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How to Recognize Hunger Signals?

When it’s time to eat, do you eat because you are hungry, or simply because it’s time to eat? Do you have the habit of always finishing your plate? Do you feel good after meals?

If you answered yes to the last two questions, you might experience problems listening to the signals your body sends. Indeed, you body possesses an internal “barometer”, which indicates when calories are needed, and when there is an excess. The signals sent are those of hunger and satiety.

First of all, it is important to distinguish hunger from the desire to eat. Hunger is a physiological need: it gives a pleasant feeling in the stomach. When we wait too long, it becomes worse: gurgles, stomach aches, feebleness, irritability, concentration problems, etc. The desire to eat, or appetite, is rather a psychological need, also called gluttony. The frequency at which we eat by gluttony is what directly decides if we lose, gain, or maintain our weight.


If you can’t feel it, here is an exercise you can practice. On a rather unoccupied morning (I suggest you do it on the week-end), eat only half of your usual breakfast (for example, if you always eat two toasts, a fruit, a glass of milk, and one yogurt, eat only one toast, the fruit, and the glass of milk). Subsequently, each 30 minutes, stop and see how your stomach feels. Take notes if you need to.

If you begin feeling hungry three hours after your “modified” breakfast, it means that your breakfast is adequate. However, it also means that your regular breakfast is too large. Note that it is absolutely normal to feel hunger 3 to 4 hours after a meal; it is then time to eat a snack (a fruit with a piece of cheese, raw vegetables with about 10 almonds, etc.).

Repeat the half-breakfast exercise as many times as you need to be able to recognize hunger. If you plan on engaging in a sports activity, read the article Pre and Post-Workout Meals: A Must to learn which foods are best suited for replenishing your energy levels.


Satiety is the sensation indicating that you have consumed enough calories to fulfill your body’s needs. It can happen at any point during your meal: after you have eaten a quarter of your plate, or half, or just before the last bite. Our needs vary from one day to another. Have you ever noticed how the flavours are much stronger when we eat while being hungry? As we eat, the flavours become less and less pronounced. The point at which food still tastes good, but has less flavour, is what we call the satiety signal. It is at this precise moment that you begin to eat only to finish your plate.

I suggest you read the book Mangez!, by Guylaine Guèvrement, DtP, which will give you tons of tips on the subject.

Bon appétit!

Marilyne Petitclerc

Holder of a degree in nutrition from Université Laval, Marilyne has worked as a nutritionist for Nautilus Plus since 2010. Passionate about healthy eating and sports nutrition, she also gives lectures and hosts cooking workshops. With her clients, Marilyne makes extensive use of the instinct diet approach and the Mediterranean diet model. Furthermore, she has attended classes on live nutrition at the Hippocrates Health Institute. Maryline ran the Quebec City Marathon des Deux Rives - Half Marathon in 2010 and 2012. She also took part in the Staircase Challenge, another event held in Quebec City in June 2012. Marilyne also plays in an Ultimate Frisbee league and trains regularly at the Nautilus Plus branch where she is employed.

How to Recognize Hunger Signals? is a post from I'm taking charge. I'm taking charge is a blog that aims to help people in their journey to fitness through articles on training, nutrition, motivation, exercise and healthy recipes.
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