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Understanding Hunger Cues

Understanding Hunger Cues

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to improve your eating habits is your hunger cues. These impulses are what help our body stay healthy and active, but it’s a fine line between giving your body what it needs and indulging in unhealthy foods and snacks just because you suddenly feel hungry.

 

Many people struggle to control these impulses, and since they’re so variable, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to handling hunger cues. The best thing you can do is understand your hunger cues from a nutritional genomic perspective, which will show you how your genetics impacts these impulses.

 

Today, we’ll explain hunger cues in-depth, and offer some tips on how to deal with feelings of persistent hunger that can easily lead to poor food choices.  


What is a Hunger Cue?


Hunger cues refer to an individual’s likelihood to experience varying levels of hunger. Some people feel hunger more intensely than others. These feelings of hunger and satiety (how full we feel after meals) are regulated by our hormones.

 

There are several hormones that govern our hunger cues, including ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the satiety hormone). Our body uses these hormones to regulate the food we eat, with the aim of giving our body the perfect amount of fuel to maintain its energy.


How Genetics Impact Our Hunger Cues


New discoveries in the field of nutrigenomics tell us that our genes play a big role in our eating behaviors, including our hunger cues.

 

Even 20 years ago, researchers were able to identify that individuals who had congenital genetic leptin deficiencies were much more likely to develop severe, early-onset obesity than individuals who were born without this mutation. 


In layman’s terms, this means that individuals who had this genetic mutation were much more likely to feel hungry, even after a full meal. It’s estimated that there are more than 300 unique genetic mutations on this gene alone.


How to Deal with Feelings of Persistent Hunger


If you’re someone with one of these 300 genetic mutations that leave you feeling hungry even after a full meal, don’t get discouraged. There are a few different ways that you can work with your body’s hunger cues to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need without overeating or reaching for unhealthy snacks. 

 

1. Use a hunger scale


Doctors, nutritionists, and researchers use a metric known as the hunger scale to help individuals quantify their hunger level. Being aware of your hunger level can help you avoid eating at a time when you aren’t actually hungry.

 

The hunger scale uses the numbers 0 to 10. A 0 on the hunger scale means that you are uncomfortably hungry. At this point, you may feel your stomach growling, have difficulty concentrating, or feel dizzy and weak. The scale progresses from 0 to 5 (neutral) all the way to 10, which is the number used to express a feeling of uncomfortable fullness and complete satiety. Most doctors recommend staying between 3 and 7 – moderately hungry to moderately full.

 

2. Opt for balanced meals


It’s harder for your body to regulate its hunger cues when the foods you eat do not give the body the energy it needs. To help ensure satiety, try to stick to a balanced diet, with carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats in each meal.

 

3. Choose healthier snacks


If your body is hungry, don’t punish yourself by abstaining completely. Instead, opt for healthy snacks that give your body much-needed nutrients and energy. Here are a few great examples:


  • Apples and peanut butter
  • Sliced cheese
  • Unsalted popcorn
  • Sliced vegetables
  • A piece of fruit
  • Avocado on whole-grain toast


Try a Meal Plan for Your DNA from GenoPalate


Want to learn how to eat according to the needs of your DNA? The personalized DNA meal plans available from GenoPalate are designed by a dietitian according to your unique genetic needs. With these recipe options, it’s so much easier to plan out meals that give your body the exact carbohydrate, protein, and fat balance it needs to keep you fuller for longer. 


Try it for yourself today!



Updated on
Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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