Monday, February 13, 2012

Can You Tell a Craving or Emotional Hunger from True Hunger?

One question that I get often is how to tell the difference between cravings, emotional hunger and real hunger. For many people knowing how to identify real from false hunger makes all the difference in their life and health.  We all have that “gee, I really want something to eat” feeling that happens even though we suspect that we aren’t actually hungry.  My craving voice used to run my life.  The cravings would sneak up on me in the middle of the afternoon and tell me that I needed a little something starchy.  Until some of my girlfriends acknowledged that this happened to them too I thought I was crazy.  Now I know that there are many things that cause these cravings including: hormonal fluctuations; eating too much sugar, fat or salt; emotions; dehydration and more.  However with time and a lot of experimentation on myself I learned how to deal with this demon and I want to share a few ideas with you in case you are suffering with cravings in silence.

Hunger is it Real or Not?:

When I get hungry but suspect it isn’t true hunger I always pause to figure out what is happening.  All of us get into trouble when we just feed the hunger without trying to figure it out.  There are a few questions that I ask myself to determine if I am experiencing a craving, emotional hunger or true hunger.  These questions are as follows:

1.       How long has it been since I ate?  If it is less than three hours I am usually experiencing a craving or possibly it is emotional eating.  However if it is has been more than 4 or 5 hours since I ate then I am usually actually hungry.

2.       Do I have any physical signs of hunger?  Does my stomach feel empty?  Am I getting a little dizzy, do I feel light headed?  Sometimes when I am very hungry I get a sensation in the back of my throat. All of those things strongly suggest that I am actually hungry.  When I don’t have any physical symptoms of hunger I delay eating.

3.       Would a piece of fruit or some hummus and veggies satisfy my hunger? When the answer is no again that is another sign that this is a craving.

4.       Do I want something very specific to eat?  For me this would usually be something starchy or possibly dark chocolate.  I seem to crave both bready things and chocolate when I am repressing some emotion or possibly experiencing hormonal fluctuations.  Other women have told me the same thing happens to them only with chips, salty snacks and soda.  I find that these specific cravings are almost never actual hunger.

5.       Have I been exercising and eat healthy whole plant-based foods?  Something else that happens is that when you eat things which contain a lot of sugar, fat and/or salt you body starts to crave those things.  When I am eating a healthy diet and I am active I don’t have many of those cravings.  Have you read "The End of Overeating?"  The medical doctor does a nice job explaining the addictive nature of sugar, fat and salt.

6.       Did the hunger come on quickly or did it build slowly? Hunger that takes time to develop is more likely to be true hunger.  I have found that cravings or emotional eating can happen in an instant and true hunger doesn’t do that.

7.       Could there have been a trigger for the hunger like a commercial on TV, a disagreement or a habit?   Commercials that show pasta or chocolate get me every time but I know this so I can ignore them. Many people have told me that a disagreement (repressed feelings) cause them to eat.  However habits are sometimes harder for people to spot. I know one woman who eats in the middle of the night and has done this a long time so it is now a habit. The only way to identify habits is to keep a food journal and if you suspect that you have unhealthy habits you may want to keep a journal for a while.

8.       Is it possible that I am dehydrated?  I realize that most people are chronically dehydrated and because I know that I get myself a glass of water or a green tea if I suspect that I am dehydrated and that is causing in my hunger. You will be surprised how often fluid will be enough. However don’t get something to drink that has a lot of calories like soda, fruit juice or a sweet coffee beverage since those are providing calories and sugar with little or no nutrition.

The most important thing that you can do to get control of false hunger is to not give in to it immediately. There is nothing that says you have to eat right away although sometimes it feels that way.   Stop, step back and think about what is happening.  At least half the time I find that by asking myself the questions above I am able to figure out easily that I am not honestly hungry and I don’t act on the urge.  Other times it takes me a little while to understand what is going on and sometimes I am actually hungry.  ;-)

I know that I am not the only one who has cravings since all my girlfriends talk about this now.  Until I started to talk about this with friends I felt like I was alone with my crazy cravings. I think it is important to realize that these cravings are normal but that you can get control over your behavior in response to the cravings. Since we all have these cravings let’s share what we have learned to deal with them.  What suggestions do you have for dealing with cravings? Do you have different tricks, tips or questions that you ask yourself? If you do have any suggestions please share them with the rest of us.  Here is short video from WebMD that you might want to check out on the subject.

Book Review:  Strength Finder 2.0

I have been doing a lot of introspective work lately trying to understand myself better.  My premise was how could I help other people overcome their challenges if I didn’t understand myself. With this in mind I bought a copy of the book StrengthFinder 2.0 and took the online test to find out what it would indicate were my strengths.  Honestly I didn’t expect much from a 30 minute online test where you had to answer a series of questions with your gut reaction each in 20 seconds.  However I have to say that I was shocked by my results.  Both Dan and I believe the test absolutely nailed who I am as a person. I wanted to share this with you because I think it will give you a ton of insight into what makes me tick. But I also think it might encourage you to find out what are your strengths. The premise of the book is that we will all be more successful if we use our strengths rather than trying to improve our weaknesses and this makes a lot of sense to me.

According to the online test my strengths are as follows:

1.       Input
2.       Learner
3.       Strategic
4.       Achiever
5.       Intellection

Since those are just titles of the various personality components I will briefly explain them so that they make sense to you. 

Input simply means that I have a strong craving to know more. Gee, really? That doesn’t sound anything like me! Yes I am being sarcastic about that.  It also said that I would like to collect information.  Funny how a simple test figured that out isn’t it?  There are reams of information at our house. I have binders full of articles about health and nutrition as just one example.  I never grow tired of collecting information about subjects that interest me which is exactly what this trait would predict.

Learners like to continuous learn and grow. How does an online test know that I spend hours every day learning?  This clearly explains why I am always reading and why our house if full of reference books on many different topics.  I spend hours every day studying something. I am definitely an information junkie, just ask my husband.  One of my favorite topics is nutrition but there are many other subjects that interest and one the most recent is Buddhism.  Yes, I do realize that I am a bit eccentric.  ;-)

The strategic trait speaks to my ability to put together creative solutions to problems and the ability to spot patterns and issues.  I can’t tell you how many people have commented on my ability to put things I learn about nutrition into practice and I think this may explain why that comes easily to me.  I have always been a big picture person.  I think this trait is the reason that I was able to make the connection between nutrition and health so quickly which is what caused our dramatic dietary shift years ago. It also explains why I am frequently surprised that others can’t add A plus B and get C.  My poor husband has to listen to me talk about this all time.  The man is a saint; you know idea how difficult I can be.  LOL

Achievers are described as people with a lot of stamina who thrive on hard work. This type of person takes great satisfaction from being productive and that also describes me quite accurately.  When I worked in corporate America I would routinely work 12 hour days.  While I was never a morning person I was almost always the last one out of the office by many hours.  I have never had a problem putting in the time to get something accomplished.  Dan used to show up at the hospital after midnight with dinner and try to drag me out of the office so I could get some sleep.  I have been a hard worker my entire life.  Even when I “retired” I still continued to use a to-do list so that I could get a lot accomplished. I am definitely one of those people who had to learn to relax since getting things done is very important to me.

Intellection is used to describe people who are characterized by their intellectual activity.  This group is said to be very introspective and to appreciate intellectual discussions.  Once again I am guilty as charged. I love to figure out why I do certain things or what makes me and others tick.  I love a good conversation about psychology, philosophy or anything else that is outside my usual area of expertise.  Anything that takes me out of my comfort zone and causes me to think in a new way or about a new topic I love.

Anyone who knows me was probably nodding in agreement as this read what the book predicted are my strengths. I am still a little shocked by how accurate that test actually was.  If you are thinking about changing careers or just want to find additional satisfaction in your current profession this book would probably be a good idea for you. This isn’t a book that you can check out from the library however. Each book has an individual code in it so that you can take the online test.  You use the code to set up an account for yourself.  If you are someone who enjoys introspection I would recommend this book.

Have any of you read this book and taken the test?  If you did what were your top 5 strengths?  Did you feel like they accurately described you? I was very pleasantly surprised by how the test really seemed to peg me, particularly the first few traits.   A little piece of me had expected to see “positivity” show up in my top 5 traits but I also understand why I got the ones that I did. Other than that one missing item I didn’t really see any surprises.

The interesting thing about the results of this book was that it crystallized for me things that I knew about myself at a gut level.  The other book I am reading about marketing also asked me to list my strengths.  The reason that the when we use our strengths a few things happen. By leveraging our strengths we increase the probability that we will be successful. When we use our strengths results come easily and this increases overall satisfaction.  One of the things that I do well is my ability to remember facts and seemingly unrelated facts particularly involving nutrition.  I can talk about nutrition for days which all my friends can attest to.  This is one of the reasons that wellness coaching makes so much sense for me.  Do you know where your strengths lie?

Bean Cookbook:

Given that I have no come out of the closet in terms of my “need for information” you probably understand why I am always reading.  Yesterday morning I was reading Epicurious and came across this link for a bean cookbook.  I try not to add too many cookbooks to my collection now because it is completely out of control and I don’t really use them.  In fact when I buy a cookbook I read it like a novel and then it goes on the shelf where it will probably remain. I am definitely not someone who cooks from recipes; I don’t use my recipes or those from anyone else.  Cooking for me is more of a go with the flow experience. I like to taste, adjust and tweak as I go.  Are you starting to see why it is difficult to get me to actually write down a recipe?

When I was reading this article about the bean cookbook my first reaction was, I need this book.  Why?  Well I love beans and we eat them every day after all.  However I suspect this book will be like the all the others I will read it like a novel and it will go immediately to one of my bookcases with all its little cookbook friends.  The reason I am writing is twofold.  First if any of you have this book I would love to hear what you think of it.  Do you recommend purchasing the book? Second if you are stumped for bean ideas I wanted to let you know that this book exists. If you do buy it please stop back and share your thoughts on the book, I am sure that I am not the only one who would like to know more.


What happened to our 71 degree temperatures which started February?  Saturday was cold, snowy and incredibly windy.  Due to the weather we spent most of the day inside our nice warm house.  Snow is always more pretty when you are inside look out but that is particularly true when the wind is blowing.

Breakfast at our house was things you have seen before.  First we had some no-sugar and no-oil granola with homemade almond milk and fresh fruit. This is an old picture which shows bananas but I used blackberries today instead.

Dan and I shared a green smoothie (kale, cherry, banana, walnut, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla with a little stevia).

I had savory oatmeal for lunch. This time it included mushrooms, onions, garlic, Italian seasonings, nutritional yeast and I added thinly sliced Brussels sprouts at the very end of cooking. Since Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous family I try not to cook them much either to maximize the nutrition that we consume.

We met Lauren for dinner at our usual place and had a great time.  We started with the Middle Eastern plate.

Then Ian came to the table and we chatted about food.  He made some suggestions which sounded delicious to us and that was what we went with.

First there was a blood orange, hearts of plan, and avocado salad with sesame which was delicious.

Then we had a smoky grilled asparagus with a habanero salsa which I loved.  However I do have a secret love affair with habanero peppers so that may explain why I enjoyed this so much.

However we all agreed that our favorite dish of the night was the grilled oyster mushrooms which were drizzled with a sauce of:  balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, and sweet soy.  The mushrooms were served over baby arugula and came with pickled kumquats.  This is delicious!  Lauren and were both taken with the mushrooms and the kumquats.  It always amazes me that Ian feels like he doesn’t do vegan food well, because we think it gets it right every time.

Lauren definitely fits right in at the restaurant and is getting to know everyone.  She told us that the girls on th nursing e unit were getting together next Sunday to celebrate the February birthdays and she suggested the restaurant.  We might just have to stop in for dinner that night to say hello to everyone since we were there so long we feel like part of the crew.  ;-)

Happy thoughts:

There are so many things to be thankful for each day if you are open to the good things that happen in all of our lives.  Here are the things that I have been happy for lately:

·         We had a lovely dinner Saturday night with our new friend Lauren.  It is fascinating that we have so much in common with her since she is young enough to be our child.  However knowing people like Lauren gives me great hope that maybe the health of this country can be turned around.  *fingers crossed*  We lingered over dinner while we spent time talking about everything and nothing.  I love evenings like those don’t you?

·         Saturday the predicted snow and rain mix was nothing more than flurries though it was fairly windy (we had guts of 40+ degrees and it felt like I was back in Chicago). Thankfully the weather wasn’t bad enough to derail our dinner plans with Lauren.

·         Sunday Dan and I had a lovely relaxed day together. We did a lot of nothing and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The weather was cold and windy and it was definitely a great day to stay inside.

·         Monday I had planned to have lunch with a friend but I hurt my knee and thought it made more sense to stay home and keep the knee iced. While I am not happy about my knee I am grateful that I was able to stay home and keep my knee elevated and iced.  Being somewhat immobile I took the opportunity to get a little reading knocked out. You are shocked by that I know LOL.  Before you ask, no I never get tired of learning it is what I love to do.

·         Tuesday I am having lunch with my girlfriend Deirdre. We haven’t had a girl’s lunch in months. I can’t wait to hear what she has been up to.  There are few things in life that are better than spending time with a good girlfriend.  Can’t wait!

·         Wednesday I get to go to the dentist.  What, why is that a happy thought?  Okay so I am not weird and in fact I actually have a bit of a dental phobia from a bad childhood experience. However the people at our dental office are so nice that I don’t mind going in to see them and even enjoy it. The time at the dentist is more like seeing old friends than having work done.  What, you don’t email the people who work on your teeth?  Yes, I really do pick up new friends wherever I go.  Are you starting to see how much I love people?  LOL

Signing Out:

I have a crazy busy week planned with something planned everyday this week.  Yikes!  Someone seems to have overbooked her schedule again.  I will try to be pack at least once or twice this week with posts but it is going to be difficult. Please understand if you only hear from me once.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend and that your Monday was a good one.  Have a happy and healthy week and I will talk to you again as soon as I can.  Ciao.


  1. I did the strengths finder back in college. My top five were: 1. Competition, 2. Command, 3. Activator, 4. Input, and 5. Strategic (I think). At the time, I thought my strengths were terrible, but looking back, the top three especially were dead on. I'd like to take it again now that I'm older just to see what (if anything) has changed.

    1. Brigid,

      We didn't do anything fun like that in college, but then again I did attend school a very long time ago. ;-) If you still have the book I bet you can retake the online test, you should see if you can. It would be interesting to see how your results have changed. I have taken the Meyers-Briggs a few times and it definitely changed over time.

      hope all is well with you,

    2. I don't think I have the book any more, but I'll poke around. I have taken Meyers-Briggs several times in the past 15 years and gotten the same thing every time: ENFP.

    3. Brigid,

      Cat said her Meyers-Briggs results are also consistent so it looks like I am the outlier. I will ask my friend who is working on her PhD in Psychology what is typical.


    4. I think a lot of people's results change over time, actually. I've been told before that it's weird mine hasn't changed, but I'm still in my 20s, so it's entirely possible that my results would be slightly different in my 30s and on.

  2. FANTASTIC post Ali!! Love the way you clearly layed out the differences between emotional vs real hunger!!

    Oh and on the Myers Briggs I'm an ENFJ:-) been consistently that since high school!:-)

    1. Thanks Cat! I appreciate knowing that you agree. :-) It took me a long time, and a lot of struggle to figure that out for myself.

      Now I am very curious why my Myers Briggs results changed. However I am not the same person I was 20 or 30 years ago so that may be the reason. The last time I took it I was ENTJ.

      I hope you had an easy transition back to the work world after your vacation.


    2. It's funny--I think mine changed distributions within the same categories over time--for example when I was younger my extravert characteristics were off the charts--like in th 90% but the last time I took it my E is decreasing down to about 70%. So I do think we change over time--maybe you were closer to the cut off in certain sections and just migrated slightly but enough to change!! I'm certainly not the same person than I was in my late teen years!!

      Coming back after vacation is always like hitting a brick wall! That sounds awful but its just irritating having so much to do!!!!! I'm sure you can relate! Thank you for asking:-))


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