What is the difference between appetite, hunger or a craving?
Appetite is simply the desire to eat.
It can be a result of hunger but it often has other causes like environment and emotions. Appetite can also be a learned behaviour resulting in a routine like eating at the same time every day even if you don't feel physically hungry.
Your appetite can also stop you from eating or encourage you to keep eating, you might not be hungry or you are already full, you might even be feeling sick, stressed, bored or unhappy or socialising and celebrating.
Hunger results from physiological changes in the body that signal that you need to eat to maintain the body's energy stores. It's the body's need for nourishment, while emotional hunger is driven by feelings of boredom, stress, or sadness.
True hunger builds gradually while emotional hunger is sudden and is often triggered by an outside source.
Some people can also suffer from a greatly reduced appetite or hunger due to being unwell. Certain diseases, hormonal conditions, cancer and other immuno-compromising illnesses cause loss of appetite which can lead to complications of malnourishment, electrolyte imbalances and unwanted weight loss.
What you are eating can increase your hunger and appetite, some foods leave you feeling hungry while others like protein, fat and fibre leave you feeling satiated long after the food has been eaten.
Some medications can also have an increased effect on your hunger and some work to decrease your hunger and appetite.
There are also two main hunger hormones that also shift appetite regulation:
Leptin: is a hormone produced by the fat cells in your body. Its main role is to regulate fat storage and how many calories you eat and burn.
Ghrelin: is the hormone that is released primarily in the stomach and is thought to signal hunger to the brain to increase appetite.
”One test to tell if you are experiencing hunger or appetite is to consider eating a healthy food you don’t hate but don’t usually crave. If you would eat this food, you are probably hungry, if you don’t want to eat that food, but you really want the chocolate cake from the bakery you just walked past, it’s probably appetite.
Genetic conditions, environmental influences, hormones, mental health conditions, and many other aspects can wreak havoc on normal hunger and appetite signals.
Then let's add Cravings to the mix.
A craving is defined as a strong desire to eat a specific food.
Cravings increase your appetite and can occur regardless of whether or not you are hungry.
While some people believe that cravings are a sign your body needs certain nutrients from the food and that you may have a nutrient deficiency, there isn’t much research to support this belief.
The type of foods most often craved are rarely rich in nutrients but are often high in sugar, salt and trans fats.
So what now?
Being mindful can help you to decipher if you are actually hungry, wanting to eat something because of an emotional response that's increasing your appetite to eat or if you are craving certain foods and feel compelled to eat them no matter your level of hunger.
Listening to our bodies and questioning whether we are trying to fill an emotional need or actually nourish and fuel our body is the first lesson in breaking old habits around food.
Being curious and asking questions of ourselves like 'Is this food serving me?' can lead you to make a conscious decision with food choices.
For more information on how to regulate your hunger or break old habits around food, please reach out to me via email in the contact section.