Are You Thirsty of Are You Hungry?

It is quite common to confuse being thirsty with being hungry. Experts suggest this happens because “the same part of your brain is responsible for interpreting hunger and thirst signals” [1When weight loss is your goal, being able to understand what hunger feels like, and how it differs from the way thirst feels, is very important to avoid unnecessary calorie consumption [2]. If you find yourself craving food right after you have eaten, or snacking has become a habit, you are not alone. This is a rather irritating problem to have, as there are always many unhealthy food temptations waiting around every corner for those moments that we feel cravings or are reminded that we have been ignoring our body’s cues for nourishment. Once you are able to decipher the difference between the hunger and thirst signals, it will help you cut back on unwanted calories that may be causing your weight loss journey to stall.

What Does Hunger Look Like?

One thing that is important to know about the sensation of hunger is that it should come on gradually, not suddenly [1]. So if you don’t feel hungry, but then you walk by an open box of chocolates at your office and suddenly feel like you are starving, you should first ask yourself, “Am I hungry, or is this a craving?” You might be surprised to learn that research has shown that 37 percent of people mistake thirst sensations for feeling hungry [4]. Dehydration in our bodies is often masked, and one common effect of being thirsty is craving sugar [3]. There are many other ways for your body and brain to let you know that you are hungry. Some of those symptoms include feeling weak, irritable and moody, having a lack of focus, or your stomach rumbling or feeling empty [1].

Ideally, you should be eating every 3-4 hours; if you find yourself feeling weak and shaky, it means you are in need of real, wholesome food. Since some of the hunger symptoms also mimic those of thirst, you may want to first try drinking a glass of water and seeing how you feel in about 15 minutes.  Try to avoid the first temptation to reach for the food in front of you and see if you can identify what your body is actually telling you. If you are truly hungry, when you do consume something to address your hunger you will have thought carefully about it and made a healthy choice, and you will feel satisfied [4].

You may also be feeling hungry frequently because you are not getting enough sleep, or you are choosing the wrong foods to consume (high-sugar and very processed foods will make you feel hungry sooner), or you may be experiencing heightened levels of stress [5]. You may want to consider these factors when assessing how your body is feeling; see what you can address to find a better balance and ultimately control your hunger response. For example, when you choose to include snacks in your diet, choose those that are fiber-rich so that you feel full longer.

But, ultimately, if you eat snacks and meals when you’ve waited too long between meals and are starving, or it’s done without much strategic thought or planning, or simply because you have a craving for something that you see, not only will you not lose weight, but you may continue to pack on the pounds. If you are regularly having meals or snacks that exceed your body’s daily calorie requirements, this pattern can lead to weight gain in the long-term [6].

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What Does Thirst Look Like?

You don’t need to be thirsty to grab a glass of water. You may have already heard the saying, “If you are feeling thirsty, it is already too late.” This is because, by the time you are experiencing the sensation of thirst, you are likely already 1 to 2 percent dehydrated [4], which is when the thirst mechanism kicks in. A few symptoms of dehydration are headaches, bad breath, muscle cramps, chills, dizziness, sluggishness, and constipation [3]. You may even start to notice your thoughts focusing on water, or a nice beverage to quench the sensation of thirst. Dehydration can also cause your urine to become more concentrated; it will become a deep yellow-golden color. This is what thirst looks and feels like!

It is always safe to consume water if you experience any of these symptoms or sensations, but hydrating before they occur is ideal. If it is a hot day or you are going to be working out, be sure to drink enough water to replenish the fluids that your body will lose via sweat, as well as what you need for overall maintenance. By consuming water on a regular basis before you experience thirst or dehydration, you will feel full longer, have less cravings, and flush toxins from your body [4]. Not only will this help to support ultimate wellness in your body, but it will also help keep your weight in balance.

Remember that it is important to be able to decipher cravings for foods, with whether you are actually hungry for a snack or a meal. If you are ever craving junk food, take a step back and distract yourself from that craving by talking to someone or doing a chore at home. Try to be attentive to your body’s cues, and be aware of your eating and hydration patterns. Eating high-caloric foods or regularly overindulging will stall weight loss, especially if your body is actually asking for water. Similarly, being able to recognize when you are thirsty, and rehydrating yourself while passing on the junk food, will move you even further along in your weight loss goal.

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