Phantom Hunger: Craving Food When You Aren’t Hungry
As a dietitian, most people assume I’m naturally thin, I don’t have to worry about my weight, and eating right just happens naturally. My patients often tell me that I cannot possibly fathom how hard it is to lose weight.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth!
Like many Americans, I have a strong family history of obesity, so I have to work hard every day to not gain an ounce.
As a dietitian, I spend my days talking, listening, reading, thinking or writing about food. I’m constantly listening to everyone’s food issues and giving my suggestions for healthier options and alternatives to the oh-so-tempting, yet not-so-good-for-us options.
This all-day attention to food makes us think we’re hungry and craving food—even when we know we’re not hungry at all. This “phantom hunger phenomenon” is also common among chefs, food and nutrition journalists and anyone else working with or around food. It may even happen to you when you’re reading your favorite cooking magazine or watching the Food Network.
Here are my strategies to get the “head hunger,” well, out of my head….
When it’s an option, get up and move will get your mind off food. I’ll go climb a few flights of stairs to take a sip from the drinking fountain on another floor, or I find an excuse to go to the other end of the building. This not only clears the hunger clutter in my head, but allows me to focus on my work better too.
Sometimes when we think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty. When we’re not in tune with our bodies, it can be pretty easy to mistake the need for water with the desire for food. If I think that my body might just be dehydrated, I will fill up my 16-oz water bottle and take a few minutes to drink that before actually turning to the food. Filling my stomach with fluid usually takes away that feeling of hunger and I am able to continue what I was doing before the “head hunger” hit.
Turning to a different task and shifting my focus can usually help me to forget that I thought I was hungry. This can be as simple as making a few phone calls, responding to some e-mails, or even organizing my desk for a moment. Getting the mind to reboot and refocus on something else will help you forget your phantom cravings.
Eat Something Healthy
If you have tried to shake yourself from that nagging feeling of hunger and it still hasn’t gone away, then perhaps you really are hungry! Take some time to break away from the work in front of you and devote 15-20 minutes to eat something healthy, and stay focused on eating rather than doing five other things at the same time. Multitasking and eating leads to overeating.
Keep healthy snacks on hand that you can turn to for some quick energy that doesn’t add unnecessary calories, fat, sodium and sugar. Some of my favorites are plain yogurt with berries and granola, raw vegetables with hummus, a light cheese stick and a can of Low Sodium V-8, and apple slices with natural peanut butter.
This insightful post is from Kellie Weinhold, RD, LD, clinical dietitian who lives and works in Ohio.