If everyone treated sleep like hunger, our workplace would look like the picture here. Yet we don’t act on the impulse of sleep like we do for hunger. When we experience fatigue and somnolence (the technical term for sleepiness), we work through it until we can find a more appropriate time for it. Americans are champs at working through and fighting fatigue. So how is it that we’re so poor at fighting off hunger? We’re just not a society that is tolerant to the sensation of hunger. A part of that comes from the fact that we don’t have to be. Since food is cheap, plentiful and convenient, the smallest hunger impulse can be easily satiated.

This has led to problematic overeating. The smallest hunger impulse is managed with eating. This has also led to eating for treatment of non-hunger related feelings, i.e. boredom and stress. Furthermore, food manufacturers have found ways to increase pleasure from food (partly through the addition of sugar) to ratchet up the satisfaction you get from food and have created a dependence on certain flavors, tastes and foods.

So how do you break the cycle? How do you treat hunger more like sleep? First, you have to recognize that it’s ok to be hungry and you don’t have to act on it immediately by eating. Here are two suggestions on how to manage that impulse. First, try breathing through hunger. Hunger triggers a cascade of physiologic changes within the body that is very similar to anxiety. This can sometimes be managed with a few cleansing breaths. Otherwise, find a non-caloric way to satiate that impulse (water, tea, diet soda, gum, going on a walk). If and when you do decide to eat something, eat slowly. Remember, it takes about 20-30 minutes for your brain to register that your body is receiving nutrients. Drink fluids along with the food that you’re eating. This will help slow your eating and will also help with digestion. The faster you digest your food, the quicker it will get absorbed into your system and send signals of satiety to the brain.

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