How do I get in touch with my body's true hunger signals to eat healthy?

Dominique Adair
In my practice we use hunger scales a lot. Keep a food log for a few days, writing down everything you eat and drink. Next to the food, write down how hungry you are right before you eat the food. Use a scale that starts at 1 (starving) to 10 (very, very full). You may also find it helpful to write down the time of day. After a week, see if you can identify patterns -- For example, if you find yourself at 3:00 everyday reaching for a snack, but your hunger scale is a 8 or 9, you know that is an opportunity to find something else to do other than eat (call a friend, take a walk, complete some simple stretches). If on the other hand you are finding yourself at the vending machine at 3:00 everyday, and you are consistently logging your hunger scale at a 1 or 2, then you can troubleshoot this by bringing healthy snacks along like a hard boiled egg, string cheese, 10 almonds, or a single-serve yogurt or cottage cheese.
One way to recalibrate your appetite so that you are more in touch with your body's true hunger signals is to make lunch the largest meal of the day. According to Ayurveda, lunch is the most important meal of the day because this is the time of the day when your digestion is strongest. However, for most people, lunch is the meal that they tend to skip, which throws off your natural hunger signals. Dinner is when your appetite is the weakest, so dinner should be your smallest meal of the day and should be eaten before 7pm. Having a large dinner leads to weight gain because your body is not able to digest much of what you have eaten and it stores the undigested products in your fat cells.  However, when you have a large lunch, your appetite is naturally much smaller at dinner and you won't want to eat a heavy dinner. Breakfast should be moderate -- not too heavy and not too light.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
There are two hormones that have as much influence for dictating your hunger and satiety levels as a head coach does on offense and defense: leptin (the hormone of satisfaction) and ghrelin (the hormone of hunger). 

Leptin shuts off your hunger and stimulates you to burn more calories. To let leptin do it’s job, walk 30 minutes a day and build a little muscle. By losing some weight, your cells become more sensitive and responsive to leptin, so you know you’re fuller faster. 

Ghrelin, on the other hand, makes you want to eat. You can reprogram your body so that you keep those grehlin gremlins from making too much noise by keeping your tank feeling like it’s always topped off. You can do this by not confusing thirst with hunger. When you feel hungry, drink a glass or two of water first, to see if that’s really what your body wants. Also, try to eat smaller meals (more like large snacks) that have fiber, a complex carbohydrate, and some protein every 4 hours so you never have the chance to let those grehlin gremlins loose.
Dede Bonner
Health Education
Ask yourself: Am I hungry enough to eat an apple? Many people have been misusing food for so long they are out of touch with their body’s true “I’m hungry, feed me” signals. Eating out of habit or to alleviate pain or difficult emotions, such as stress, depression, or fatigue, is very, very common.

One way to get back in touch with your body’s true food needs is to choose a food that you like okay, like apples, but don’t dream about, like brownies or Cheez Doodles. Then next time you grab for the Cheez Doodles, ask yourself if you are hungry enough to eat an apple instead. Now, can you put the Cheez Doodles back?

If you happen to really love apples, find another healthy food for this question. Getting in touch with your pig-out triggers will help you to avoid overindulging in that moment of weakness.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.