Are You Really Hungry?


Here’s a two-minute test to find out if your body needs food, or if it’s trying to tell you something else.

Are You Really Hungry?

When did you eat your last meal?

  • A.   Less than an hour ago.
  • B.   One to three hours ago.
  • C.   More than four hours ago.

Your stomach is:

  • A.   Grumbling.
  • B.   Normal.
  • C.   Upset.

Which statement best matches how you feel?

  • A.   Relaxed — you’re on top of your to-do list and loving life.
  • B.   Sad — you had a big fight with your boyfriend and can’t shake off the negative energy.
  • C.   Lethargic — you’ve been lacking motivation all day and can’t seem to get anything done.

On a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 being the most alert, rate your concentration level.

  • A.   3 — You’re completely focused on the task at hand.
  • B.   2 — You’re working hard but can’t seem to finish any particular project.
  • C.   1 — Wait, what was this question about?

Your mealtime schedule …

  • A.   Non-existent. You rely on your body to remind you to eat.
  • B.   Varies depending on your workload and plans for the day.
  • C.   Is like clockwork. You eat at the same time every day, even on the weekends.

You are passing by a doughnut store on your way home, and stop in to grab a bite.

  • A.   You skipped lunch and would go dead if you don’t eat something now.
  • B.   You are back after a day’s work and need a quick snack.
  • C.   Doughnuts — no way of resisting them!

What best describes how your day went?

  • A.   Normal — you went to the office, worked, came back, and played with your kids.
  • B.   Terrific — you got promoted and are in celebration mood.
  • C.   Devastating — you heard there are going to be some lay-offs at your company.

You want to eat something. What best describes what you want to eat?

  • A.   Cereals, fish, curd, fruits — anything you take as part of regular meals.
  • B.   Anything except regular food!
  • C.   A slice of chocolate cake — something specific that you like and eat once in a while.

How Did You Score?

Mostly A’s: Yes, you are physically hungry. (Yep, go ahead with the food!) Your body is dropping actual physical cues (grumbling stomach, low concentration, etc.), demonstrating it needs fuel. “Physical hunger is persistent until satisfied by the intake of real food that generates hormonal messages to the brain,” says Dr. Barry Sears, author of “Zone Diet” books. A meal with balanced amounts of protein and complex carbohydrates is your best option. A quick snack like candy or chocolate might work, too, but the hunger will keep coming back until you consume some real food.

Mostly B’s: You may or may not be hungry. You need to check for physiological signs of hunger. Boredom, procrastination, or simply being around food (like if you’re at a party) can invoke a sense of hunger in you. You could sometimes just be reacting to your biological clock (oh, it’s 1:00 p.m. — time for lunch!) or maybe you are just having a craving. “A craving is a desire for a specific food,” says author of “The Instinct Diet,” Dr. Susan B. Roberts: “You generally crave a brownie or a chip. Nothing else will do.” When you are hungry, Roberts says, you’d be willing to take an apple even if you thought of a brownie.

Mostly C’s: You are not hungry at all — just overwhelmed by emotions. Dr. Michelle May, author of “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle,” says: “Any emotion, including those we perceive as pleasant such as joy and those we perceive as unpleasant such as loneliness or stress, can trigger the desire to eat. This urge to eat should not be confused with hunger.” Being aware of these nonhunger eating triggers can help you avoid overeating. Instead of attacking food, look for other constructive ways to calm yourself down, like call up a friend or take deep breaths. Same goes for overly positive emotions — no ice-cream to reward an A+!

This article is updated from its initial publication in Brain World Magazine.

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