How to stop feeling anxious about feeling hungry

When you learn to overcome anxiety about feeling hungry, weight loss is much easier

When feeling hungry makes you anxious, and makes you eat more than you need

If the idea of getting hungry fills you with unease, or even dread, you may find yourself eating extra now to avoid risking hunger pangs later. I call this “Insurance Policy Eating”. Taking action now to protect yourself later.

But what if you don’t need the extra food? If it’s eaten but not used for energy it will be stored as fat. And if you want to lose weight that’s heading in the opposite direction from the one you were aiming for.

This keeps you over-weight and under-confident.

Ridding yourself of this fear of mild hunger means

  • You can relax around food
  • You can eat in tune with your body
  • You can trust yourself to manage mild feelings of hunger
  • You can discover inner strengths you may not know you have

Rather than having to carry food around with you wherever you go, you can plan meals and snacks consciously and calmly.

Rather than eating more than you need for lunch you can stop when you’re just full, knowing that if you are hungry later, and it’s not dinnertime, you can eat something to tide you over – a planned snack.

Rather than eating impulsively at the first hint of hunger, you can wait for your next meal or snack.

Rather than feeling like the person with no self-control, you feel confident and in control around food and eating.

In order to make hunger-anxiety a thing of the past, follow these 3 steps:

  1. Understand how hunger signals work
  2. Understand why hunger makes us anxious
  3. Understand the 3 levels of anxiety and how to calm them down

Let’s take these in turn

  1. Understand how hunger signals work

Digesting our last meal produces energy for whatever we’re doing, and nutrients to build and repair our body.  When the energy is used up, our stomach, gut and other organs send signals to the brain to say as much. The message is translated as something like, “more energy needed; time to eat”. We experience this as mild hunger. Eating switches off these hunger signals and we feel increasing fullness as we eat.

If we instead don’t eat immediately, what happens is that our body turns to its stored energy in response to the “more energy needed” message. Stored energy is FAT.  The body burns this instead, releasing glucose into the bloodstream which gives us energy, so the hunger signals are switched off.  This means that when we don’t eat at the first hint of hunger, those hunger sensations pass within a few minutes.  They return once that bit of fat has been used up.

When the hunger signals return they may be a bit stronger and again, whether you eat now or not, they will be switched off.  Each successive hunger registers more keenly.  And when you are definitely hungry, it’s time to eat. And if you’ve worked out what meal and snack timings suit your lifestyle and what meal/ snack sizes your body needs, this will be at a meal or snack time.

Tolerating too much hunger isn’t helpful. By -4 or -5 on the Appetite Pendulum you may find that when you do eat, you find it harder to stop.  Not necessarily, but this is what many people describe happening to them.

  1. Understand why hunger makes us anxious

Anxiety is our body’s way of helping us deal with danger. In conditions of real food scarcity, lack of food is dangerous.  For this reason, hunger signals are uncomfortable and difficult to ignore as they increase.  The hungrier we get the more likely it is that our body thinks we’re in physical danger from lack of food.

Living in a part of the world where food is readily available, extreme hunger is never going to arise. But you may have come to fear hunger, even mild hunger. Perhaps because you worry that food will not be available when you need it, or because you don’t believe you can cope with feeling hungry.  What we’ll see is that you can learn to overcome your fear of hunger so that you can allow yourself to tolerate mild feelings of hunger between meals, resulting in fat-burning, a sense of increased self-control and more enjoyment from your next meal.

  1. Understand the 3 levels of anxiety and how to calm them down

Anxiety operates on 3 levels simultaneously- physical, behavioural and thinking.

  • Physical: Physically when you’re anxious you go into “fight or flight” mode. Your heart rate speeds up to pump oxygen to your muscles and you experience a range of physical changes such as feeling hot and shaky.
  • Behavioural: Feeling physically anxious is unpleasant, so you’re likely to avoid anything that makes you feel that way. As a result you avoid the anxiety trigger (in this case, hunger), but this means that you fail to learn that you can in fact cope perfectly well with the feeling.
  • Thinking: Anxious thinking centres on the belief that you can’t cope. When you believe you can’t cope with hunger, the very thought of it makes you feel anxious and you’re in a vicious circle of thinking, behaving and feeling anxious.

So what can you do about it?

Luckily there are very simple and effective ways to deal with hunger-related anxiety.

  • Physically you can use simple deep, steady breathing to calm the fight/ flight system down. Or you can use very simple acupressure techniques ( for anxiety.
  • Behaviourally it helps to put an end to your avoidance of mild hunger. Start with small steps and use a graded approach to tolerating hunger. When you allow yourself to feel slightly hungry without rushing to eat, give yourself credit for ending the avoidance.
  • Thinking-wise it helps to remind yourself that when you experience mild hunger and don’t eat, your body is actually burning fat. Notice that you are stronger than you thought, and enjoy learning this important thing about yourself. It will also help to remind yourself that by getting definitely hungry before eating, your next meal will taste fabulous!

Further information about how to reduce anxiety is in the free Appetite Doctor Anxiety ebook

Please share this article on social media, to help as many people as possible learn that mild hunger is a wonderful gateway not just to losing weight and food tasting better than ever, but also discovering strengths you didn’t know you had. And because you’re learning to eat less, it actually saves you money.

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