Bridging the Gap Between Full and Not Hungry

The July Project: Day 17

There’s a flaw in the communication between the stomach and the brain—the gap between full and not hungry. We eat until we’re full, but we still feel the desire to eat. We eat some more, and later, we feel stuffed, overfed. We gain weight.

Skinny, and probably hungry, too

Maybe it’s not a flaw, so much as a legacy of our evolution. Before proto-humans developed the cognitive ability to plan and predict their next meal, when the food supply was uncertain and had to be chased down with spears and rocks, stockpiling calories was probably a good survival mechanism. Then some of them figured out agriculture, then permanent settlements, then cities, and the next thing you know, there’s a fast-food joint within 500 yards no matter where you go on the planet.

So now we’re wired to keep eating after we’re full. Scientists are hard at work on understanding the biochemistry involved. There’s a lot of research going on about the relationship between physical hunger and psychological hunger. Maybe some day there will be a pill you can take to make you feel like eating just enough, but no more. Until then, attention and intentionality will have to suffice.

You eat good food, and you’re careful about portion sizes. But when your plate is clean, you feel that ancient impulse telling you to forage for something more. You can avoid a lot of surplus calories if you bridge the gap between full and not hungry without more food.

Try this strategy: Get up from the table and take your dishes back to the kitchen. Set the kitchen timer for 25 minutes. Wash your dishes, tidy up, and find something to do for a while. Read, write, watch TV, pay bills, sort the day’s mail—anything but eat. The trick here is that the ticking timer offers some comfort. It says, “You don’t have to hang on until the next meal—just a little while.”

But you might be surprised to find that if you can keep your mind occupied with something else until enough time has passed, the brain–stomach communications will sort themselves out, and your psychological hunger will have subsided.

When the timer goes off, if you find that you’re still hungry, recognize it as a real signal that you might need something more to eat. Go ahead—hunt and gather yourself a wholesome snack.

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