We were all born with a sophisticated physiological system that signals us when to eat and when to stop. This system is highly important for human evolution and has improved survival during periods of unstable food environments. Today, however, we are faced with many outside influencers that are disrupting or camouflaging our signals.
This Blog will review the difference between Hunger VS Appetite. First, we will review what causes hunger and appetite. Then, we will review the differences between hunger and appetite so you can determine what you are feeling. Finally, we will conclude with my top key tips to TAME your appetite.
How does hunger differ from appetite?
What is hunger?
As an active child I can remember my mother needing to encourage me to sit down at mealtime to eat. If I wasn’t hungry I can remember just taking a few bites and then trying to convince her I was too full to continue.
But then I could remember smelling the fresh baked apple pie she made. This is when I felt I had separate compartments for “meals” and “ sweets”. I was clearly too full to finish my dinner, but I had room for the pie.
Hunger is the physiological need for food to maintain bodily functions. If my mom hadn’t called me in and I had stayed outside playing for hours I would eventually come in on my own with feelings of hunger.
What are the true signs of hunger?
- Feeling comes on gradually.
- You haven’t eaten in a few hours.
- Physiological need.
- May have headache, shaky, dizziness, stomach grumbling, feel moody, fatigue weakness.
- Instinctively protects you from starvation.
- You are open to eating a variety of foods.
- You feel satisfied when full.
- You are mindful of your meal.
- Hunger diminishes after eating.
- You are not likely to feel guilty or ashamed.
What is appetite?
Even if I am not hungry, I can always eat sweets. I feel there is a separate compartment in my stomach for sweets. For some it may be salty or fatty food, or foods typically labeled as “junk” food. Our environment greatly influences our appetite.
What are the true signs of appetite?
- Appetite comes on suddenly.
- You may have just eaten a meal.
- Strong emotional desire.
- Triggered by thoughts, emotions, or mood.
- Triggered by the environment (seeing your favorite bakery).
- Triggered by senses (sight of food, smell of food). Even when stuffed.
- Requires instant satisfaction.
- Craving a specific type of food. (salty, sweet)
- You are likely to feel unsatisfied.
- You likely eat more than expected.
- You eat mindlessly.
- You are likely to feel regret or full of guilt.
Three tips to determine if it’s your hunger or appetite?
- When was the last time you ate?
If it has been longer than five hours, then you are probably hungry.
If you have just finished a meal then it is likely your appetite.
- Are you desiring a very specific food?
If you are desiring a very specific food then it is probably appetite.
If you could eat most anything at all then it is most likely hunger. If you’re hungry you should eat.
- If your appetite is triggered you should dive in to questioning what is triggering you and why. Ask yourself: What am I feeling? What is causing me to feel this way? What do I need? What do I need to do? Try journaling your feelings. Come up with other activities that will bring you comfort away from the kitchen.
Differences between hunger and appetite.
|Feeling comes on gradually. |
You haven’t eaten in several hours.
|Appetite comes on suddenly. |
You may have just eaten a meal.
|Physiological need. |
Headache, dizzy, stomach grumbling, moody, fatigue, weakness.
Instinctively protects you from starvation.
|Strong emotional desire.|
Triggered by thoughts, emotions or mood.
Triggered by the environment. (Seeing a favorite bakery or restaurant).
Triggered by senses (sight, smell).
|You can wait for food to be available.||Requires instant satisfaction.|
|Open to eating a variety of foods.||Craving a specific type of food.|
|You feel satisfied when you are full.|
You are mindful of your meal.
Hunger diminishes after eating.
|You are likely to feel unsatisfied even if stuffed. You likely eat more than expected. Mindlessly eating.|
|You are not likely to feel guilty or ashamed.||You are likely to feel regret or full of guilt.|
What controls hunger and appetite?
Our hunger is largely dependent on our bodies’ interoceptive sense of whether energy levels are sufficient. Our brain will signal the body that it needs to find food soon.
Ghrelin is our hunger hormone and peaks during a fasting state before a meal and lowers after eating a meal. Circulating levels of ghrelin are higher following weight loss. Our body naturally defends weight loss. (* I always refer Ghrelin as the little gremlin in my body I need to tame).
Leptin is a hormone that is signaled from adipose tissue (fat tissue) that signals our brain to stop eating. Levels of leptin are correlated with body fat. It is also tightly associated with energy status as leptin levels will decrease by nearly two thirds after a week of calorie restriction.
Leptin is designed to help prevent starvation. With restrictive dieting , when we experience weight or fat loss, leptin levels drop too and this increases our appetite, and decreases our calorie expenditure. Again, our body does not like weight loss and works hard to prevent it.
Insulin, similar to leptin, signals the brain in response to energy changes. Like leptin, insulin levels are proportionate to body fat. Lower insulin levels increase the food desire/demand. R ®
What makes recognizing hunger VS appetite difficult?
Hunger is necessary and is what has improved our chances of survival during times of food scarcity. The drive for finding and eating food was essential to existence. Honoring your biological hunger is essential to reclaim your eating patterns. Your body needs to know consistently that it will have access to food. If you have been dieting, your body’s defense mechanisms have been turned on to lower your calorie needs and to increase your appetite to stay alive.
Today, food for many is readily accessible. But today many do not only eat when they are biologically hungry. Many eat because their appetite has been awakened by either emotional cuing, smell, or just the sight of food.
Our body was hardwired to survive. Skipping meals and chaotic eating habits trigger “starvation defense” in which your body does whatever it can to hang on to every calorie it can. This leads to lower energy expenditure, increased appetite, and poor insulin sensitivity.(R)
Chronic dieting can derail our internal signaling system making true hunger hard to recognize. Dieting can also lead to a binge purge cycle. (R) Studies have shown that with each diet or each cycle of weight loss by restrictive dieting, our body compensates by greater fat gain and tendency for binge eating.
How to honor your hunger:
Hunger fullness scale:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1-2: Starving/cannot think straight- low energy, cranky, anxious, shaky.
3-4: Gently hungry: start thinking about food, slight empty feeling in stomach.
5-6: Comfortable: comfortable/energized.
7-8: Comfortably full: Feel heavy in stomach, lower energy.
9-10: Stuffed: uncomfortable, bloated, tired, want to sleep.
Nature has us hardwired to enjoy the first few bites the most but then tones down the biological reward system after the initial few bites. Slow down and be mindful. It will help you recognize your satisfaction and fullness.
Also, remember when you are eating you have full permission to eat again later. Sometimes we are hardwired to feel we must consume everything at one time.
Pay attention to how you feel before, during and after meals. Eat when you are at the earlier stages of hunger. You will get the maximum satisfaction from your meal.
Journaling can help you recognize connections between your hunger and other food triggers (emotional eating). Your interoceptive awareness will improve with journaling.
How does stress affect hunger and appetite?
Acute stress may reduce your hunger (R), but Chronic stress may lead to emotional eating and food addiction(R).
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is normally released during daily stress when our body needs to move, such as waking up in the morning, exercising and during an acute stressful situation requiring a “flight or fight response”. If you continue to experience social stressors, this can make cortisol elevated chronically.
During times of chronic stress, increased cortisol levels cause cravings for sugar, salty or junk food. Cortisol may directly influence appetite and cravings by binding to hypothalamus receptors in the brain. Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite by modulating other hormones and stress responsive factors known to stimulate appetite.
In addition, food preferences change during times of stress or depression. Studies have shown a positive correlation between depressive symptoms and junk or fast food intake. High carbohydrate meals can temporarily improve mood due to activating the brain opioid system, producing hedonic responses. (R) (R)
How does poor sleep affect hunger and appetite?
Loss of sleep leads to increased hunger and food consumption.(R) Poor quality sleep or shorter sleep duration has been associated with more food cravings and higher appetite drive to consume junk food (highly palatable food). (R)
How does exercise affect our hunger and appetite?
Moderate exercise does not increase appetite. Physical activity can increase levels of the satiety hormones, as well as release dopamine. Exercising before a meal can actually stifle the hunger hormone (ghrelin). ® (R)
How can the type of food we eat affect hunger?
- Consuming the right type of foods can keep you feeling satisfied longer and less likely to be hungry. Higher glycemic loads such as sugar sweetened beverages, or refined carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar dips which will then lead to more hunger in less time.(R)
- Eating protein rich foods starting first thing in the morning with breakfast can help reduce your hunger hormone and improve satiety.
- Foods containing Omega-3 fats can help improve satiety by improving insulin and leptin sensitivity.
- Drinking water before each meal can help you feel more full during your meal. This may seem obvious because the water is filling your stomach up, and yet we may not always remember to do it. Soup as a meal starter will also help you feel full quicker.
- Foods higher in fiber will also help you stay full longer after a meal. Choosing foods higher in fiber and bulk will improve satiety. R
- Even the quality of your snack matters! (R) Almonds (high in healthy fat and fiber) were shown to control appetite by suppressing hedonic response. This research helped demonstrate that calorie per calorie, not all foods provide the same level of satiety. And that protein and fiber have improved effects on appetite.
How do probiotics affect hunger and appetite?
There is a growing body of evidence that supports the role of gut microbiota in influencing our appetite and food intake. Gut microbiota have bidirectional communication with the brain and the gastrointestinal tract.
Supplementation of probiotics modifies the gut microbiota that directly acts on molecules that can regulate our appetite and satiety. It has also been shown that having a greater amount of some of the bad gut microbiota can increase cravings of carbohydrates and sugar. ® ®
For more information on restoring your gut health see 15 Ways to Restore Gut Health – Waistline Dietitian
What is a natural way of getting back in-touch with your true hunger?
Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach that focuses on listening to internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite. It is designed to improve your relationship with food and help you achieve long term behavior changes. ®
The fundamental principles of Intuitive Eating are to regain “body wisdom” so that one mostly eats when hungry and stops eating when satiated. This “body wisdom” often becomes broken from societal cues that have been learned to override this innate body wisdom.
Diets, dieting rules, childhood experiences such as needing to clean your plate, or getting treats for rewards, eating because it’s “dinner time”, encourage people to eat irrespective of hunger. ® Intuitive Eating is eating in response to physiological hunger and satiety signals, not external and/or emotional cues, together with a low overall preoccupation with food. (® )
Intuitive Eating is a journey of learning to regain the trust of your inner body wisdom. It is more of a journey and lifestyle than a quick fix or temporary diet. The road to Intuitive Eating is a personal pathway that you will travel and move through as you relearn to trust your inner body wisdom.
What Is Intuitive Eating? – Waistline Dietitian for more information about the Intuitive Eating approach.
Mindful Eating focuses on paying attention to the sensual awareness of the food and the overall eating experience.
Tips to help you slow down and be fully present when you eat:
- Eat at a table. Sitting down. Eat in a Relaxed atmosphere. Turn off the TV, Computer, Put away the book, newspaper.
- Eat when you are gently hungry.
- Check in while you are eating. Be present. Appreciate all the taste sensations.
- Take a moment before eating to look at the food and notice color, textures.
Mind-body check in:
Before a meal– What is my energy level? How is my stomach feeling? What am I craving?
During meals– Is this satisfying my craving? Am I enjoying this experience? What is my stomach saying? Is the 5th bite as good as the first? (Many times, when our body has had enough to eat, the food will not taste as good as it did on the first few bites).
Appreciate the food you eat. Appreciate where the food came from. Choose satisfying foods and include foods higher in fiber, protein, and water content. They are best at activating our fullness sensors.
Eat slowly. Put down the fork between bites. Sip some water during your meal. Chew your food well.
Take smaller portions initially. Make your plate in the kitchen. Check in with yourself and evaluate your hunger. Eat from smaller plates, dishes.
Add higher volume foods to your meals such as: vegetables, lettuce and tomato to sandwiches, fruits, soups, stews.
If you pay attention when you are eating, your body will subtly nudge you to stop when you are physiologically full.
** These tips are guidelines to help you get in touch with your own body wisdom. Slowing down and being present will help you be able to listen to your internal cueing process.
13 Ways To Tame Your Appetite!
The Goal is to Control!
Be consistent with meals, timing and spacing.
Eat meals at regular times. Make a shopping list. Have some staples on hand. Plan a few meals and snacks. Quick and easy meals with a few different food groups. Have meals and snacks ready to eat.
Think about where you will be when you may be getting hungry again. What food will be available. Should I bring a snack or a meal with me? The goal is to have the right food you like available to you when you get hungry.
Plan a balanced breakfast.
Eat breakfast that includes good sources of protein, fiber and healthy fats..
Plan meals with volume and variety.
Include foods with a lot of water and fiber (fruits, vegetables, soups). Eat a variety of foods with various colors, textures and flavors. Experiment and try new ways of adding vegetables, beans, and fruit to your meals.
Include whole grain carbohydrates, high in fiber and low in sugar. Choose whole grains, whole oats, brown rice, rye, whole wheat, millet, quinoa, high fiber pasta. Wholesome carbohydrates will provide the serotonin benefits without the empty calories of sugar. Serotonin is a powerful hormone that helps stabilize your mood and control hunger.
Include protein rich foods every meal:
Eat a variety including beans, lentils, legumes, peas, chickpeas, seafood, chicken, poultry, nuts, and lean meats. A small amount of protein at each meal can help you stay full longer.
Drink enough fluids, primarily water.
Drink a glass of water before a meal, or have soup as an appetizer.
Include foods with Omega-3 fats.
Include flaxseed, hemp seed, chia seeds, walnuts, avocados, Brussel sprouts, salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. Some foods such as eggs, yogurt, juices, milk and soy beverages may be fortified with Omega-3. ®
Plan to exercise or do gentle movement every day. Exercising before a meal can suppress hunger. Experts suggest at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. This can be easily broken up into 20-30 minutes a day. Even a short walk every day is beneficial. You could break it up into 10-minute walks 3 times a day!
Start a sleep ritual. Get to bed and get up around the same time each day. Do something relaxing 30-60 minutes before bed. You could try some deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and relaxing stretching. This is when I like to do my yoga. Avoid electronic screens or use night mode an hour before bed.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Limit caffeine, alcohol and added sugars in your diet, especially 6 hours before bed. Stay hydrated throughout the day, but limit fluids in the later evening so you are not waking up to use the bathroom during the night. Although each person’s needs are different it is recommended to aim for 7 to 9 hours of solid sleep each night.
Carve out time in your everyday life to do things you enjoy. Remember self-care goes a long way. Self-care is making sure you are as strong as you can be to continue to help others, and it’s not selfish. Express gratitude daily. In every little thing. Whenever possible laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Try meditation.
Slow down. When you eat mindfully, your digestion improves. When you can bring attention to the taste, texture, and flavor of foods, it will increase your enjoyment of the meal. Also, listen to your hunger and fullness cues. This can aid in digestion as well as lessen emotional eating.
5 Tips to help you eat mindfully:
- Minimize your distractions and focus just on eating.
- Pause before taking your first bite and appreciate the food you are about to consume.
- Chew food at least 20-30 times or until the consistency of applesauce.
- Slow down and savor your food. Put your utensil down between bites.
- Check in on your hunger and fullness cues throughout the meal.
Put a speed limit on eating.
It takes about 20 minutes for your body to recognize you are full. Practice mindful eating: pay attention when you eat.
Eat with full awareness. To get the full satisfaction of the food/meal/snack you need to be present. This is also important to get the satiety- fullness- satisfaction signals.
Tackle emotional eating.
Have you discovered that your appetite is driving your food choices? Self-care involves healing your body, mind, spirit. Many times, eating problems are emotional problems. If you can get your emotional needs taken care of in other healthy ways, you will be able to curb your emotional food intake.
It can be helpful to keep a journal and write down your feelings when you are emotionally eating.
Consider the following questions:
- When did you last eat?
- Did you skip a meal?
- How are you feeling emotionally?
- How will eating make you feel afterwards?
- Will you be satisfied?
After eating consider the following questions:
- How do you feel after eating? (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral).
- Would this eating experience be something you would like to have again?
Next time you find yourself reaching for food in the absence of physiological hunger allow yourself to take a moment and sit quietly and feel the emotion. Many times, simply acknowledging feelings can help remove some of their intensity. An important part of healing is being aware of how you are feeling and addressing it in healthy ways rather than distracting the feeling with food.
Make a list of self-care activities that you love to do, and find deep passions outside of food.
Keep a list of activities that bring you joy that do not involve eating. Keep it readily available for times when you want to eat, but you have recognized that it is your appetite that is driving your food desire.
Take a walk. Play with your pet. Read a book or magazine. Call a friend. Write a letter/email. Journal. Work on a house project. Breathe/meditate. Yoga. Take a class. Play a game. Watch a movie or your favorite TV series. Paint, draw, anything artsy.
The idea is to think about other ways to fill your emotional hunger until you are ready to tackle it head on. Food is a wonderful source of pleasure, but it can get you into trouble if it is your only source of pleasure. Finding enjoyment in other areas of your life will allow food to provide you with the nourishment and energy it was intended for.
The desire to eat when you are not physically hungry is not bad. It may just be a way that your body is communicating to you that you need something. It could be more rest, more personal connection, more pleasure. Being aware may help you make choices that will serve you better.
The goal is control. Relearning to listen to your internal cues and trusting your body will improve your relationship with food. Finding your true passions outside of food will give you the time and freedom to do the things you love. Your new sustainable habits will improve your overall health and help you celebrate more “Happy Birthdays”!