Let’s imagine two scenarios. In the first, you’ve just finished a three-hour obstacle mud run that took you through six miles of running, jumping, hurdling and climbing through various obstacles. You cross the finish line. While you’re happy you finished, you feel weak and shaky. Your body is telling you that it needs energy quickly!
In the second scenario, you’re done with a long day of work and feel exhausted. Work was stressful, and you’re dreading the deadline you have to meet tomorrow. You suddenly get a craving for a glass of wine and some chocolate. You head to your kitchen, pour a glass and grab a handful of your favorite sweets. The stress release you feel as a result of this “heavenly” combo sitting in front of you waiting to be devoured is extremely gratifying—at least for the moment.
These two scenarios are situations that most of us can identify with. We experience either hunger or appetite responses to food. Unfortunately, almost all of us give in to appetite responses, which if unmanaged can lead to serious weight gain.
To successfully maintain a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to know the answer to the “is this hunger or appetite” sensation. People often confuse hunger with appetite.
Is It Hunger or Appetite?
- biological response
- comes on gradually
- typically satisfied by any type of food that will provide calories or energy to the body
- usually lessens in severity after eating
- triggers: low blood sugar, thermogenesis, hormone fluctuations, empty stomach
- usually triggered
- characterized by a desire to eat a particular food
- brought on rapidly
- is usually satisfied by an emotional response (positive or negative) that comes after one consumes the food he or she was craving
- might persist after eating
- triggers: biological, social, cultural, environmental, sensory, thoughts and emotions
Weight-loss experts seek to help clients differentiate between hunger or appetite. The goal, according to research, is to help clients control their appetite and learn to not ignore their hunger cues.
Two helpful ways to know whether you’re eating in response to hunger or appetite are to create a food diary and to make sure you’re eating every couple of hours to avoid intense hunger, which can trigger a binge that could lead to an excess of calories. For purposes of your food diary, indicate whether your decision to eat a certain food was triggered by hunger or appetite. It might be helpful to track the amount of time that passes between the initial thought of the food and when it was eventually consumed, as well as the emotional response you receive either during the meal or when you’re finished eating. Tracking any specific moods, thoughts or even external triggers is important too!
Overall if you’re struggling with differentiating between “is this hunger or appetite I’m feeling,” you might have a difficult time controlling your eating habits. The simplest way to get back in the driver’s seat is to become a “mindful” eater. Know your enemies, such as stress and certain environments that generally lead you to eat too much. Also be mindful of the last time you ate and whether you need to eat soon so you keep your body regulated and avoid binging. Additionally, I have found a lot of success by having my clients come up with healthy alternatives to alleviate their negative internal triggers—to go for a walk instead of eating chips when you feel stressed, for example. Increasing awareness ultimately is a priceless tool in your fight for better health and fitness!