Understanding The Difference Between Hunger and Appetite.
When most people think of their appetite, they think of how hungry they are. When they are not feeling hungry, they may say they have no appetite. While the two words are often used interchangeably, “hunger” and “appetite” are actually quite different.
Understanding the difference is important for maintaining a healthy diet and keeping tabs on your overall well-being.
Hunger vs. Appetite
Hunger is the physical feeling of requiring food. Your might experience physical symptoms like stomach grumbling, or even a drop in mood. This happens as a response to your blood sugar — if it is too low, your body sends hunger signals to ensure that it remains properly fueled.
Appetite is purely sensory. If hunger is a response to the body’s need to eat, appetite is the desire. Food cravings, wanting a meal you see advertised on T.V., and even wanting food just from imagining it are all appetite. Experiencing cravings for food are a manifestation of appetite.
Appetite and Your Health
Hunger is relatively simple — your stomach is empty, your blood sugar is low, so your body signals that you need to eat food. Appetite arises from a complex set of factors, including:
- Your past experiences with food.
- Your emotional state.
- Various biochemical processes, like fluctuations in electrolytes or hormone levels.
Emotional factors, in particular, can drive you to want to eat despite not being hungry. Leptin, a hormone that signals satiety, may be made less effective by overeating and obesity. Suppressed leptin can make it more difficult to differentiate between genuine hunger and a mental or emotional desire for food.
Some health conditions can cause your appetite to decrease. You may still feel hungry, but not have any desire to eat. Viral or bacterial infections, depression, and anxiety, among others, can all cause a lack of desire to eat. If you experience an uncharacteristic loss of appetite, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to determine why.
Satiety is the state of being satisfied and full after a meal. This arises when the body no longer sends out hunger signals — instead, it signals that you’ve eaten enough. It can take time for the brain to recognize that the body has had enough food, so it’s best to eat slowly to give your body time to realize its full. On average, it takes about twenty minutes for this to occur.
Satisfying Your Appetite the Healthy Way
It’s generally not a good idea to ignore hunger, but leptin resistance makes it easy to mistake appetite for hunger. Since appetite is largely mental, it often can be ignored. For most people, their appetites lead them to desire unhealthy foods. Even when cravings arise as the result of biochemical factors, they are often for foods that taste good rather than foods that are nourishing.
Appetite can be ignored when it arises from boredom or emotional eating. It may not always be easy or desirable to do so, in which case it’s best to choose filling foods that have the highest possible nutrient density. Junk food is generally low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but it’s possible to satisfy a craving, feel satiated, and eat healthily. For example, choosing fruit and peanut butter as a snack provides far more essential nutrients compared to candy, while still providing an outlet for a craving for sweets.
Hunger is purely the desire for food, while appetite influences the type of foods you want. Many people are well fed, but not necessarily well nourished, because their appetites are conditioned to favor unhealthy foods. By making healthy choices and keeping tabs on your appetite, you can maintain a healthy lifestyle while satisfying your appetite.