08/02/2011 12:15 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2011

Why Wanting to Eat Isn't the Same as Being Hungry

Do you just want to eat, or do you want to stop being hungry? There is vital distinction between these two desires. Mostly, when we eat, we're not truly hungry. We eat because food is right there or it's meal time or because we associate eating with doing something -- like eating popcorn at the movies or having dessert after a restaurant dinner. We eat because we are social
creatures -- it's part of the most basic of social rituals.

Also it can be a stress release from what's happening in our daily life. Eating is one of the most physically enjoyable things we can do in a public place. However, hunger is a different animal. Hunger is a command, not a request. Hunger is digging in a dumpster for leftover food even though traffic is whizzing by.

True hunger, although part of the daily life of millions of people on this earth, is rarely seen or felt in our industrialized country except among the very poor. Often when people say "I'm really hungry," they aren't. In all likelihood they're motivated to eat by something entirely separate from hunger.

Try these tools to diagnose whether you are really hungry or if you really just want to eat. Eat when you rank a number three and stop eating when you get to five:
1. Ravenous. Headache, shakiness and light headed. You feel like you could and would eat anything.
2. Cranky and very hungry, with low energy. You may even feel nauseous. You are at the edge of being famished.
3. Strong urge to eat. You are feeling an emptiness in your stomach. Your mental focus and coordination begins to wane.
4. Beginning to think about food. Belly is giving you the signal that you might want to eat. You are a little hungry.
5. Body has enough fuel to keep it going and is physically and psychologically just starting to feel satisfied. Often you will take a deep breath here -- I call this the "stop eating" sigh.
6. Full and satisfied.
7. Slightly over full but still some room if there's food left. Body says "no" and mouth says "yes" to a few more bites.
8. Uncomfortably full. Difficult to take a deep breath.
9. Extreme fullness. You feel heavy, tired and bloated. Thinking of going to bed.
10. Disgustedly full physically and mentally. You don't want to or can't move, and feel like you never want to look at food again.

Remember, start eating when you are a three and stop when you are a five and managing your weight will be a much easier task. Although saying it and doing it are much two different bites.