Recognizing hunger and fullness

Many people with problem eating patterns have eating behaviors that are no longer connected to the actual bodily feelings of hunger and fullness. That is often the result of repetitive episodes of eating that has become associated with other things such as eating when stressed or depressed, or grazing while doing some mindless activity like watching TV, using your computer, or driving. Learning to recognize these actual bodily signs of hunger and fullness can be useful to resume natural, healthy heating patterns and weight management.

It is fairly easy to get in touch with the actual bodily sensations associated with hunger. Before surgery, that can be done by skipping or delaying a meal, and then paying close attention to what you are experiencing in your body and mood.

You may also notice that you do not necessarily feel hungry at certain times of the day (e.g., morning or midday) and subsequently do not eat at those times. It is possible however to retrain your body. Skipping meals, for example, often promotes an increased sense of hunger at the end of the day and evening, which may lead to overeating, which in turn may promote not feeling hungry in the morning. Working on eating regularly scheduled meals can help to reverse this process and promote a sense of hunger at more normal times. In the short run — and particularly after having bariatric surgery, which may lessen the experience of hunger for some time — eating at specified time intervals can assist in eventually promoting a sense of hunger at consistent times, and having long term benefits toward overall weight management..

Awareness of becoming full comes from both nerve signal transmission as well as by a slower biochemical process where your stomach communicates with your brain, and because of that, it can take some time for you to consciously feel full after completing a meal — especially if you ate fast. Imagine hitting your finger accidentally with a hammer and it taking 20 minutes to register pain! Because of that process it is very easy to continue eating well beyond the beginning signals from your body telling you that you have eaten enough.

One suggestion for learning to recognize the first signs of fullness comes from the behavioral therapy field for addressing weight management and eating disordered behaviors. The goal is to learn to notice and identify the very first bodily sensations that are associated with becoming full and stopping eating upon awareness of these signals. That sensation generally involves a beginning sense of pressure in the stomach that is pleasurable and not uncomfortable (like when a balloon begins to fill up but is not to the point of popping), which is very different than the more uncomfortable feeling in your stomach after over eating. Research has shown that when people stop eating after noticing the beginning indicators of stomach pressure, they will begin to feel completely full within about 20 minutes. Slowing down your eating process in general can also help your stomach and mind communicate more effectively to give you more awareness about reaching a good level of fullness, without getting over-full.