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Hunger vs. Appetite: What’s the Difference?

hunger vs appetite

Hunger and appetite might sound like the same thing, but they’re not.  Here’s the difference:

Hunger: The physical feeling you experience when your body needs to refuel.  Stomach rumbling at first, and if you wait too long to eat, fatigue, lightheadedness, weakness, the shakes, or irritability.  The feeling of hunger is caused by low blood sugar levels and hormone changes that prompt us to eat.

Appetite: The desire to eat.  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 a restaurant you like can stimulate your appetite.  Learning how to keep appetite in check is key for losing or maintaining weight. 

How to Keep Appetite in Check

  • Eat regularly.  If you eat before you reach the point of starving, you’ll be more likely to make healthy eating decisions and less likely to overeat.
  • Eat slowly.  It takes your body up to 20 minutes to recognize that you’re full.  So take your time, and when you feel like serving up a second helping, wait at least 10 minutes to see if you’re really still hungry.
  • Eat foods with volume.  Foods with lots of water and fiber (veggies, fruits, whole grains) help to fill you up so you are less tempted to snack unnecessarily.  Eating these foods in combination with a little protein and a little dietary fat will help increase satisfaction.
  • Keep a list of “Alternatives to Eating” handy in the kitchen.  When you’re about to reach for a snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry.  If the answer is no, pick something fun off your Eating Alternatives list and do that instead.
  • Don’t deprive yourself of what you love.  If certain foods are “forbidden,” you’re more likely to crave them.  Skip diets that require eliminating certain foods or food groups, and instead eat the less healthy foods in small portions.  If you have trouble limiting portions, don’t keep tempting foods in the house and share a treat with a friend when you eat out.

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  • Willow
    July 3, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Love this! It’s always nice to remind ourselves of the difference. 🙂

  • shelley hudson
    July 3, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    I think I should have “Am I really hungry?” tattooed on the back of my hand! When I work from home, I tend to take breaks in front of the fridge door. When I’m in my car or at a client’s house, I only eat regular meals. Hmmm…I think I’m a case study of mindless eating!

  • Amelia
    July 5, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Haha, I love the idea of “tatooed” on your hand!

  • The Healthy Apple
    July 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Beautiful picture of you; you are so georgy!!!! I miss you so much; thanks for this great post.

  • Theresa
    February 19, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Wonderful reminder!

  • Mark
    June 27, 2013 at 4:12 am

    Did you “REALLY” eat that sandwich? If so how did you balance it with the rest of your daily diet, since that sandwich throws balanced daily diet out the window! I’m 55 and 205 lbs and it was HARD to lose 15 to get to 205! To not be considered overweight, I must lose an additional 35 lbs! I can’t imagine how I can get there? And CERTAINLY must cut out mega meat sandwiches like the one in your pic, which I don’t eat? Reality for me I believe is that I have a very efficient metabulism which is great if you live on a deserted island, but makes for a VERY meager diet (tiny portions) in the land of milk and honey nut cherios! A PARADIGM shift in my diet is what I’m talking about here! A totally new way of looking at food! But how many times in my life have I said this! WE ALL KNOW we need to cut back, and WE ALL have determined to diet, but we all end up back to our normal overeating routine, which we conclude is our “set point” weight. ENUF

  • Amelia
    June 27, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Hi Mark. I hear you – it’s always a challenge to balance indulgences within regular healthy habits. For me, “mega meat sandwiches” are a rarity – eaten maybe twice a year when I’m someplace special. Even at those times, I eat slowly so I can judge how hungry I really am and stop before I feel overfull. Most of the time, I still eat a lot – but I eat lots of veggies & fruits which are low calorie and high in nutrients. If your diet is packed with veggies and fruits, you don’t have to eat meager portions.

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