Hunger Versus Appetite – Spot The Difference

By: Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND

Are you feeling hungry because you are REALLY hungry or because you are stressed, bored, thinking about something nice to eat such as favourite food or you just plain old like eating and it’s almost an activity in your life that you look forward to! Nearly everyone eats for reasons other than just being truly hungry.

Your body can be hungry but you may not have an appetite because you are very stressed or worried while you can be completely well nourished and still have an appetite and have a great desire for food! Confused??

Hunger is a sensation experienced when one feels the physiological need to eat food to refuel the body. When energy levels and stores are low, hormones from the digestive system and fat cells in conjunction with the brain regulate hunger.

Symptoms of true hunger – it is normal to be hungry 3-5 hrs after eating your last meal or snack. True hunger occurs very slowly and gradually, stomach rumbling and hunger pangs can occur. When you are really hungry and have gone for long periods without food, fatigue, light headedness, weakness and irritability can occur when blood sugar levels become too low.

Appetite differs from hunger; it is the desire to eat food without a physiological need. Appetite is a learnt behaviour and is controlled by the brain stem and it is influenced by sight, taste and smell. Sometimes this is triggered by hunger, but many times it’s due to cravings, habits, the availability of food, boredom, or other social and emotional factors. Even seeing and smelling food, other people eating around you, or passing your favourite bakery or restaurant can stimulate your appetite.

Eating can take your mind off your troubles and help relax you and give you a feeling of contentment. Emotional eating can often lead to the consumption of eating too many calories which then may lead onto continuing weight problems.

Emotional eating is a learnt behaviour and often starts from a young age and it may have been used to soothe uncomfortable feelings such as sadness, fear, loneliness, stress, or boredom. Other triggers might be memories of eating and happy times in places associated with food (what jumps to my mind is play centres at fast food chains). The more we have eaten when we were not hungry, the more our natural hunger signals became confused and difficult to recognise.

Learning how to understand true hunger and your learnt appetite is key for maintaining a healthy weight.

Am I looking to feel a different emotion right now? Do I want to feel better about myself or about a situation? If this is the case then consider talking with a friend, going for walk, writing in a journal or doing another activity that you find enjoyable and relaxing.

Am I eating because others around me are eating? It’s OK not to eat.

Am I eating because it’s time to eat? Studies showed that for some people if they speed the clock up they still felt hungry because the clock said it was lunch when in fact it was much earlier.

Am I bored? If you acknowledge boredom then find another activity that will entertain you!

Am I avoiding something? Perhaps it’s time to get onto that task you have been putting off.

Am I eating while distracted such as watching TV? Studies show that people eat more while watching TV then they do when they are eating at the table.

Am I eating too quickly? If you eat too quickly you do not allow the satiety signals to register that you are full, this takes 20 minutes. Putting your utensils down between mouthfuls can be an excellent way to slow you down if you are a naturally fast eater. Enjoying your food and really tasting your food and savouring the flavour. Chew your food thoroughly rather than chewing a few times then swallowing and going for another mouthful before you’ve finished your last.

Can I be distracted with something else? True hunger will not go away if you distract yourself.

Not doing any regular exercise? This has been shown to reduce appetite hormone regulation and desire to over eat.

Going for long periods without eating? Eating regular meals every 3-5 hours instead of letting yourself get too hungry and going for long periods without eating can then cause you to overeat when you eventually stop and take the time to eat. Eat small meals often. Here are a few more tips and tricks to reduce cravings.

Remember when we have finished our meal it is important to achieve a state of fullness, defined as a feeling of being satisfied. Feeling ill or uncomfortable in any way indicates you have eaten too much.

When you start to observe your false hunger signals and you choose to deal with the emotion in a different way then your brain will start disassociating the false signals from the need to eat and they will reduce. As the saying goes practice makes perfect! ☺

All of these good practices will result in fewer cravings to eat when you are not hungry.

A Reboot is a great time to re-learn your natural hunger cues as you eliminate all processed foods in the preparation week, during the Reboot and beyond the Reboot. Any old, learned eating habits that you have previously been plagued with will reduce with time and practice. Cravings for healthy food is normally associated with real hunger as opposed to cravings for processed junk foods.

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Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND

Claire Georgiou is an Australian Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist who has completed a Bachelor of Health Science (Compl. Medicine) and an Advanced Diploma of Nutrition, Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine. She has more than 14 years of clinical experience specializing in liver disease, autoimmune disease, thyroid conditions, diabetes, insulin resistance, digestive disorders, chronic infections, children’s health, fertility and pregnancy care. Claire consults in private practice in Sydney and also offers consults out of area and is an accredited member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. Claire has worked closely for many years with Dr. Sandra Cabot, who is known as the “Liver Cleansing Doctor” and has written more than 25 health related books. Claire writes health related articles, creates healthy recipes and is one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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