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Should You Only Eat When You're Hungry?

Why a Little Hunger Can Be Healthy

We are excited to share one of our fave stories from Shape here on FitSugar. This week Shape turns to Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health.

With my clients, and in general, I like to focus on the positive, such as what to eat rather than what not to eat and what to do rather than what not to do. But after spending time with my clients, they often tell me, I didn't know what I was doing wrong before; now I get it. I'm always happy to hear that, because it means they're not just following my advice, they're understanding the logic behind my recommendations. That's key because when you're in the dark, you'll just unknowingly perpetuate the patterns that work against you. That said, one of the most common missteps I see that keeps people from getting results is being afraid to get hungry.

Intense hunger, when you can't concentrate, you're irritable, and you want to shove the first thing you see into your mouth, doesn't feel good. But mild to moderate hunger is normal, and it's something you should be experiencing about four times a day. It's a signal that your metabolism is in gear, that you've used up or burned off the previous meal and that it's time to refuel for the hours ahead.

Learn how to create the best eating schedule for yourself after the break!

Many of my clients eat on a schedule, which is great, but they're never really hungry, which is an indication that they're eating too much. And a little extra food day after day can be what's causing them to hang onto those unwanted pounds. In other words, even when you're eating super healthy meals, in the right balance, at the right times, if you're never hungry you're probably eating more than your body needs to reach and maintain your ideal weight.

If this sounds familiar, try an experiment: eat a balanced breakfast, like a small bowl of cooked oats topped with fresh fruit and nuts with a glass of skim or soy milk, then pay attention to how long it takes you to feel physical sensations of hunger. You shouldn't be starving, but you should feel a little stomach rumbling. If you're still not hungry five hours after the meal, try cutting back a little on your portions the next day. The goal is to establish a steady hunger-fullness pattern — you want to be hungry when you wake up, then mildly hungry every three to five hours after that. Hunger is kind of like your body's built-in meter for keeping you in balance — embrace it (again not intense, but mild to moderate hunger) and use it to your advantage.

More from Shape.com:

Losing Weight and Not Feeling Great: Why You May Feel Lousy as You Lose

Junk Food That's Good For You

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