How Hungry Are You, Really?

Do you really know when you need to eat and when to stop? The cues you've been depending on may be as reliable as a $2 umbrella in a hurricane. Discover the truth about them so they won't fool you again in the future.
The cue: A growling stomach. It does mean you're hungry, but it doesn't really tell you how hungry you are. Just because your stomach is making noises doesn't mean that you need to wolf down a side of beef with an extra helping of mashed potatoes (not that you should ever do that, anyway). In fact, having a big meal quickly can still leave you wanting to eat a few hours later. Next time your stomach is talking to you, take it slowly (and make it healthy). It takes about 25 minutes for a peptide known as CCK to be stimulated and tell your brain that your stomach feels fuller than an airport during the Thanksgiving rush.

The cue: An empty plate. Studies show that visual clues help you determine how full you think you are. The trouble is, you might not think you're satisfied until your plate is clean -- no matter how large the plate is. Right-size your meals by using smaller plates. And teach your mind to stop using the plate as a guide: Check in with yourself frequently throughout the meal to see whether you really need more food to fill up or your eyes just think you do.

Don't Confuse Hunger with Thirst

The reason people eat is because their satiety centers are begging for attention. But sometimes, those appetite centers want things for quenching thirst, not filling the stomach. Here's how to figure out what your body is really asking for.

Quench or Crunch?
Thirst could be caused by hormones in the gut that produce feelings much like hunger cravings. To figure out what your body really needs when you feel hungry, drink a glass or two of water. If the craving goes away and you feel more satisfied, you have your answer. For more help with craving control, try these tips.

Satiety Training
Thirst could also be a chemical response to eating; eating food increases the thickness of your blood, and your body senses the need to dilute it. A great way to avoid confusing your hormonal reaction to food is to make sure that your response to thirst activation doesn't contain empty calories, like the ones in soft drinks or alcohol. Your thirst center doesn't care whether it's getting zero-calorie water or a megacalorie frappé.