodies at the wrong times, eating energy dense foods when sedentary and underfueling when the body does need fuel - even when you don't feel that it does.
Let's get real here. In our society, we have formed such an unhealthy relationship with food. Seriously, how many people do you know have peace with food, see eating as a positive experience and do not follow a "diet" that heavily restricts food or food groups? 

 Hunger is seen as something that causes overeating, sugary cravings and obesity. But then again, for the weight loss seeker, hunger is also seen as a necessity - if you aren't hungry, then you aren't doing your diet correctly. 
In a world of voluntary food restriction, many people try to ignore (or trick) hunger in an effort to change body composition. 

Yet in other parts of our country (and even in the US), hunger is a real problem. A hungry child, parent, animal or grandparent suffers from food insecurity and malnutrition is a very serious condition.

Hunger is an important and positive part of eating. Because when you are hungry and you eat, you feel better. Or you should feel better because food tastes better when you are hungry. 

There are many concerns that I have in our population as it relates to how people honor their hunger and control their appetite. There are grazers who never allow the body to actually become hungry or feel full, there are individuals who mistake emotions for hunger (ex. lonely, bored, stressed, hormonal). Then there are those who choose food restriction and try to mask feelings of hunger with calorie-free chemically-made products (ex. diet coke, Crystal Light, sugar free candy/gum, etc.) because it isn't the "right" time to eat.

But you see, if you truly want to understand your hunger, you have to stop worrying about everyone else and focus on yourself. You have to honor your body and what it is telling you. You need to learn how to honor your hunger and create a diet that allows you to feel hungry at the right times and satisfied when the meal/snack is over. I call this eating with a purpose. This is not done with a diet fad but instead, simply making ongoing dietary swaps/additions so that you create a diet that works for you and your lifestyle. 

If this seems troublesome for you, send me an email or reach out to another RD.
This is an area that I specialize in and it is my goal to help athletes/fitness enthusiasts understand how to develop a healthier relationship with food and their body and to let food enhance their life, not control life.