By Sara Ryba, R.D., C.D.N.
Critical to weight loss and long-term weight management is knowing when you’re hungry, what to eat for that hunger, and when to stop eating once you feel full. To help my clients with this challenge, I created an easy tool I call “appestat” — an appetite thermostat — to describe the body’s hunger and fullness cues. Learning how to read your “appestat” will give you a new understanding of feeling hungry or full.
Step 1: Learn to read your appestat
Take a look at the appetite gauge below. I’m sure you can relate to these feelings.
Then, for the next week, keep a simple journal indicating your hunger or fullness through the day.
5: You’re absolutely stuffed! You’re so full you feel nauseous. This likely occurs after a feast, such as Thanksgiving, or after a binge.
4: You’re uncomfortably full. You feel bloated. This can occur after a restaurant meal where you eat an appetizer, dinner and dessert all within 30-40 minutes.
3: You’re perfectly comfortable. You feel satisfied. This feeling usually follows a healthy, balanced meal. You may find a slight yearning for a sweet with this sensation, but it will go away within 5-10 minutes if left alone.
2: You’re slightly uncomfortable. You’re just beginning to feel hungry. This usually sets in two to three hours after a balanced meal. This feeling should be a red flag to find a meal or snack that contains protein, carbs and fat as soon as possible.
1: You’re very uncomfortable, and feel weak and lightheaded. You’re unable to concentrate. This type of hunger usually sets in if you’ve skipped a meal, or if you’ve not eaten any protein all day long. If this is a frequent occurrence, be sure to keep a healthy snack — such as almonds or a string cheese — on hand at all times!
Step 2: Use your appestat to manage your hunger
If you’ve learned that you’re mostly rating a 4 or 5 on the appestat, meaning you’re frequently feeling too full, try these techniques:
- Eat more slowly. Aim to chew each bite of food 10-15 times, and put your fork down in between bites.
- Wait 10 minutes until you go back for second helpings.
- Divide your meals into two servings that are eaten two hours apart.
If you find that you’re continually rating a one or two, meaning you’re perpetually hungry, try these techniques:
- Don’t let more than three hours go by without eating a meal or a snack.
- Always include a protein, carb and fat in your meal or snack.
- Make sure that you’re consuming ample calories and that these calories are spread evenly throughout the day. You may want to bulk up your breakfast meal and let the calories taper as the day goes on.
If you find that you’re consistently rating a 3, meaning you’re pretty satisfied most of the day, congratulations! You’re likely eating a balanced diet, with four to six mini-meals and snacks throughout the day. Keep up the good work.
More appetite facts to chew on
The power of protein and water
If you feel hungry, but know that you’ve had a balanced meal within the last hour, consider adding more protein and/or water to your diet.
One major side effect of dehydration or protein depletion is hunger, even when you’re receiving ample calories. So be sure to refill your water bottle and to include lean protein at each meal and snack.
The exercise phenomenon
Over the long run, exercise will increase your appetite; however, you may find that immediately after exercising, you’ve no appetite at all. Beware of this sensation. This almost-nauseous feeling is likely due to the wonderful blood-sugar control that you have after exercise, but within 30-60 minutes you will likely feel famished, ready to eat anything that is not nailed down. In order to prevent any nutritional mishaps, be sure to have a meal or snack planned out within 30-45 minutes after completing your workout.
Another thing to keep in mind: It is all right to start your workout feeling mildly hungry. A small snack before starting your workout is OK, but too much food in your tummy can drag you down.