How to Know When You Are HUNGRY, and When you are FULL.
Maintenance, starting with P3 and moving into P4 can be very scary because there are no rules about how much you can eat of all those yummy things that are allowed. It is the perfect time to tune into your hunger and fullness signals and begin the discipline that will help you keep your P2 results. Although in P3, you must eat enough, you should not be continually stuffing yourself. Learn to let your body cues guide the amounts you eat. This maintenance tool is a real key to long term success.
Learn how to discern your hunger and fullness signals
Your hypothalamus has been undergoing adjustment and healing during P2, so it will be sending you hunger signals. This will be a new experience for some. You have the opportunity to get in touch with those signals in P3. Its important to realize that there are different hunger levels. With some practice, you will be able to sort them out. There are several levels of hunger.
LEVEL 1: Thoughts of food
You are involved in something else and suddenly you start thinking about food. This is the beginning of hunger.
LEVEL 2: Food looks good
If you are already thinking about food, seeing an appealing food is another indicator of hunger building. Don’t confuse this with looking at a piece of chocolate cake–that ALWAYS looks good! What we are talking about here is looking at something nutritious, like an apple or a bowl of vegetable soup and finding it appealing.
LEVEL 3: An empty feeling
This can manifest as an energy drop and will usually happen around your regular meal time. It means the food from the previous meal has been processed and the body is ready for more. This stage can include a very mild hunger. Both emptiness and a mild hunger at regular meal times are signs you have not been overeating and that you are ready for food.
LEVEL 4: Unmistakable need for food
You might feel weak or tired. You might even feel twinges of hunger pangs. You might feel mentally fuzzy or light-headed. Your body is telling you it is low on fuel! You want to be sure not to let this hunger go unsatisfied, because this is the last chance on the hunger ladder to stay in control. You will start being vulnerable to cravings if you wait much longer before eating.
LEVEL 5: Ravenous hunger
This stage of hunger is the kind that makes you wolf down your food quickly without even tasting it. It also makes you vulnerable making poor choices of sugary or fatty foods like candy, chips or pizza.
It is important to remember that stomach growling is not true hunger. Its just digestion noises. it can happen even when you are not at all hungry.
When learning your signals you want to aim for eating somewhere around level 3. If you get to 4 or 5, it can be harder to figure out your fullness signals.
How to Know When to Stop Eating
What does hunger satisfaction feel like?
The point of satisfaction is that moment when you know you have had enough and you don’t need that next bite. To someone whose signals have been suppressed or damaged by constant dieting, it might sound impossible, but you really can get in tune to the point where you recognize this moment. To learn it, stop eating at the quarter and halfway points of your meal and assess how you feel. It keeps you mindful of what is happening and you may find that you really don’t need to finish everything that is on your plate to have eaten “enough”.
How does hunger signaling actually work?
Hunger and fullness is regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain. When your body has had enough food to satisfy its needs, signals are sent from the stomach to the hypothalamus, registering fullness (also called satiety). When we are in tune to our bodies, we recognize when it’s time to stop eating. The stomach feels comfortable, and satisfied–not stuffed. We soon begin to feel calmer, more alert and energized.
It takes approximately 20 minutes for fullness signals to transmit from the stomach back to the brain. So, if you eat too fast and aren’t paying attention, it’s easy to override this system and eat more than what the body is calling for.
Tips to help you figure out your hunger/satisfaction signals
When you decide you are hungry enough to eat, try to eat slowly and chew thoroughly. This will give time for your satisfaction signals to get through. You want to stop eating not when you are full, but when you feel satisfied. As you become more skilled at it, there will come a point where you will recognize the “last bite”. That is the last bite you want before moving from satisfaction to fullness.
Employ serving habits that help prevent overeating, like using a smaller plate, serving from the kitchen instead of family style at the table, and filling half your plate with vegetables. This keeps you mindful of portion sizes. By all means, if you finish and you are not satisfied, have more. But many times you will find you reach that satisfaction point before eating as much as you think you will want.
Before fixing your plate, assess how hungry you are. That can help you decide how much food you choose to put on your plate.
Eating smaller meals more often can make it easier to tune into your hunger/satisfaction signals. Try aiming to eat every 3-4 hours. This could work out to 3 meals and 2 snack-meals each day. Remember to make the volume of food at each sitting smaller than you would if eating only 2-3 times a day.
To determine if a craving is signifying hunger, give it 10 minutes or have a glass of water or a hot drink. If after 10 minutes you forget about it, it wasn’t real hunger. If you still have the urge to eat, the craving was likely the start of real hunger.
Avoid the practice of “eating ahead”, thinking you may not have time to eat later when you expect to be hungry. This behavior forces you to override your natural signals and will slow down your learning curve.
If you are having trouble figuring it all out, try keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks to learn what times of day your hunger appears and at what levels. After each meal, note your hunger level:
- not hungry
and your satisfaction level:
- still hungry
- pleasantly full
- uncomfortably full
Find out how often you eat soon enough and stop soon enough. This will give you a good idea of the “tune-in” work you still have ahead of you.
Don’t be discouraged if you can’t seem to get a handle on this right away. It often takes a while of consistent fueling for your body to respond normally again. This and being a conscious observer of your signals during meals will eventually pay off. You can learn to approach eating like the naturally thin person who doesn’t care about food until they notice they are hungry. You can learn to be like them, and finally achieve freedom from food obsessions.
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