Tips for Understanding Your Hunger and Fullness Signals

Learn to understand and manage your hunger and fullness signals

Hunger and fullness signals are important because they affect when, and how much, you eat. Have you ever snacked on your favorite goodies out of habit, even if you weren’t hungry? What about devouring your whole plate even when you got full halfway through?

Not Always Easy to Manage

Your drive to eat comes from back-and-forth communication between your brain, GI tract and other organs (like fat cells). Both hunger and fullness signals are located in areas of your brain. They are fueled by hormones and proteins that help brain cells communicate.

Over time, your body determines how much energy storage you have.  But in the short-term, your brain and stomach communicate to determine hunger, fullness and food availability.

Unfortunately, these systems don’t always work correctly. This is why many people overeat and gain weight, despite what fullness signals their body is trying to communicate. Other factors that influence energy balance and weight include:

  • Environment
  • Genetics
  • Habit
  • Diseases
  • Gut bacteria
  • Medications
  • Eating for reward or pleasure

Self-sabotage? Seems Like it!

To make matters more complicated, everything changes when weight-loss is involved. When an individual tries to lose weight, the brain is constantly receiving signals about losing energy stores (body fat). In response, it does the only thing it knows – increases your hunger drive.

This is why many people feel the need to eat more and end up gaining the weight back. It can sometimes feel like losing weight and keeping it off is impossible.

Managing Hunger and Fullness

If it’s possible for your body to send mixed signals about hunger and fullness, how do you reign them in and manage your weight? Some treatment options exist to help you in the short-term such as weight-loss medications that reduce appetite. However, these prove difficult with time. Lifestyle changes and mindfulness are key to managing these signals.

  • Adjust your environment to limit high-fat, high-sugar foods that are readily available. When hunger strikes, you are less likely to reach for them.
  • Recognize what foods you crave often and why you crave them. Is there a pattern?
  • Work at controlling portion sizes and balancing your meals.
  • Eat slow to savor your food and give your body time to recognize fullness.
  • Eat in a peaceful and attentive space to avoid distractions.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you have difficulty controlling hunger/fullness.

For more information about hunger and fullness signals as they relate to weight management, see these resources from the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC):


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