Speaking for myself, non-working hunger signals felt like I was never really hungry and never truly satisfied. Instead of physical stomach-growling hunger, it was chronic low-grade dissatisfaction combined with a scary urge to eat everything in sight. If I did let myself eat, there was no off switch. I wasn't hungry when I started eating and fullness had no bearing on stopping.
Now, working hunger signals feel like: I start to think about food (very first signal) and if I don't eat fairly soon, that progresses to a hollow feeling and maybe a gentle rumbling or growling in my stomach. This usually happens around the times I would normally eat, which is why predictable meal times are helpful for getting clear hunger signals back. When I'm done eating, I'm comfortably full and totally satisfied. I won't eat or think about food again for hours. Then the food thoughts and gentle growling return and I eat another big satisfying meal. I tend to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at regular times without much interest in snacking. That's me though. I'm not a grazer. I got really sick of 200 calorie "meals." When I eat, I want to EAT. 😋
It also helped me tremendously to eat enough fat and carbs. I had slashed both of those in dieter days. There's nothing like a high-protein, low-carb, low-fat diet to make you want to eat wallpaper. Wallpaper starts looking like a starchy carb. I put things like cereal and sandwiches back on the menu. I ate a couple tablespoons of peanut butter per day, cheese, avocado, bacon, almonds. God, I felt so much better!! I didn't realize how awful and listless and deprived I'd been feeling until the carbs and fat brought my energy level and mood back into the normal human range. Then I wanted to lift all the things! Go places! Do things! Talk to people! I had energy, and I was happy. It was amazing. I could never go back to a low-fat, or low-carb, or especially low-calorie, restrictive diet. I think they cause literal depression and anxiety. My results are better on all levels when I'm eating in a way I enjoy, and eating enough food overall.
I used to worry tremendously about macros and nutrient timing. They aren't completely irrelevant, but they're nowhere near as important as I had thought. Overall intake trumps everything. If you have perfect macros but you're chronically undereating, you experience no results, low energy, crappy mood, and binge urges. If you're eating an assortment of weird things but meeting your basic energy and nutrition needs - surprisingly good results!
That's been my experience anyway.
That makes sense, @sunshine. Intense + prolonged workouts can kill my hunger completely for an hour or more. Stress can kill it all day. Leisure walking and quick ZGYM workouts that are moderate or easy don't affect it at all. I just did an intense ZGYM workout that has shut down my appetite temporarily (that breathless, vaguely queasy sensation where food doesn't sound good at all), but by the time I take a shower and make lunch it will be back.
You're probably onto something with the cortisol, where it's not so much the workout itself but overall stress level and things adding up. The big picture of number of stressors versus quality of recovery.
I'm still working on my wacky hunger signals. Its complicated for me because exercise blunts my hunger SO MUCH. Actually, I'd be willing to bet it's more cortisol from exercise than the exercise itself. When I'm in stressful situations I get the same numbness to hunger.
I agree 100% about starchy carbs! I've needed to avoid rice and bread for the last year to help with a health issue, and am so happy that I have now been able to add them back into my diet. I recently went out for brunch and had eggs and sourdough toast, (with a good amount of butter) and it was so satisfying that I wasn't even able to finish it. And I usually finish my meals. After that all thoughts of food magically disappeared for quite a few hours. For me, bread has this lovely satisfying, grounding affect. Ahhhhh bread...how I've missed you :)