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The Four Types of Hunger

feed your soul Feb 28, 2022

Merriam Webster defines hunger as: An uneasy sensation occasioned normally by the lack of food and resulting directly from stimulation of the sensory nerves of the stomach by the contraction and churning movement of the empty stomach. 

Talk about a mouthful!

This definition refers to physical hunger. We all know what it feels like—an unmistakable, uncomfortable sensation triggering you to go on the hunt for food. Thank goodness your body is equipped to sense physical hunger, otherwise you’d run the risk of starvation and entire organs and body systems would shut down.

But hunger can present itself in other ways too! Some of these are quite sly, causing you to reach for a snack even though you aren’t physically hungry. 

Here's how to spot these little tricksters and put them in their place!

Pleasant hunger

This is a safe and trustworthy hunger. It’s the type that causes a baby to fuss just a little bit to let you know she’s hungry. If you miss her subtle pleasant hunger cues, she’ll be sure to remind you with a piercing cry.  

Pleasant hunger feels like: I could eat, but the hunger is not controlling or bringing me down.

To be pleasantly hungry means you have an appetite for nutritious food. It results from eating healthy and well-balanced meals throughout the day. 


Urgent hunger

 Urgent hunger is what causes happy Mel to turn into the Wicked Witch of the West!

Caused by insufficient calories in the bloodstream, while in the midst of it, you will eat just about anything in sight with no regard for its nutritional content. Your body sends a signal to your brain saying: “NEED FOOD NOW!”

When in a state of urgent hunger, I’m definitely not chopping vegetables for a nice garden salad. Instead, I’m ripping open the nearest bag of corn chips like a starving raccoon. Remember, it’s a food-emergency and your body needs food fast—preferably something that will raise your blood sugar quickly back to normal. We never make healthy choices in this state, so it's best to avoid it.

Urgent hunger is unmistakable. It’s desperate. Your stomach is growling loudly and you feel faint and unstable. When in this state, if someone dares to even say hello, you’re liable to bite their head off! 

To avoid urgent hunger, eat a nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular intervals throughout the day. I like to space mine out about every four to five hours. 

A well-balanced meal will sustain you until your next meal without dipping into the danger zone of urgent hunger. Well-balanced means lots of fiber from vegetables, a moderate amount of protein from meat, seafood, eggs, or plant-based protein (i.e. lentils, tempeh, beans), and a little healthy fat from nuts, seeds, avocados, or extra virgin olive oil.  


Thirst hunger

Did you know your body can mistake thirst for hunger? All too often we reach for a snack, when what we really need is a glass of water. How can you tell the difference? Drink a glass of water and if the hunger goes away, you know it was thirst.

To avoid this false hunger, be sure to drink at least 48 ounces of water throughout the day—or enough to produce urine that is pale yellow in color and almost clear. 


Head hunger

If you use food to cope with life or eat when not physically hungry, you are feeding your head hunger. 

Maybe you eat when you’re bored, stressed, sad, angry, depressed or happy—whatever the reason, this is a sure sign of disconnect.

Have you ever witnessed a baby cry at the hands of a dirty diaper and Mom came running with a bottle, thinking she was hungry? Did the bottle stop the crying? Of course not! If the baby could talk, she would probably say, “hey, dummy, check the diaper! I’m wet and uncomfortable…not hungry!” She’s upset but doesn’t turn to food because it's not what she needs

To conquer head hunger, you must uncover what it is you're really trying to feed with that bag of chips.

But you don't have to do it alone...because you're never alone.

First center yourself with a couple of deep breaths, and invite God in. Surrender this head hunger to Him and ask for the strength and clarity to move through it peacefully as you ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What feelings are triggering this head hunger?  
  2. Why do I feel this way?
  3. Instead of food, what I really need right now is ____________.

For example: Stress is the feeling triggering this head hunger. I feel this way because I have a work project to complete on a very tight deadline. Instead of chips, what I really need right now is to practice deep breathing exercises until I feel a bit of relief.

The most powerful thing you can do is surrender your head hunger to God. That’s right, as soon as you feel the urge, just hand it over. Doing so is a major act of faith that you truly believe He will handle it. 

Do you believe?


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