Sure-Fire Ways To Uncover The Subtle Signs of Hunger

This blog article is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical advice.

Some signs of hunger can be hard to recognize.

Do you ever find yourself saying:

  • Am I hungry or just bored?
  • I can’t be hungry, I just ate an hour ago!
  • I’m just not a breakfast person.
  • Why can’t I tell when I’m hungry anymore?
  • These 3pm (or after dinner) cravings are killing me!

While we often associate hunger with a rumbling stomach, our bodies communicate their need for food in various ways. Headaches, fatigue, and even lack of focus can all be signs it’s time for a meal.

Understanding the more subtle hunger signs can help you maintain a balanced and healthy relationship with food. 

In this blog post, we will talk about seven often overlooked signals that indicate hunger is calling. We’ll also explore how to become more aware of hunger cues and how to get hunger cues back if they’ve been missing because of dieting or an eating disorder.

Ready to talk about hunger? Let’s go.

What are the signs of hunger?

The most common physical signs of hunger include:

  • Feeling low energy 
  • Fatigue
  • Losing concentration or focus
  • Feeling irritable or hangry
  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Having cravings
  • Thinking about food
  • Feeling shaky – like your blood sugar is low
  • An empty feeling in your belly or your stomach growling

Hunger is a signal from your brain, nothing more. Like the cue that it’s time to go to the bathroom or to drink some water on a hot day. Think of it as your brain’s way of tapping you on the shoulder to say, “Hey! I need some energy!

Hunger cues can be subtle and hard to recognize. Over time, with practice and awareness, you become more in tune with these signals. Recognizing them can help you give your body what it needs to feel energized and stay focused on what matters.

The 7 Subtle Signs of Hunger

Woman seated eating tortilla chips with common signs of hunger listed to the left of her image

1. Energy dips and fatigue:

Do you find yourself yawning excessively during meetings or lacking motivation a couple hours after lunch? If this is you, it might be time to reach for a snack (and maybe check your sleep routine, too).

If you are getting enough rest, feeling low energy or sudden fatigue can be a sign that your body didn’t get enough fuel at your last meal, or that it’s been a while since you ate. 

When we go for long periods without eating, blood sugar levels drop, leading to a decrease in energy. Eating about every three to five hours is usually what the body needs to feel energized, perform well, and stay awake at work or school.

Remember, the only way our body gets energy is through food. Starbucks and Red Bulls just won’t cut it. So, if energy is sapped, it may be time to eat. Getting a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fiber at meals can help you sustain your energy for longer periods of time.

2. Difficulty concentrating:

Have you ever struggled to concentrate on a task, only to realize that you haven’t eaten in hours? Lack of focus can be a subtle indicator of hunger. 

When our brains lack fuel, they struggle to function optimally, affecting our ability to concentrate and think clearly. If you find your mind wandering or having trouble staying on track, it may be a sign that your body needs nourishment.

3. Irritability and mood swings: feeling hangry

Feeling hangry is one of those hunger symptoms that cannot be ignored!

Hunger can have a significant impact on our mood. When we’re overly hungry, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to irritability, mood swings, and even feelings of anxiety.

If you notice yourself becoming easily agitated or unusually snappy, it might be time to satisfy your hunger to bring your emotions back into balance.

4. Headaches and lightheadedness:

Frequent headaches or a lightheaded feeling can also be signs of hunger. When we don’t eat regularly, our blood sugar levels drop, depriving our brains of the glucose they need to function optimally. Low blood sugar can also make you feel shaky or bring your mood down.

This lack of fuel can manifest as headaches or light-headedness. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s worth considering whether your body is signaling the need for food.

Frequent lightheadedness may be a sign that you are consistently underfueling your body. If dizziness and lightheadedness are happening on a regular basis, please make an appointment with your health care provider to explore a possible medical cause.

5. Cravings and food thoughts:

Cravings often arise when our bodies require specific nutrients. However, it’s important to differentiate between true physical hunger and emotional cravings. 

Physical hunger is typically accompanied by a genuine desire for food. Emotional cravings tend to focus on specific comfort foods in response to stress or difficult emotions. 

Pay attention to the nature of your cravings and listen to your body’s cues to determine the most appropriate response.

Thinking of food is your brain’s way of telling you it’s time to eat. If your mind is on food, it’s likely you need a snack or meal. If you’re thinking of food all the time, this may be worth exploring with a registered dietitian.

6. Feeling cold:

Feeling unusually cold, especially in warm environments, can indicate that your body needs fuel. When we’re hungry, our bodies try to conserve energy, which can result in a lower body temperature

If you find yourself reaching for an extra layer or feeling consistently chilly, it might be time to nourish your body with some food. 

7. Stomach growling and physical sensations:

Last but not least, the classic sign of hunger: a growling stomach. This audible cue is often accompanied by physical sensations, such as a hollow or gnawing feeling in the stomach. 

While stomach growls are common when you’re physically hungry, it’s important to note that they are not always the first or most noticeable sign – signs 1 through 6 may show up well before your belly growls.

Paying attention to the other signals your body sends before your stomach starts to rumble can help you respond before headaches, fatigue or irritability sets in.

*If you experience some or all of these symptoms regularly, with or without recent weight loss, please seek the advice of your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian who specializes in disordered eating.*

Hunger Signals Messed Up?

Lost your hunger cues? Try these five tips to help hunger signals return.

Eat regularly without skipping meals:

Eating frequent, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day can help prevent extreme hunger from coming on. Balanced meals and snacks include a mix of carbohydrates, protein, fiber and fats. Eating about every 3 to 5 hours is recommended to prevent extreme hunger.

Eat enough:

Eating enough at meals and snacks to feel comfortably full can help. If you find yourself hungry an hour or two after a meal or snack, you may not have had enough to eat at the last opportunity. Or you may not have had enough balance in the last meal. 

Include fiber:

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes digest slowly and help increase satisfaction and satiety, that long-lasting feeling of fullness. Eating foods high in fiber also prevents your blood sugar from spiking super high and then crashing.

Prioritize sleep:

Getting adequate and consistent sleep can help regulate hormones, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce feelings of hunger and cravings. Aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and with a consistent sleep routine can help. Adequate sleep will also help you maintain your energy levels.

Manage your stress:

Finding a variety of ways to manage stress can counteract its effects. Mindfulness, gentle movement, relaxing hobbies, and connecting with loved ones are examples of coping skills that can help manage stress and difficult emotions. 

Parting Words on Signs of Hunger

Hunger manifests in various ways, and it’s crucial to recognize the subtle signs that our bodies use to signal this primal need for nutrition. 

By being aware of your hunger cues, you can cultivate a healthier relationship with food, honor your body’s needs and provide it with the fuel it requires. Working with an Intuitive Eating coach can help.

So, next time you notice a dip in energy, difficulty concentrating, or a sudden change in mood, pause and consider whether you need some nourishment.