What does hunger feel like?
January 24, 2015 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Can you describe what it feels like when you're hungry? I'm not talking about hunge as in starving/food insecurity, I mean regular old "Time for dinner now..." hungry. I've noticed that I'm frequently hungry when I shouldn't be. I think maybe I'm just misinterpreting a sensation as hunger but that it's not huger. So what does hunger feel like?

That is, I feel a physical/physiological sensation in my abdominal and throatish areas, however, it's often right after I've eaten a reasonable meal, sometimes even a large meal. I interpret this sensation as hunger and usually think "Huh, I can't believe I'm still hungry" and eat more. But now it's occurring to me that maybe that sensation isn't hunger. Maybe I don't quite know what hunger feels like. So what does hunger feel like?
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The feeling your describing sounds like food moving through your stomach and down into your small intestine. Do you eat quickly or slowly? Do you drink enough water or liquid with meals? Eating more slowly and adding liquids can help this feeling.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:12 PM on January 24, 2015

I am an artist who often works with existing pictures of food when I make collages. I get absorbed in my work and don't realize I'm hungry until I see a photo of baked Alaska or fried chicken. Then, if I am hungry, it hits me like a wave and I have to eat. So maybe if you're not sure, you could look at a cookbook for pictures and see how your body reacts.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 2:13 PM on January 24, 2015

Hunger and acid reflux feel very similar to me (and I guess, a lot of people). I don't think I could describe them in different ways. If I take medicine and it goes away, it's acid reflux.
posted by wintersweet at 2:15 PM on January 24, 2015 [10 favorites]

I associate hunger with particular biological phenomena, most reliably that I start craving certain types of food. I think this is my most reliable indicator sometimes that I need certain types of nutrients (like protein or fruit). But I also sometimes feel "hungry" if my blood sugar has dropped or has been stimulated by snacky type foods, and also when I'm thirsty. Sometimes emotional triggers make me feel like I want food, and I sometimes associate that with hunger, although it's likely not really the case. So I have a lot of false indicators I think, which is something I'm also working on. For other people I know, there are definite mood altering indicators, as well (some people in my family feel crabby, but that has never happened to me).
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:20 PM on January 24, 2015

Yea, that doesn't sound like hunger - that sounds like bad heartburn or needing to take giant dump.

Personally for me, it's more of a dull sensation in the pit of my stomach and a feeling of emptiness. If I'm extremely hungry, it feels like anytime I take a drink of anything, I can almost feel the liquid hitting my stomach.
posted by lpcxa0 at 2:21 PM on January 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

Particularly in the morning when I first wake up, I have a hard time distinguishing between nausea and hunger. I end up fretting myself into knots over whether eating something will make my problem go away (hunger) or make it worse (nausea).

I've found that drinking about a cup of not-too-cold water and waiting 10 minutes tends to answer this question for me. It seems to settle the symptoms into something more readily interpreted as one or the other. Hunger is something I tend to feel lower down in my abdomen, rather than farther up in my chest. If the feeling seems to move down with the water, it's hunger. If it seems to move up, it's nausea (or heartburn). If it goes away, it was probably thirst moreso than hunger, though usually it means I am also hungry. If it makes me burpy and bloated feeling, it's nausea or heartburn.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:31 PM on January 24, 2015

May I suggest something? Let yourself be hungry for a while. Skip a meal or two - or, for an experiment, see how long you can go in a 24 hour period without eating. I actually have had the same problem you do and the best solution for me was to let myself actually be hungry.

Hunger for me feels like a sensation in my stomach that's not quite described as a pain, but not a cramp either. Something else. The feeling can go up my esophagus, but it's not like reflux, it's just a need to eat. It's hard to describe. If I don't eat, I get nauseated.
posted by DriftingLotus at 2:47 PM on January 24, 2015 [10 favorites]

When truly hungry, my stomach will feel like it is chewing on itself; just burn-y and acid-y feeling, and like it is tying itself in knots. My mouth might water at the sight or smell of food. I might feel faint/weak, crabby, a distinct low energy sensation. And sometimes I know exactly what sort of food I need to satisfy me; this is particularly true when I need protein (I'm vegetarian).
posted by Halo in reverse at 2:54 PM on January 24, 2015

possibly related - the mechanisms that control hunger and satiety are delicate and can be thrown off by various conditions including insulin resistance. If you're insulin resistant you may very well feel hungry even right after eating. (In fact this is one of the ways you'd clue in that you were insulin resistant.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:58 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have never felt (or heard of anyone feeling) standard everyday sorts of hunger in the throat. It's a growly emptiness in the stomach. If you're feeling throat things I do not think that's hunger.
posted by something something at 3:05 PM on January 24, 2015 [10 favorites]

re-reading your question, no, you shouldn't feel hunger in your throat. Hunger is in the stomach; although it can certainly combine with heartburn, which you can absolutely feel radiating up to your throat. (Heartburn comes from stomach juices creeping up into the esophagus; one of the times that can happen is when you're hungry and lots of stomach acid is going, but that's not the only time.) But heartburn is quite painful and should be distinct from regular ol' "oh hey it's time for lunch!" hungry, although they can appear together.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:07 PM on January 24, 2015

My stomach rumbles or feels shy of crampy. It's not painful by any means, but it's not comfortable either.
posted by cecic at 3:15 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

It can take about 20 min to realize you're full. If you've eaten a reasonable portion, wait about 20 min to see if you'd still like to eat more - agreeing hunger is in the stomach, not throat. Have you asked your doc about this?
posted by cestmoi15 at 3:25 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I feel hungry in my throat, so maybe I'm just weird that way. I don't have reflux. If I'm really starving my stomach rumbles, but until then it's more of a mouth watering/throat sensation. And a desire for food. If I had a weird feeling that I wasn't sure was hunger, but I didn't want food... then I would conclude it's probably not actually hunger.

I would suggest drinking and seeing how you feel after that. A lot of people misinterpret thirst as hunger, from what I understand, and it definitely helps me personally to avoid eating snacks when I don't need to.

Trying fasting seems like an interesting experiment, as well, if you truly don't remember what being hungry is like for you. One of my mentors used to say "what's wrong with being hungry? It builds character." Then again, she was a surgeon, and they can tend towards having a masochistic streak.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:56 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I'm hungry my stomach makes empty, growly sounds and feels like it is gnawing on itself. The feeling builds up over time and becomes hard to ignore. I think acid reflux is more constant and subtle than hunger. If I am emotionally eating or bored, I don't feel anything, it's just nagging thoughts about food. I also know it's actual hunger if the first bites 'quell' me. The feeling is like relief + endorphins, but only for the first couple bites.

A practical test for hunger that helped me re-learn how to distinguish real hunger from boredom/acid reflux/emotional eating: If you want to eat but your next meal is hours away, have a plain slice of turkey* or a hunk of plain, cold, cooked chicken breast. If unseasoned, cold, cooked chicken breast doesn't appeal to you in that moment, then you are most likely not hungry (sad trombone).

*I used this test a lot when I was losing weight. I didn't eat poultry at the time, so I swapped it with plain greek yogurt and tofu (and I'm sure it would work with any other just-as-unexciting yet protein dense food).
posted by marimeko at 4:34 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

The right answer to this is just to make yourself hungry. Eat a very early dinner (like, say before 5pm). Don't eat before you go to bed. You will definitely be hungry when you wake up.
posted by empath at 5:02 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I am truly hungry, I just get obsessed about food. I can't stop thinking about it, even if I'm meant to be doing something else. It's kind of like those cartoons when the character is talking to someone, but all they see is a giant roast chicken.

Every type of food I imagine or see looks amazing. Like, I would happily eat a spoonful of cold porridge.

When I am not really properly hungry, I am pickier about my food and will only want to eat something that really looks and smells delicious, or is more interesting than everyday staples.

These feelings can go with or without associated sensations in my stomach. For me, I get the growly burning stomach feeling first, but if I wait it out or am busy and don't eat right away, it goes away after an hour or so. Then after that point I know I am hungry by the above experience of food obsession, not because of a physical sensation.
posted by lollusc at 5:04 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I'm hungry, my stomach feels empty (achey, if very hungry), and it growls. I can walk past five different restaurants and everything they have to offer smells amazing and is equally persuasive.

Here's a neat blog post by a nutritionist, describing her own classification of different kinds of hunger.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:51 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I go from "not hungry" to "stomach painfully tying itself in knots" with nothing in between, but I think I'm a rarity. When I'm hungry, my stomach cramps in on itself so badly it feels like I've been punched in the stomach.

Sensations in my mouth/throat are either cravings or indicators of thirst, I find.

It's only in the last couple of years I've discovered that other poeple don't feel this pain, which explains why it seemed that none of my friends ever took me seriously when I said I was hungry and wanted to go eat.
posted by telophase at 7:04 PM on January 24, 2015

I'm surprised so many people are describing hunger as feeling like acid reflux. It's not like that at all for me. I'm more like telophase above - it's a painful emptiness in my stomach that makes me feel desperate to eat.

I do think there is a wide variation in hunger feelings though.... my husband often "forgets" to eat meals, and if I ask him if he noticed any hunger he says no. If he is absorbed in something he won't notice that he hasn't eaten in awhile. Whereas for me, no matter what I'm doing, I'll get strong hunger pains if I've gone more than a few hours without eating.
posted by barnoley at 7:44 PM on January 24, 2015

I've noticed that I sometimes confuse hunger with thirst. Maybe you are just thirsty.
posted by anadem at 8:54 PM on January 24, 2015

When I get hungry, I get angry.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:37 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I get very hungry, I get dizzy (low blood sugar, probably) and can't function until I eat something. But I tend to be very aware of food during the day -- I like to figure out what the next meal is going to be hours before I eat it, and I like to plan ahead for situations where there may not be food nearby, so I never really forget to eat or make having meals not-a-priority. Actual hunger is rarer for me because of this, so I can usually tell when it's head hunger, dehydration, or acid reflux. (I get very envious of people who "forget" to eat. It's a problem I wish I had!)
posted by mirepoix at 2:27 AM on January 25, 2015

Try fasting for a day and pay close attention to how you physically feel. Every time I do, whether deliberately or because I'm occupied, I notice how hunger can feel different. There's normal haven't-eaten-in-an-hour empty stomach feeling, or intense stomach churning, gurgling, or sometimes just a feeling of being aware of my stomach without any real sensation. But even when I've gone a while without eating these feelings are all surprisingly transient, with little relation to food consumption.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 5:52 AM on January 25, 2015

Hunger for me has nothing to do with my esophagus or throat. My stomach will feel empty and hollow and a bit grindy- not painful but noticeable and distracting. My abdomen, which often curves out slightly (my BMI is 22, for what that's worth), will feel and look very flat, even concave. And my thinking gets kind of foggy and impatient- it takes me longer to make a decision and I get irritable more quickly, ie, hangry.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:04 AM on January 25, 2015

Hunger is two dozen things happening simultaneously, not a single impulse. Your stomach does this gurgling thing when it's empty, for one. You feel faint and tired when your blood sugar drops. For me, low blood sugar triggers some hormonal response that makes me anxious, and a little bit angry – my ex used to call this "hangry." I also start to daydream about eating. I picture what's in my fridge and how I'm going to prepare it.

Somehow, my brain knows how to synthesize all of this into a singluar event, "I am hungry," but I don't think it's a single experience. Namely I have experienced the daydreaming and stomach gurgling independent of the exhaustion, particularly while exercising.
posted by deathpanels at 1:43 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I feel dizzy and get a headache when I don't eat. My stomach makes noises when I'm hungry, but I don't feel hunger in my stomach.

I also feel tired when I am hungry. If I am traveling and am jet lagged, I often confuse that feeling with hunger.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:29 PM on January 25, 2015

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