Are You (Really) Hungry?

Society may be losing touch with a human basic instinct.

Blame the world we live in. Even for the health-conscious, outside factors can dictate when (a set lunch break), why (a client in town), and how much (a to-go container) to eat, says Ryan Andrews, R.D., C.S.C.S., a nutritionist at Precision Nutrition. At some point down the line, we started listening to those factors more than our bodies.

“Most people are aware of the extremes—when they are extremely hungry or extremely full,” says Andrews. But distinguishing subtler signs—a slightly rumbling stomach, a hollow feeling in the gut; and as you grow hungrier, shakiness, irritability, short-temperedness, light-headedness, or a headache—is important, too.

It’s not a bad thing to let your body go there. For healthy people, being hungry isn't an emergency: “It’s a necessary and normal physiological signal that will return again and again just like getting tired, thirsty, or having to go to the bathroom,” says Andrews. (You just don’t want to let it take over, since going into a meal famished can lead you to overeat.)

Your goal is a reasonable sensation of true hunger, which can make eating more enjoyable, says Andrews. To find it, follow Andrews’ suggestions: