Why 'hunger' is okay

We’ve all said it, thought it and complained about it….I’m huuuunnngrryyy!!! So many of us seem to have this fear of being hungry, but has it just become something that we fear because food is so widely available to us today or because we actually believe hunger is a bag thing?

I think what we forget is there is a remarkable difference between hunger, a need for food, and starvation, dying from lack of food. Let’s get one thing straight, we don’t need to get concerned if we experience a bit of hunger as it is a very normal and healthy physiological response from our body.

Next time you get home from work or daily errands and there’s still an hour before dinner but you your stomach is grumbling and you need to eat something right then and there because you’re sooo hungry…think about this. Our digestive system is extremely complex, sometimes taking up to 100 hours for a food to pass through and the remains to be excreted. Once food has been digested in our stomach and small intestine, a clean-up process starts to happen (called the migrating motor complex). This process is important to keep the muscles in your stomach active so that full gastric emptying can occur, to ensure there is no bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine and to prepare for the next meal.

This clean-up process will only begin once digestive activities are complete. Should you chow down on snacks all afternoon this clean-up process will constantly be interrupted and it’s like hitting the pause button until digestion has stopped again, and then we can press play and clean-up can continue. The clean-up process has four phases and when it’s at phase three, we often experience ‘growling’ sounds from our stomach (it is actually your small intestine however). Most of us consider this as a sign of hunger and because we all have this fear of hunger, we go and eat something, without realising we are putting a stop to the clean-up process.      

So how do we know if we are actually hungry and should eat something, or if it’s just the clean-up process and our body isn’t quite ready for its next serving yet? The entire process of the clean-up can take up to two hours so allowing this amount of time between meals can be helpful. Phase three in particular can take between 5 and 15 minutes and phase four is just the time between the end of phase three and when clean-up is required at phase one again. So if you experience a growling tummy, perhaps wait 15 minutes before eating anything and hopefully this will allow the clean-up to be complete and your stomach will be prepared for the next meal.

Other ways you can increase how well this clean-up process occurs is by;

·         chewing your food well

·         cooking foods

·         eating plenty of fibre (vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, psyllium husks, chia seeds)

·         only consuming small serves of hard to digest foods (i.e meats, processed food)

·         consuming probiotics and fermented foods (sauerkraut, kim chi, tempeh, miso, kombucha, yoghurt)

·         consuming prebiotics to feed the probiotics (bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, oats, wheat, barley, garlic, flaxseeds, legumes, and green vegetables)

·         consuming bitter greens (rocket, mustard and dandelion greens, endive, kale)

·         having 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar in warm water before meals or as salad dressing

·         Adding aloe vera juice to smoothies and juices or drinking 2-3 tablespoons as is

·         Add 1 teaspoon slippery elm to water and have daily

*It’s always best to consult your health practitioner before making any unfamiliar changes to your diet.

So although you may not like the idea of hunger, it is simply your body’s way of telling you it is ready or is almost ready for the next meal and it is ok to be hungry sometimes. The more in tune with your body you become the easier it will be to know when your next meal should be and if your stomach and small intestine are being sufficiently cleaned in between.