What is hunger? Dr Viola Zulian

What is hunger?

Do you have a hole in your stomach?

When I was resident in surgery, I often took part in quite long operations, even 7-8 hours or more, long.

At about 12.30 / 1 p.m. I was beginning to feel a peckish at the stomach. Not being able to leave my position, I managed to feel hungry and remained focused. Suddenly, an hour later, this feeling vanished and at the end of the operation if it was all right, I had a coffee.

I know, this attitude is not at all educational nor even to be emulated.

I told this anecdote to give you an example of what is called the “hunger of the stomach“: many describe it as a cramp under the breastbone, those who are more interested in comparing it to a “bite”, most define it an unpleasant sensation.

The hunger of the stomach comes mostly from habits, eating at certain times, synchronizes our hormones (see the famous ghrelin on the previous post) with the circadian rhythm that act in combination. Peristaltic waves sent by the vagus nerve create that sensation of contraction and relaxation known as the “hole in the stomach”.

But if you change time zone, you will see within a few hours, that the body will acquire the new rhythm. Those who practice fasting for several days, maintain that the unpleasant sensation disappears to leave place for an energetic euphoria.

So how to explain what happened to me in the operating room? Simply that of the stomach, it is a signal. If we fast the signal goes off. What happened to me.

What I want to say is that stomach hunger is not sovereign. What we have to listen to is another hunger, it is a hunger for necessity, dictated by the intrinsic needs of our cells.

I watch my children and I see they play up to the exhaustation; the smallest Ettore, has taken a courious habit from my dad, that is to ask well in advance “what do you eat?» … After receiving the answer, he continues to play with his brother.

At a certain point they announce: «we are hungry!». Usually we have dinner quite early. After finishing the meal and briefly talking about the day, they ask, “can we get up?» – when they remember.

The impression is that for them, eating is a pit stop. Hop, we stop and eat – we start again. They stop by necessity. By becoming adults we lose this relationship to which we add a lot of pleasure, discovery, love, comfort, protection, boredom, sadness, depression and everything is unbalanced.

The cells of our body are able to communicate what they need.

When I was a young medical student, I was teaching aerobics in the gym (what is now called Zumba!), When I came back from the Pump course (a course where you exercise your muscles a lot with the use of weights) I always wanted hazelnuts chocolate. Who knows where find magnesium? Well, in high concentrations both in chocolate and hazelnuts. I was looking in the food for what my muscles were claiming.

Other times, after a course in which I was very sweating, I would have willingly skipped dinner for an aperitif made up of a ton of potato chips: who do you guess? I needed sodium chloride, the common cooking salt, which is abundantly found in chips.

The author of the book Mindful eating, Jan Chozen Bays, describes a form of picacism (or PICA, that is the habit of eating non-edible substances like earth, wood) in some areas of South America where pregnant women that much they often have very low iron levels, they find this mineral in white clay. 1

Our body has a higher intelligence, the problem is listening.

Try to ask yourself this question before eating:

– Do you need cells to claim?

– if you give him what he wants, after a few minutes, do you feel hunger subside?

-Don’t wait to finish the packet of chips, but eat them, one by one without watching TV. Change something ?

These are the questions that Dr. Chozen Bays suggests doing to identify cellular hunger:

  1. Sit quietly, close your eyes and become aware of your body.

Can you feel if the cells in your body are satisfied?

  1. If they are hungry, what? Liquid or solid? Vegetables? Green or colored? Fruit ? Sour or sweet? Salt? Starch? Protein? It is not easy to distinguish at the beginning. It may be easier to perceive the signals sent by the cells if you try to do this exercise before eating. Sit down for a few minutes with your eyes closed and try to hear what your body is asking for.
  2. Halfway through the meal, stop for a moment, close your eyes and try to feel if your body is hungry. If so, what? At the end of the meal, stop, close your eyes, and ask for again.
  3. Sometimes what seems to us hungry is actually cell thirst. Before eating a snack, try to drink something, some water, a juice, a hot drink. Sip it slowly, with awareness and attention. Now turn your attention inside and see if your hunger has changed. Is it increased, diminished, asks for different food? 1

So, to conclude, can you distinguish a hunger of the stomach from cell hunger? I hope I have given you some ideas, to help you understand yourself better. If you have a hole in your stomach, next time, try to ask yourself a few questions and not fall into temptation, with some junk food. Perhaps, I say perhaps, we will find out more about our real needs.

With gratitude,

1. Mindful eating, Jan Chozen Bays