I have a cat and a dog. Although they have lived in our house for many years, I never know how much food to give them. Why? They know exactly how much to eat. Sometimes, they leave before they’ve eaten everything in their bowl, and sometimes, they “ask” for more. But when family members are eating, they want to eat too, even if their dish is full and they’re not hungry.
Animals, especially wild animals, eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re satisfied. This is especially true for carnivores. Lions will not eat if they’re not hungry! Herbivores, like zebras, eat until they’re full. Then they lie under a bush and chew their cud. Domestic animals, however, are somewhere in the middle. On one hand, they are still good at listening to their natural physiological needs; on the other hand, they do not live in nature and are exposed to stimuli that are an extension of in human life.
Human beings, sadly, do not. Most of us, especially those of us who have dieted or gone through hard times, do not listen to our appetites and satiety. We eat as a result of a variety of reasons and factors. For example, a social event or family gathering can lead us to eat. When we are happy we eat; when we are bored, we eat; when we are tired, angry, sad, frustrated… we eat. And we don’t listen to the demands of hunger and satiety.
The good news is that we still very sophisticated physiological mechanisms that can help us. The sole purpose of these mechanisms is to regulate the amount of energy we put into our bodies, according to our needs. Our digestive system secretes hormones, which transmit signals to the brain. These signals are converted into a sense of hunger or satiety. When an empty stomach hormone is secreted away, it stimulates the brain’s hunger center. When our blood sugar level drops, the brain gets the message right away. An energy shortage is translated into the sense of hunger. Expansion of the stomach, on the other hand, reduces the secretion of hormones. The presence of food stimulates the secretion of gastrointestinal hormones, that stimulate the brain satiety center. The nervous system also plays a role. Nerve messages reach the brain and say, “I need to eat, I’m hungry,” or “Stop eating, I’m full.”
So … how come we, despite all this, get fat? How come we have every weight control method that a zebra has, and even more, but she puts just the right amount of food into her body, while we load up with more and more?
The answer is we have stopped listening to the stunning and sophisticated satiety mechanisms. We overcame our dependance on them, and we do not even remember that they exist.
“I don’t have a hunger and satiety mechanism.”
“I have a problem I never expressed.”
“I don’t remember the last time I ate out of hunger.”
“I can’t separate physical hunger and emotional hunger.”
We’ve said all of these things before, humorously or seriously, expressing confusion and frustration. Where are hunger and satiety? When did we lose them, and why?
Studies suggest that our eating time is mainly influenced by the environment. The time the children arrive home, from a break for work, or simply the time when we used to eat for years, can make us want to eat, even if we aren’t hungry.
On the other hand, some of us never find the right time … and while eating, we find ourselves with a sense of uncontrollable hunger. When we are hungry, it is very difficult for us to control the amount of food we eat. On the other hand, we often eat, even when we’re not hungry at all.
The amount of food we consume depends on the size of our dinner plate, the variety of foods in a meal or in the refrigerator, and other external stimuli, but very little as a result of the feeling of satiety.
It is important to know that the feeling of satiety is not immediate. It takes about twenty minutes after eating for the satiety centers in the brain to kick in. Therefore, feeding speed is important in determining satiety. Anyone who eats very quickly will find himself facing an empty plate, and still hungry.
One way to rediscover the natural balance of hunger and satiety is to listen to what our bodies are saying, and get reacquainted with the sensations of hunger and satiety. The physiological mechanisms are here, and we should use them for our own good.