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Discover Your Built-In Feeding Sensor

Merriam Webster defines hunger as: 

An uneasy sensation occasioned normally by the lack of food and resulting directly from stimulation of the sensory nerves of the stomach by the contraction and churning movement of the empty stomach.

Whew, talk about a mouthful!

This definition refers to physical hunger. We all know what it feels like—an unmistakable, uncomfortable sensation triggering you to go on the hunt for food. Thank goodness your body is equipped to sense physical hunger, otherwise you’d run the risk of starvation and entire organs and body systems would shut down! 

Babies are Brilliant!

True hunger is best witnessed by observing babies at mealtime and all of the little moments leading up to it. They fuss a little bit, bring their hand up to their mouth and smack their lips while letting out little sucking noises. Still, they are at peace. Just a little hunger, no big deal.

Of course, if that hunger is not satisfied soon, panic begins to set in, and the crying begins. At this moment, they are temporarily uncomfortable, but the feeling dissipates the moment Mom comes rushing to the scene with breast or bottle.

As baby’s tummy fills up, she relaxes back into her peaceful state, and you can see that all is right again in her little world. 

My favorite part of the infant feeding process is watching the baby refuse the rest of the bottle after she has had enough. How does she do it? How does she know that a three-ounce bottle is enough? Not two ounces or four, but three. Moreover, why doesn’t she feel the need to “clean her plate”? 

Babies are the most brilliant and mindful eaters of all. They are completely in tune to the needs of their body and because of this, you’ll never see them overeat.

Guess what? You were once that little baby and knew exactly what and how much your body needed to be satisfied.

If you are yearning to get back to that place, you must realize that your ability to sense true hunger and fullness never went anywhere. Your roots are still as strong as ever. Sure, your dials may be in need of a little calibration, but rest assured, you already have within you the raw materials to make it happen. 

Calibrating Your Hunger Scale

To return to your roots and rediscover your brilliant, built-in feeding sensor, I’d like you to visualize a scale from 0 to 5. 

  • Levels 0 and 1: You are experiencing low blood sugar and feel very hungry, light-headed, weak, and even shaky. This is your body’s way of warning you of its desperate need for food. This is what I call “urgent hunger”. It’s best to avoid this level, otherwise you’ll wind up eating way more than you need…and you won’t make the best choices. 
  • Levels 2 and 3: You feel hungry, however, the need for food isn’t as urgent. It’s what I call “quiet hunger”. Because you aren’t in crisis mode, you can still function quite well and typically make more sound food choices. This is the most ideal time to eat because the chances of overeating are drastically reduced.
  • Levels 4 and 5: Your body is relaxed, and you feel satisfied. Notice I didn’t say “full.” There’s a difference: Satisfied is how infants feel when they let go of the bottle or breast. Full is over satisfied. It helps to think of satisfied as eating until your stomach is two-thirds full. You want to leave a little room for digestion to take place; if not, you may experience discomfort, gas, or heartburn. Not fun!

Your Built-in Traffic Light

To help you practice your new style of eating, let’s take this one step further. Pretend you were born with a built-in traffic light in your brain.

When the light is green, you are experiencing either urgent or quiet hunger. This is your cue to GO eat something.

A yellow light means caution, signaling you to SLOW down, check in, and listen to what your body is trying to tell you. This is such an important signal, because if you miss it, you’ll likely blow through the red STOP light and overeat.

When the light turns red, you’ve reached a level 4 or 5, and it’s time to put the fork down.

Food for Thought …

If we spend just a little more time eating to the level of satisfied, not only would we experience more physical and mental peace in our lives, we’d also have more energy and burn excess, unwanted fat. If you think about it, babies don’t have to count calories to ensure they are getting enough to grow and thrive. They listen to their body, and it never fails them. 

Melanie Jatsek
By Melanie Jatsek RD, LD
Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek believes that the answer to a strong, healthy and vibrant body lies within. She graduated cum laude from the University of Akron, earning a degree in Nutrition & Dietetics and has over 20 years of experience in wellness program development, health coaching and professional speaking. As a published author of three books and registered dietitian for Heinen’s Grocery Store, Melanie offers programs, services, and tools to help Heinen’s customers take inspired action to build the healthy body they were meant to live in…without giving up their favorite foods.

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