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“Make hunger thy sauce, as a medicine for health.”
Thomas Tusser

Hunger. We try to control it, ignore it, and eventually resign ourselves to it when we try to lose weight as part of a diabetes control plan.

But what is hunger? The growling and gnawing sensations we associate with hunger are the result of complex actions of hormones and nerve impulses. They’re normal sensations that our bodies use to tell us when we need food.

This Healthy Eating Article is all about hunger:

  • It explains why it’s not a good idea to get too hungry when you’re trying to lose weight.
  • It gives tips on how to determine when you’re really hungry and when you just want to eat.
  • It describes steps to take to manage hunger and stay on your diabetes control program.

Hunger and Weight Loss As Part of Diabetes Control

Many of us operate on opposite extremes of the hunger spectrum. When we’re not trying to lose weight, we may eat too often or too much and seldom actually feel hungry. When we’re trying to lose weight, we may eat too little and feel “starved.”

It’s not surprising that after just a few weight loss attempts, we expect that we have to stay hungry to lose weight. Not so. Actually, if we get too hungry too often, we can land in a high-risk situation in which we’re likely to overeat.

Consider a day when you missed a meal or your meal was delayed. What happened? Did you go home and take the time to prepare and enjoy the healthy meal that you had planned? Or did you walk through the door and immediately head for the kitchen, looking for the first thing that was quick and easy?

It’s easy to fall into old habits when extreme hunger strikes. That’s why hunger management is an important part of any successful diabetes control effort.

What Is Hunger Management?

Hunger management means that you respond to the physical feelings of hunger with healthy food choices. It means eating well-balanced meals and snacks. And choosing high-quality foods to help you feel full and satisfied so you don’t fall prey to the tummy beast and binge on less-healthy foods. Step four in the exercise below will give you some good ideas about how to feel full and satisfied and still stay on track. You also may want to review the information on snacking in your Healthy Eating article titled “Snacks: The Little Details.”

Hunger management does not mean you’ll never feel hungry. You will from time to time. But hunger management does mean taking steps to respond to hunger productively.

Step 1: Know Your Hunger Signs

Different people have different ways of describing hunger. Some describe a desire or need to have certain foods. Others describe physical sensations such as a growling or rumbling stomach or a feeling of weakness and having low energy.

Smells, pictures, and other references to food may make us want to eat even when we’re not physically hungry. Have you ever seen a TV commercial for a new burger, candy bar, or ice cream flavor and said “Wow, that looks good” — and then wanted to eat something even though you just ate?

You’re not alone. We’re bombarded with so many tempting, food-laden messages that the desire to eat is a poor sign of hunger for many people. So it’s important to become more aware of the physical sensations of hunger to help you recognize when to eat.

How does “physical hunger” feel to you? Sometimes people realize they never really pay attention to what hunger “feels” like. How does satisfied, full, and even “stuffed” feel?

How does it feel to you?


Step 2: Choose the Right Treatment

If you have a headache, you probably take an aspirin, ibuprofen, or another pain reliever designed to treat headache pain. If you think of food as a treatment, it is effective only for treating hunger.

But many people turn to food when they’re bored, stressed, angry, sad, or feeling some other emotion. Using food to treat anything other than hunger is like taking an antacid when you have a headache; it’s not going to solve the problem. Now that you’ve identified what hunger feels like, you can recognize the difference between hunger and the desire to eat for other reasons.

Next time you’re getting ready to eat, think about what you’re feeling. Are you feeling what you consider to be true hunger symptoms? If you’re not really hungry, try to figure out why you’re eating. Are you bored? Nervous? This is the perfect time to rely on your food journal and to use the tips and ideas that you’ve learned in your Well-being articles to tackle eating triggers and barriers to weight loss.

Step 3: Know Your Hungry Times

When you become more aware of your hunger and fullness cues, you will begin to notice a hunger pattern. You can use that helpful bit of information to plan your meal times to avoid being overly hungry. Then you’ll be less likely to have an uncontrollable binge or “feeding frenzy.”

Maybe you get hungry four or five hours after a meal, for instance, but because of your schedule, you have a seven-hour stretch between lunch and dinner. So you often get extremely hungry by dinnertime and find it difficult to stick to your plan. Use your body’s hunger cues to help you plan when to eat. Can you eat dinner earlier? Can you rearrange your food choices to include an afternoon snack? You choose.

You can identify your own patterns by recording your typical meal times. When do you feel physical hunger? How can you rearrange your meals and snacks to coincide with your “hungry” times?

Meal Time Next Hungry Time Plan

Step 4: Eat High-Quality Foods: They Last Longer

Anti-Hunger Hint:
Nibble on fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods such as brown-rice cakes.
Eat foods that have a high water content such as fruits, vegetables, soups, stews, lean meats, fish, poultry, and beans.

When you’re recording your food intake, pay attention to how long you feel full after eating a meal. What foods or combinations of foods give you more staying power? Can you identify any differences between the foods you ate in those long-lasting meals and those you ate in those hungry-again-quickly meals?

  • Many people find that meals that contain protein tend to head off hunger a bit longer.
  • You may have noticed that when you eat foods that are good sources of fiber you feel full longer. Research has shown this to be true for most people.
  • Foods with a high water content also can help you feel full because you can eat a good amount of them without getting lots of calories.

Other Healthy Ways to Halt Hunger

Despite your best efforts, you’ll sometimes feel hungry and realize that eating more food may jeopardize your diabetes control efforts. At those times, try drinking water or other non-caffeinated fluids to help you fill the void. Avoid caffeine, though, because it can cause your stomach to secrete acid, and you may feel even hungrier.

You can also try distracting yourself with a project that keeps you occupied so that you’ll be less tempted to eat until your next meal time. Or if you have time, indulge yourself with something besides food. Take a nice, warm, aromatic bath, for instance.

Some of the world’s top nutrition scientists are trying to unravel the mysteries of hunger and how to manage it. But they don’t have all the answers yet. Until they do, you can 1) follow a healthy, well-balanced diet, 2) become more aware of your body’s signs of real hunger, and 3) arm yourself with hunger management skills.


  • It’s not a good idea to get too hungry when you’re trying to control your diabetes because this can set you up for unhealthy and unplanned eating.
  • People often want to eat even when they’re not really hungry, in part because we’re constantly bombarded by food, food images, and even food smells.
  • You can take steps to manage hunger:
    • Step 1: Know your own hunger signs. When you have the urge to eat, determine whether you’re really hungry.
    • Step 2: Choose the right treatment. If you want to eat when you’re not really hungry, see what’s at the root of your eating urge. Stress? Boredom? And find a non-food way to deal with the issue.
    • Step 3: Know your hungry times and prepare for them.
    • Step 4: Eat high-quality foods. They last longer. Chips and a soda pop give you a lot of empty calories and not much staying power.

Please note that the information provided on this website is intended for Canadian residents and is not meant to replace any advice from your healthcare professional.
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