Most people just think hunger is just hunger but sadly this a gross oversimplification. There are in fact six types of hunger. It is vital you understand what these all are otherwise you will find yourself addressing the wrong causes of your eating and be left wondering why you cannot control your eating.
In my experience the non emotional reasons account for way over 50% of most peoples' cravings and in some case 100%. This means that you may be blaming yourself for being weak willed and a bad person when the truth is you are simply miscalculating what you should eat.
The six types of hunger do not need to happen independently of each other. They can combine. When this happens you will find it very difficult to resist any temptations that come your way.
Normal hunger -
Natural hunger is a calm desire for food. It builds gradually and evenly. It can usually be battled against fairly easily until it rises to a high level. This is a natural feeling which should be listened to, this hunger will always be present throughout your life. This hunger is countered by eating an ideal meal for your body (metabolic type®) and ensuring you eat regularly.
The goal of any programme to get into shape should be to create a situation where this is the only type of hunger you experience in your life. When this is the case you will feel calm, controlled and have an easy relationship with food.
Water hunger -
A thirst for water is almost indistinguishable from a normal hunger feeling. It usually grows gradually and evenly. It will be like normal hunger in that it is a fairly calm request on the body and you can easily manage it. However, if you keep eating instead of drinking water when you are water hungry you may find yourself continually eating.
It should be pointed out that a water hunger is not the same as feeling thirsty. When hydration levels drop significantly and you will crave water. This is easy to spot. A water hunger is when you are slightly dehydrated but not enough to feel thirsty and hence you can confuse the signal as hunger.
This type of hunger is easily countered by drinking regularly water throughout the day. Ideally you would have some water every hour. Small quantities but regularly works best for the body. Look to consume around 200ml per hour. (just under half a pint) of pure water.
Cell energy hunger -
A cell energy hunger is one of the most common causes of hunger and perhaps the biggest reason people wrongly blame their eating on emotions when it is in fact biochemical.
A cell energy hunger comes when you eat a meal with the incorrect ratio of Protein: Carbohydrates: fat for your body. When this happens you will get a hunger feeling, often in the form of a sugar craving, anywhere from 15 minutes up to 3 hours after eating.
The hunger will appear quickly and can become very strong. The feeling is uncomfortable and there is a real desire for food. It is not in your head. Resistance to this hunger is difficult. You should not beat yourself up for eating poor foods in this state but I would beat myself up for letting it happen in the first place.
The best way to counter this is to eat each meal with the correct ratio of Protein: carbohydrates: fat for your body. This can be found out through experimentation and using food reaction forms.
Blood sugar hunger -
This is perhaps the most powerful hunger of them all. When your blood sugar levels drop below a certain value your hormone system begins to kick in to regulate your metabolism. This puts an unwelcome stress on your body long term and in the short term produces some very strong food cravings and hunger. The onset is fast. When certain values are hit in the blood glucose you will be hungry and this will come with a massive sugar craving.
Resistance to blood sugar cravings is very difficult. It is not just a natural hunger, but it comes with the body in a biochemical panic as low blood sugar means the brain may not get enough fuel and this is the highest priority for the body.
Most people associate blood sugar with diabetes and hyperglycemia. However, a large percentage of the population suffer with the other end of the problem with their blood sugar dropping too low (hypoglycemia) or find their levels are just too unstable and hence they are often fighting this hunger feeling.
Anyone suffering low blood sugar hunger should not be harsh on themselves for eating rubbish but should focus on how it got to the state of being low in the first place.
Low blood sugar problems can be resolved in the short term by eating regularly and ensuring you are eating in accordance to you following your ideal ratio of protein: carbohydrates: fat. However, blood sugar metabolism is a sign of many different biochemical inputs. Long term resolution of this needs to comes from addressing your body's function from the base up.
Addictive substance hunger -
An addictive substance hunger is another cause of a hunger feeling. This can come from non nutritional sources such as a smoker's withdrawal symptoms or from the removal of a food substance, e.g. sugar, wheat etc.
This hunger lies in the background, it is not a strong hunger like cell energy or blood sugar hungers but it operating at a consistent low level in the background. It is a sort of uneasy hunger feeling. The hunger neither comes nor goes, it is just there, in the background.
This type of hunger does not last too long, it occurs only when you are withdrawing from the addictive substance. During this time the feelings are fairly manageable as long as they are accompanied by the right mind set and you are free from cell energy, blood sugar or emotional hungers. The strange thing about the withdrawal hunger is it is specific to the person who has the addiction.
A non smoker does not withdraw against not smoking and neither does someone who does not eat sugar. Whatever you experience in terms of withdrawal hungers it will soon pass and you will barely notice it if you are addressing just this and normal hunger during the withdrawal process.
Where withdrawal pangs get their false impression as some huge barrier to succumb is when they are accompanied with the other types of hunger and a resentment towards giving up. This is then coupled with the many false beliefs about the substance and what it used to 'provide' you with. This accumulates into the 'difficulty' most people perceive with giving something up.
Emotional hunger -
True emotional hunger has nothing to do with nutritional cravings. An emotional craving has a very fast onset, often instantaneously. It is usually difficult to battle if you are unaware of your thought processes. Emotional eating can take many forms.
You see a picture of a chocolate bar in a magazine and all of a sudden you are craving it. You receive a phone call that makes you angry and immediately you are snacking on some biscuits. Often it is so subtle you will not notice the link, as you have this behaviour so ingrained.
You speak to someone about money then immediately you are having a cake. You meet someone who reminds you of a person from your past and you descend into a night of drinking. Often emotional behaviours are habits over pure emotional nutritional needs. Your husband comes home so you open the wine together, you meet your friends in the coffee shop for a cake and a catch up.
The interplay of the different hungers -
Most people just view hunger as hunger. However the six different hungers need to be separated out into their individual components. The different types merge together to form the general term most people describe as hunger.
It is when you experience more than one hunger that most people crack and end up eating rubbish. The most powerful combination is an emotional hunger and any other hunger in combination together.
Physiologically the worst hungers come from a combination of cell energy hunger and low blood sugar. I would defy anyone to not eat rubbish in this situation. Yet plenty of people go on day after day in this state. So no wonder they are eating rubbish foods.
It should be pointed out that hunger varies greatly between individuals. This is due to biochemical individuality. As a result you may find you are strongly affected by cell and blood sugar hunger which means you are always eating. Other people who know you may not experience these as much or at all and thus will wonder what your problem is, do not worry about what they think. They do not have any understanding of how these hungers feel and if they were to experience it they would behave similarly to you.
If you are someone who is confused by such people then the best description would be imagine really needing to go to the toilet while sitting in a room with 6 free cubicles. You can hold out for a while but it is only a matter of time before you cave in.
The key thing is for you to not allow situations where more than one hunger can hit you in combination. This is done by prevention. If you have a water hunger and a cell energy hunger, a withdrawal hunger and emotional hunger, natural hunger and blood sugar hunger they all spell disaster. Prevent these by drinking water, eating with the right amounts of protein: carbs: fat and regularly.
For more information and articles like this join my weekly "Getting Results" newsletter.
Ben Wilson is a Peronsnal Trainer, Nutritionist and EFT therapist. He is a published author and public speaker.