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How to Overcome Hunger Pangs — Without Eating

We don't always need to feel full. Here are some tips to make peace with your growling tummy.

tray of empty dinnerware

— Getty Images

You're about to rush out the door to run errands and you stop yourself. You think, "I'm not hungry now but I better eat something so I'm not tempted by unhealthy food cravings while I'm out."

Just the thought that we might get hungry is enough to trigger "preventive eating." By that, I mean we take in calories we don't need — or even necessarily want — so that later we can avoid even the slightest hunger pangs.

Here's a different approach: Learn to experience hunger as simply another sensation. We can learn to observe it, measure it (on a scale of 1 to 10), assess our level of discomfort and so on. What may surprise you, as it did me, is that hunger comes and goes. Sometimes a glass of water takes hunger away for an hour. Other times, I get distracted and forget I was hungry to begin with.

We are programmed to think of hunger, like fatigue, as a linear experience that will only get worse if we don't address it. While it's often true that your body is telling you it needs something — and it won't just forget about it if you ignore the message — the "Eat now!" signal can be triggered by many factors, not all of them legitimate indicators of your body's need for fuel.

It can be fun to explore this inner reality. You can experiment with your hunger tolerance by skipping a meal one day — a planned omission. Then keep track of how you feel. You will discover that hunger is not fatal and that you can continue to function even when a little hungry.

I want to emphasize here that I am not advocating fasting or unhealthy avoidance of food. As I write often, you should love yourself, love your body, and love the food you eat, even when you are overweight or out of shape. All I am saying is that most of us can safely go a few hours without eating, even after we start to feel hungry.

But when you return to the table, remember it's key to sit down to a healthy meal. Just because you survived a mini bout of hunger doesn't mean you can throw your overall game plan out the window!

If you doubt that you can resist temptation while out and about, try this: Bring a healthy snack, like carrot sticks or an apple, and tell yourself, "I don't want to eat this in the car (or on the bike, etc.)." When you get to your destination, try it again: "Why would I eat this in the store?" And again on the way home.

If the hunger is persistent and powerful, of course, eat it! But, as I said, you might just find the impulse passes and you can enjoy that snack back in the comfort of your home.

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