One of the most difficult things clients struggle to identify when they start working with me is how to know when they are actually hungry.  They’ve been following diets rules and meal plans for so long that they no longer know when the right time to eat is.  They no longer have confidence in their ability to recognise if they’re hungry because they are so used to suppressing it that their response has been dulled.

While some of us get that rumbling feeling (or even an embarrassingly timed noise) in our stomach to signal to us that it’s time to eat, others don’t feel it.  Or they might even feel the need to wait too long to feel hungry, by which point they have become too hungry and tend to eat too much too quickly.

Is this something that you experience?

If it is, then I’m going to share with you the same things to look out for that I share with my clients – the 4 ways to identify hunger other than a rumbling stomach when you’re first starting out with mindful eating, or the non-diet approach.

Related: What I wish everyone know about the non-diet approach

Energy levels

(tired hungry)

If we think of food from purely a biological perspective for a moment (and not from a social or emotional point of view) it’s role is to provide energy, or fuel, to allow our body to function. 

When your body becomes low on fuel, things start to slow down and you may notice a dip in energy levels.  This is a sign that it may be time to refuel and that you need to eat. 

After you’ve eaten, pay attention to notice if there is an increase in your energy level.  If there is, then this tells you that you were hungry and needed to eat, even if you didn’t get a feeling in your stomach.

Ability to concentrate

(fuzzy hungry)

Hunger is a very powerful mechanism that our bodies use to make us continually go out and seek food in order to survive.  When your body recognises that it is getting low on fuel and needs you to go out and seek more, it is going to do everything it can to make that a priority for you.  You may be able to use willpower to overcome the urge temporarily, but at some point, your body will do all it can to make you focus on refuelling.

So, if you’re having trouble concentrating take a moment to connect with your body and see if it’s trying to tell you something.  If it’s been more than a few hours since you last ate, it might be trying to tell you it’s hungry.

Feeling lightheaded or shaky

(shaky hungry)

When the fuel from your previous meal or snack starts to run out, your blood sugar level drops and this sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to refuel. 

If left too long, your blood sugar level will continue to drop and this can result in you feeling shaky and light headed – a sign your brain’s fuel level is getting critically low – a bit like one of those blaring alarms a pilot might get if he tries to fly longer than he planned.

This is generally a sign that you have entered the too hungry zone and you need to eat immediately.

Related: What is low GI (and what is it used for)?

very hungry

Your mood


Your brain is a complex organ with many jobs to do each day and all this work requires a lot of fuel.  One of the complex tasks our brains undertake each day is regulating our emotions. 

When we are well-fed and well-rested, our emotions remain in check.  But when we become tired and hungry, things start to get harder to control.  You just have to think about how emotional your kids get when they’re really, really tired.  Well, its that same for you if you’re too hungry.  Anger is one of the more difficult emotions for human’s to control, so it makes sense that when the brain is hungry, it’s not going to be performing at it’s best. 

This is when little things that normally wouldn’t bother you become irritating, and you might even become “hangry”.

Final advice

If you’re new to mindful eating and the non-diet approach then start by checking in with yourself every 2-3 hours. Keep an eye out for signs your body is trying to tell you that you’re hungry. 

Once you’re consistently nourishing your body as it needs each day, it will begin to trust that you will give it what it needs and your natural internal hunger cues will begin to restore themselves.

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Want more guidance and support to identify, trust, and act on hunger and fullness cues so you can lose weight without following a restrictive diet?

I can give you that. Find out more about my private weight loss coaching where you get to work with me for 6 months and receive the tools and support to help you regain your confidence, energy and self-worth. With my simple and easy to implement solution, that doesn’t involve counting calories or giving up your favourite foods, you’ll lose weight so you can wear the clothes you want and be a good role model for your children.