“Am I Dying?” and Other Hunger-Related Questions

Hunger is a tricky thing for people with eating disorders. We’ve disregarded it for so long that we forget what it feels like. I, for one, ignored my hunger until it became a perpetual part of my reality. I started experiencing it again in recovery, and I was honestly so confused; I kept asking my dietician “what’s happening to me? what am I feeling? what is this? am I dying?” Today’s post answers these questions and more. Read on to learn about hunger:

Question: What is hunger?

Answer: Hunger is the physical sensation generated by the body when needs more nutrients. It is caused by hypothalamic processing of the hormone ghrelin (lenomorelin), which is secreted by gastrointestinal tract in response to blow blood glucose levels and/or an empty stomach.

Q: How do you know if you’re hungry?

A: We all know about the obvious stomach growling, but hunger can manifest in many other ways, too. Symptoms include a churning, hollowness, or tightness in the stomach, lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting, headaches, muscle cramps, shakiness/jitters, rapid heartrate, exhaustion and fatigue, irritability/agitation, lack of concentration, and even nausea.

Q: What should you do if you feel hungry?

A: Generally, if you’re hungry, you should eat. Exceptions include if you are fasting for a surgical procedure, on a meal plan that dictates your intake times, or have been otherwise advised by a medical professional not to do so.

Q: Why are you hungrier on some days than on others?

A: Hormone, activity, and stress levels can all influence your hunger. For instance, women tend to require extra nutrition prior to their menstrual periods (on account of increased calorie expenditure), and cardiovascular exercise has been shown to stimulate appetite. Growing children will also consume more calories than average, and studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to inversely proportional food consumption.

Q: What if your hunger can’t keep up with your metabolism or vice versa?

A: A healthy individual’s hunger and fullness cues will be accordance with their body’s nutritional needs, and they will eat enough to maintain a healthy weight at a reasonable activity level. Of course, this is not the case for all people; a number of factors including metabolic syndromes, chronic dieting, eating disorders, autoimmune diseases, certain medications, and economic factors can disrupt the body’s natural rhythm, resulting in skewed conditions on either side. In such cases, dietetic services are required to prevent and treat the effects of malnutrition.

Q: How does hydration affect your hunger?

A: Apparently, 37% of people confuse thirst with hunger. This is primarily due to the lack of stomach volume presented by each.

Q: How do you know whether you hungry or thirsty and what should you do about it?

A: At times, hunger and thirst present with similar indicators, notably dizziness, fatigue/exhaustion, headache, nausea, muscle cramps, tachyarrhythmias, and stomach churning/emptiness. Thirst is often accompanied by the following differentials–dark urine, dry mouth, and perspiration. If you are thirsty, you should rehydrate with fluids or eat foods with a high water content (like melon). In the past, dieticians have advised patients to drink water fifteen to twenty minutes before a meal to make sure they are actually hungry, but due to frequent disordered manipulation of this guidance, doing so is no longer a common practice; instead, nutritional professionals recommend you hydrate throughout the day and honour your hunger signals.

Q: What is emotional hunger and why wasn’t it mentioned above?

A: Emotional hunger is a psychological craving for a certain food. It was not included in the above designation, as it is a separate biochemical process. Emotional hunger is a psychological phenomenon while physical hunger is physiological.

Q: How can you tell if your hunger is emotional or physical?

A: While both physical and emotional hunger can make you crave certain foods, they are very different in nature. If your body is craving something, it is because it needs a specific nutrient contained therein; any food containing that nutrient will satisfy it, and your craving will subside. In instances of emotional hunger a food is desired on account of its associations; that food and only that food will do. Emotional hunger also tends to be accompanied by a (typically negative) emotion; it comes on suddenly and does not respond to physical hunger/fullness cues (the processing and secretion of the hormones ghrelin and leptin respectively), leading to an over- or under eating of the specified food.

Q: What should you do if you experience emotional hunger?

A: A little emotional eating won’t hurt you. It’s perfectly normal to celebrate your promotion with a slice of cake or to pick up pizza from your favourite restaurant after a bad day. Just don’t make it a habit. Food can facilitate celebration and comfort, but it is not (and never should be) a substitute for actually dealing with your feelings.

Is there anything else YOU want to know about hunger? Drop your questions in the comments below, and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can. Have a delicious day, everyone, and Happy Spring! xo

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