Understanding Hunger and Fullness

by    |    July 29th 2014    |    General

This may have happened to you… you plan on eating lunch around noon and start to feel hungry a little before that, but something happens and you don’t get a chance to sit down to lunch until an hour later. You want to eat your same lunch but you’ve noticed that you’re no longer hungry. Why does this happen? Assuming that you’re the kind of person that usually eats at regular times and doesn’t skip meals, your stomach will send signals to your brain when it’s time to eat. However, those signals don’t last forever, and can go away if the person does not eat within an hour or so. It doesn’t mean you’re not still in need of food, but if your body doesn’t think it’s going to eat soon, it won’t waste energy (fuel) sending you cues to eat.
This can be problematic when someone with an eating disorder, such as anorexia, starts to eat meals consistently again. They may find their hunger cues are non-existent for an extended period of time. When a body is malnourished it wants to conserve as much energy as possible and unfortunately that includes not sending hunger cues. At the same time that they’re not getting hunger cues their fullness cues can also be out of whack. While it takes someone who eats meals consistently about 20-30 minutes to feel full, a person who is malnourished or restricting their food intake can feel full after only a few bites because their stomach anticipates that they aren’t going to fed or are going to be fed only a small amount.
In those cases it’s important to keep eating on a regular schedule so that the stomach and brain can start relying on that consistent food intake and start to send hunger cues more efficiently. Other than feeling the usual stomach grumble, there are other ways the body can send signals that it’s time to eat. Those can range from: headache, difficulty concentrating, or irritability and they can vary greatly from person to person. Working with a dietitian is one of the best ways to develop a meal plan that will allow a person to feel safe making food choices and recognize proper hunger and fullness cues.
Sara Leung
Registered Dietitian