If you’re just joining me in this series, please be sure to start at the beginning. If you’ve been following along, let’s jump right in with our first situational hunger.
To truly understand what encompasses physiological hunger, I decided to first turn to the dictionary for a better understanding of the word:
“Physiological refers to the normal, healthy operation of your body and its organs.”
Now, for our purposes, we are going to exclude “physical hunger for food” from our definition of physiological hunger. I realize it should technically fall under this category, but I want to keep it as separate from situational hunger as possible.
Physiological hunger can be triggered by any physical need going unmet. Fatigue and pain are most often confused with physical hunger signals.
Physical fatigue can trigger hunger because we know that eating will often increase our energy level. Because we’ve turned to food, rather than rest, to restore energy, we’ve confused these hungers. The other day I really wanted to eat… or so I thought. I checked in with my stomach and knew I wasn’t physically hungry. However, I kept receiving a signal to go eat (learned response). Suddenly it dawned on me that my eyes felt really heavy (I even had a slight headache). I decided to lay on the sofa and close my eyes for a couple of minutes. I figured if I was tired, I would fall asleep, if I wasn’t I would have to try something else. Two hours later I woke up completely refreshed. Normally I would have eaten thinking I needed an energy boost, when what I really needed was rest.
I’ve also noticed that physical pain of any kind can trigger non-hunger eating. Maybe it’s the lollipops we would get after getting shots at the doctor’s office. Maybe it stems from the popsicles after scraping our knees on the playground at school. I think the associations of comforting physical pain with food could be too numerous to count, which may be a good indicator of why this one just feels “natural”.
I heard a story once about a little boy who fell and cut his knee at grandma’s house. Grandma sat the tear-stained boy on the counter in her kitchen to clean his cut, but before she went to work, she handed him a cookie and said, “here, this will help.” She turned to dampen the cloth she would use and when she turned back around he was gently pressing the cookie onto his injury. He looked up at her, more tears threatening to fall, and said, “It’s not helping, Grandma.”
The next time you’re in physical pain and want to eat, picture rubbing that food where it hurts and saying, “It doesn’t help.” Then find something that will. Get out your essential oils (I like PanAway®), take some ibuprofen, take a warm bath with epsom salt, ask the husband for a back massage, stretch, see a doctor if you need to, bandage your injury, rest your sore muscles… there are many other ways to deal with physical pain than by eating. And eating doesn’t work anyway. In fact, eating for pain can cause other types of situational hunger (trust me, we’ll try to hit them all in this series).
As for headaches, they can originate from many places, some of which include: sickness, injuries, allergies, fatigue, caffeine withdrawals, sugar crashes, stress… etc. As you can see, there are many more instances than a growling tummy that can cause headaches. Figuring out the cause of the pain will go a long way toward treating it without turning to food.
Pain and fatigue might be the two major triggers for physiological hunger, but you have other physical needs that can go unmet too. You might need a hug. Physical touch is essential for human beings. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need from someone you trust not to abuse that need.
Maybe you need to expend some energy. Physiological hunger can be triggered simply because your body is trying to tell you it needs a walk, or a run, or a crazy dance around your living room with your kids.
It can be really difficult to check in to your hunger level when faced with pain, but it isn’t impossible. First ask yourself if you are physically hungry. If not, the next question is “are all my physical needs met?”
Give it a try. The point is to identify why you feel triggered to eat when you aren’t hungry. Remember, we’re not necessarily “fixing” the behavior at this point, we’re merely identifying it. If you feel strong enough to alter your misguided reactions to your physiological needs, by all means, do so. However, if you opt for the food, recognize that you had every right to make the choice you did, and then move on.
Next time we will delve into “Social Hunger“. Until then, just keep working toward identifying true physical hunger.