If you’re always feeling hungry, you’re not alone. And there are a lot of reasons why. To understand these reasons, it’s important to learn what hunger is and how it’s different from appetite.
What is hunger?
Hunger is the actual physical need for food. It’s usually accompanied by specific symptoms that include:
- A growling stomach or a stomachache
- Feeling weak or dizzy
- Feeling grumpy or irritable
- A drop in blood sugar levels
Once you eat something, the symptoms go away.
What is appetite?
Appetite is the desire for food. It’s a conditioned response to cues like seeing at a big plate of pasta or a juicy hamburger. The smell of food, like brownies baking in the oven, can also cause your appetite to kick in, making you want to eat.
Appetite is affected by your physical and emotional state and it can drive cravings for food. If you’re feeling exhausted or stressed after a hard day at work, visions of a plate of nachos might start to run through your mind. On the other hand, you might lose your appetite if you’re upset, sad or depressed and the thought of eating anything can be complete turn-off.
How to tell the difference between hunger and appetite
The first step in feeling less hungry is to ask yourself if you are really hungry, or if something else might be causing your appetite to kick in. Think back to when you last ate; if it was more than 4 or 5 hours ago, chances are, you’re hungry and your body is telling you that it needs fuel. On the other hand, if you just ate lunch but you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming meeting, or you’ve just had a squabble with your spouse and you’re reaching for that bag of cookies, it’s probably your appetite.
How to control your hunger
There are steps that you can take to help you get a handle on your hunger (or appetite):
- Manage your blood sugars. No, it’s not always easy, but aim to keep your blood sugars within your target range as much as possible. Both high and low blood sugars can cause hunger.
- Get enough sleep. Skimping on sleep leads to an increase in a hormone called ‘ghrelin’ that stimulates your appetite. A lack of sleep decreases another hormone called ‘leptin,’ also leading to hunger.
- Watch those refined carbs. Carb foods in general aren’t “bad.” However, loading up on refined carbs, like white bread (or anything made with white flour), cookies or candy, can lead to spikes in your blood sugar. Your blood sugar can then drop later, signaling your brain that you need to eat. Reach for unrefined carb foods instead, such as whole grain bread and pasta, quinoa, brown rice or beans.
- Include protein and fat at your meals. Most of us do pretty well eating protein at dinner, but the other meals…maybe not so much. Make a point to eat a healthy protein or fat food at every meal to help keep hunger and cravings at bay. Good choices are poultry, lean meat, fish, eggs, tofu, Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds, avocado, vegetable oils.
- Stay hydrated. When you don’t drink enough fluids, the part of your brain that regulates appetite and thirst can get “confused” and lead you to think that you really want to eat. Before you know it, you’ve eaten your way through a bag of chips. Start each day by drinking a glass of water, and then drink a glass of water before each meal. When you feel hungry (despite having eaten recently), reach for a glass of water instead and wait about 15 minutes to see if your feelings of hunger have lessened.