Hunger and appetite are often confused as the same thing and used interchangeably. But this is as far away from the truth as my husband promising to do the home chores while playing the PS4.
To achieve your fitness goal, it’s very crucial that you know this difference.
What is the difference between hunger and appetite?
Hunger is your body’s physical need to eat food for energy. This signal for fuel is triggered by a hormonal communication between the stomach and the brain. It happens when the glucose levels in the blood fall below a certain level. The signs can vary from a growling stomach to feeling dizzy or fatigued among many. Although these signs can be different for different people, your body will definitely give you one.
On the other hand, Appetite is your desire to eat food triggered by external cues. This could be when you think of, see or smell something you like. Cravings, habits and social/emotional factors can seriously influence your appetite.
Let’s say you are waiting for the bill after a satisfying dinner at a restaurant. You see a beautiful cheesecake on the next table and your mouth starts watering. Now you suddenly want to have that. That, my friend, is your appetite and not hunger.
Appetite mostly leads to overeating, but there are some situations where it reduces your food intake. This can cause malnourishment as you eat lesser than what your body requires. It could be because of a physical illness, medical treatments etc. If you’re experiencing something similar, I recommend speaking to a doctor/nutritionist.
To summarise, we can say that hunger is the body’s need to eat whereas appetite is your desire to eat.
So, how can you tell the difference between hunger vs appetite?
There are times when appetite and hungry will overlap, but normally it is quite simple to tell them apart.
|Body’s need to eat food||Mental or emotional desire to eat food|
|Comes gradually, after a few hours of consuming food||Comes spontaneously, without any connection to previous food consumption|
|Accompanied by physical signs like growling stomach, headache etc||Associated with external triggers or emotions|
|Open to eating a variety of healthy options||Crave some specific food|
|Can stop eating once you are full||Can easily end up overeating|
|Will feel satisfied after the meal||Can end up feeling regret or guilt|
|Shouldn’t be ignored||Can be ignored, especially if you are trying to lose weight|
Is it okay to eat for appetite?
Yes, of course! Life today is very different from what it was 20 years ago. You can sit on your couch and with just a few clicks have a 7-course meal at your doorstep. We celebrate and socialize with food. There are so many tempting options around us. It would be wrong to penalize yourself every time you eat something due to appetite and not hunger. The key here is to be in control and own the decision. Sure, you can have that piece of cheesecake but then make sure you make up for it the next day. Maybe at the gym or by having a lighter meal, or both.
This is something I religiously follow. I get very cranky if I am on a ‘diet’ for too long. It makes me feel that I am missing out on life. So, I do indulge, but this isn’t too often and I always make up for it. Going for a small run beside my workout, or dancing for an extra 30 minutes is how I deal with those extra calories. I recommend you find ways that you enjoy!
How to keep your appetite in check?
As we discussed, you can eat for your appetite, but don’t make this a habit. That would be the worst thing for your weight loss. Make sure you learn to differentiate between hunger and appetite. This will help you can stop yourself at the right time.
Below are some questions you can ask yourself to keep your appetite in check:
1. When was the last time you ate?
If your answer is more than 2 hours ago then you probably are hungry so go ahead and pick a healthy snack / meal. But if you just ate a while back, stop and re-evaluate.
2. What are the signs your body is giving you?
Do you feel weak or have a headache? Are you emotional? Or is your mouth watering from the smell of the fresh cookies? The answer to this should clearly tell you what to do.
3. What do you want to eat?
Are you open to eating a variety of healthy options, or do you want just that particular pack of chips or pizza? If you are actually hungry, you won’t even mind having a bowl of broccoli soup.
In addition, make sure you have a lot of water, eat regularly and have food full of fibre and protein. This will help keep your cravings and appetite in check.
One thing I strictly avoid is letting myself get super hungry. The super-hungry version of me wants to eat everything that comes in my sight and it all tastes good as well.