Can’t believe you ate the whole thing? Blame ‘false hunger’

False hunger isn't about fueling your body, it's all about using food to anesthetize, escape or soothe your pleasure-seeking mind.Sergey Tryapitsyn

False hunger isn’t about fueling your body, it’s all about using food to anesthetize, escape or soothe your pleasure-seeking mind.

Ever hear of the French Paradox? It’s how French people seemingly eat all the fattening “forbidden foods,” yet somehow manage to remain thin.

How do the French do this? Researchers who have studied this phenomenon say the secret is that they pay more attention to their inner physiological cues for hunger than do people from many other countries. Including us!

Contrast this to what we might call the “American Paradox.” One minute we moan, “I’m stuffed! I can’t eat another thing,” and yet an hour later we’re peering into the fridge for something to satisfy our “hunger.”

How in the world is it possible to be hungry after saying, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing?”

Equally paradoxical is how, after a belt-busting meal, we have no problem wolfing down a decadent, rich tiramisu for dessert! What’s that all about?

The short answer is that it’s highly likely that your eating had absolutely nothing to do with hunger.

Well, at least not real hunger. In order to make sense of our American Paradox you need to understand exactly what you mean when you say, “I’m hungry.”

Real Hunger

Real hunger occurs roughly three to five hours after eating your last meal or snack. This hunger is a gradual occurrence where you begin to feel some rumbling in your stomach. Along with these stomach contractions there is a release of hunger hormones signaling to your brain that your body’s hungry.

If true hunger goes too far, and blood sugar levels become too low, you might begin to feel shaky, lightheaded, and weak.

Most important, real hunger is independent of your moods, emotions, or stressors. Real hunger is your body’s homeostatic need to remain balanced and fueled, regardless of what goes on around you.

False Hunger

The second kind of hunger, false hunger, is often referred to as hedonic hunger. Simply put, hedonic hunger is eating for the sake of pleasure.

We salivate at the sight of trigger foods in magazine ads and TV commercials. We perk up at aromas when walking past bakeries, mind-taste those burgers when driving past fast-food restaurants.

And let’s not forget the visual lure of those goodies prominently displayed in vending machines.

Unlike real hunger, false hunger is driven by what I call your three weight loss “enemies.” These are 1) stressful life circumstances, 2) disturbing emotions, and 3) mindless habits.

False hunger isn’t about fueling your body, it’s all about using food to anesthetize, escape, or soothe your pleasure-seeking mind.

In order to begin to eat more like the French — to be more in tune with your body rather than pleasuring your mind — you’ll need to start differentiating between real and false hunger. Here’s how.

Before any meal, dessert, or snack, take a moment to assess your real hunger. Do you have an empty, growling stomach? How many hours has it been since your last meal or snack? Do you have low blood sugar, which can cause headaches and irritability?

On a scale of one to 10, with one being satisfied and content and 10 being famished or “starving,” what is your level of real physical hunger?

Question any urge to eat when your real hunger score is less than five.

Next, on a similar scale of one to 10, estimate your level of false hunger associated with your emotional desire to eat.

Are you feeling uncomfortable, distracted, or compulsive? Do you want to escape what’s happening right now? Are you under great stress? Or is it simply your habit to eat something right about now?

Question any urge to eat if your false hunger score is above five.

Awareness alone won’t stop you from ordering that tiramisu, but it will introduce mindfulness. And mindfulness puts you in the best possible position not to delude yourself that you’re really hungry.

Dr. Joe Luciani has been a practicing clinical psychologist for more than 35 years. He’s the internationally bestselling author of the “Self-Coaching” series of books, published in ten languages. His latest book, “Thin From Within” (AMACOM) is a self-coaching, mind-over-mouth approach to achieving lifelong weight mastery. He appears frequently on national TV, radio, and the Internet and has also been featured in numerous national magazines and newspapers. Visit for more information.

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