Have you ever wondered if you should eat a meal (or snack), even though you aren't hungry at the time? This post will show you how to answer that question confidently using practical hunger.
What Is Practical Hunger?
Did you know that there is more than one type of hunger? Well, there is! And practical hunger is one of those types. Here is an overview of hunger types:
- Biological hunger (when your body is saying "I need energy! Give me food!")
- Emotional hunger (when you try to meet your emotional needs through food- like a pint of Ben & Jerry's on a rough day or chocolate for an afternoon pick me up.)
- Taste Hunger (like enjoying a delicious slice of cake, regardless of biological hunger)
- Practical Hunger (when you're not hungry but know it's a good idea to give your body energy)
I first truly "got" the different types of hunger when I read the Intuitive Eating book. If you're unfamiliar, intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to eating that is based on listening to your body to meet physical and psychological needs. (I'd highly recommend snagging a copy of the Intuitive Eating book, you can find it here on Amazon!)
Biological, emotional, and taste hunger all sounds pretty familiar and easy to spot, but practical hunger can be a little bit more difficult. Essentially, it's using that noggin of yours to prevent yourself from getting to extremes of the hunger scale- extreme hunger (hanger) or extreme fullness (overeating). You can watch the video below on what the hunger scale is and how to use it if you're unfamiliar!
Examples Of Using This Type Of Hunger
So, what are some examples of using this practical type of hunger? Here are a few:
- You have a meeting at 11am and won't be able to eat lunch until it's done at 2pm. At 2pm you'd be HANGRY, so you decide to eating something before going into the meeting, even if you aren't hungry at that time. I talk about this more in my post on how to eat intuitively with shift work (day and night), so be sure to check that out for more on that topic!
- You are having a super busy day, are very distracted, and time is flying! You know that it's easy for you to work through lunch but basically wind up inhaling the entire cafeteria when you realize how hungry you are mid-afternoon. So, you set an alarm to take a lunch break and nourish your body.
- You're not feeling super hot today and don't have much of an appetite, but know your body needs energy. So, you decide to grab a smoothie that you can stomach rather than skipping a meal.
- You've spent years dieting and feel like you have NO hunger cues. So, you decide to make sure to give your body adequate, consistent energy throughout the day so it can start giving you hunger cues again once it realizes food is available (i.e. not starving from a diet!)
I have a whole post on how to get hunger cues, if you read that last one and think that's you!
How To Use Practical Hunger
Okay, so now that we understand what practical hunger IS, how do we use it? Do we just force ourselves to eat on a schedule? Well, no.
Practical hunger is just ONE type of hunger, remember. So we use it in conjunction with the others. Most of the time, if you have strong hunger cues, we do use that biological hunger mostly. That is what guides our energy intake in a way that allows us to feel good. But the other types of hunger pop in and out when they need to.
You use the practical hunger when you have commitments that impact when food is available or if your biological hunger is thrown off. The taste hunger is a part of enjoying life. And the emotional hunger sometimes helps us get a mood boost from a bad day or to celebrate something (emotional hunger isn't always binge eating ice cream!).
There is no one right or wrong way to use practical hunger. If you're new to the idea it can take some trial and error when getting used to it, and that's okay. What I would say to do is look ahead and say "Would I get hangry if I waited until the next time I could eat?" if the answer is yes, use that practical hunger and have a meal or snack!
I hope this post helps you gain a little bit of clarity around the idea of practical hunger. Let me know if you have any more questions on it in the comments!
Happy eating & food rule breaking!
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