What’s the Difference Between Hunger and Appetite?


At first glance, doesn’t this seem like a trick question? Many people think that hunger and appetite are the same thing, but there are important distinctions between them that can help steer how you navigate your nutritional wellness. They each signal different physiological, chemical, hormonal and psychological processes. These signs have developed with us throughout the evolution of our species, and a closer look at the messages they give can unlock a better understanding of our bodies and minds.

Hunger, Appetite & Fasting

We have all experienced “hunger pangs,” those rumbles in our gut that, if ignored, can lead to that terrible state of being “hangry,” or so hungry that our emotional stability begins to slide. Children are perfect examples of this, as they are so busy exploring their world that hunger is often ignored. The next time a kid is melting down, just trying feeding them!

The same rules apply for you as an adult. Are you melting down? Are you feeling shaky, woozy, fatigued, tense or running on adrenaline? Check in with the last time you ate, and what you ate. Hunger is a very important, instinctual survival mechanism that informs us that, “Hey, it’s time to eat. Now!” Ideally, we do not want to wait until we are at the brink of a blood sugar crash. A little nudge from hunger is a good thing, but waiting too long can have detrimental effects on your overall well-being. Persistently ignoring hunger can bring about major shifts in brain chemistry that can lead to negative changes in metabolism.

If you’ve been following me then you know how important fasting is to my health. There is incredible science supporting the responsible use of Intermittent Fasting (IF) and extended fasting to heal from chronic conditions that range from autoimmunity to obesity, or even as simply as improved cognitive and athletic performance. The research is so astounding I wrote a bestselling book, Glow15, explaining the protective impact IF has on your cellular health. But, there’s a right and wrong way to enter a fasting state, however, so it’s best not to jump in blindly. Instead, take the time to research the safest way to enter a fast so that you are successful and your body and health receive the ultimate benefit.

Are you interested in banishing gnawing hunger that strikes every couple hours without fail, like the constant ticking of your watch? If so, your first step is to focus on transitioning from being a sugar-burner to a fat-burner. When you’re a sugar burner, your body relies on glucose to function. The issue with this is you only get a few hours at most from glucose, so unless you’re constantly eating carbs, you’ll crash and have a case of the munchies around the clock. To learn more about becoming a fat-burner, see this post.

I’m talking so much about hunger because it is a major component of fasting and your health depends on whether or not you are in control of it. In terms of fasting, you’ll need to understand how to move your mind past hunger during the initial phase of fasting as well as when to listen to hunger and obey it. The goal of this post is to help you first get acquainted with what real hunger looks like versus what many of us confuse it for: appetite.  Deciphering between the two is an important, if not critical, step in your journey to health and metabolic balance.

Appetite – What Is Your Desire Telling You?

Hunger is much more straightforward than appetite. While hunger informs us of a need, appetite informs us of our desire to eat. The experience of not feeling hungry at all, but then walking by a restaurant with delicious smells or going to the grocery store and suddenly salivating in the cheese section is your appetite at play.

Unlike hunger, appetite can be ignored. It is controlled by the ways in which we consume food. How quickly we eat, how much we consume at one time, the amount and quality of carbs and fats we consume, and how we perceive the nutritional quality of the food we eat all play into our appetite. Appetite can increase or decrease based on numerous life factors too. Illnesses, certain medications, strong emotions, aging, stress and specifically substances like caffeine can all impact how strong or weak our desire to eat is.

When to Listen, When to Think Again

Appetite can easily be triggered by things other than hunger as explained above. Boredom, food cravings and emotional states are some of the most common reasons why appetite would be triggered even in the absence of hunger. Cravings are a time when you definitely want to listen up to what your body is trying to tell you, as the compulsion to eat sweets or refined carbs is signaling that you are in metabolic imbalance and not getting the nutrition you need.

This is often due to not eating enough good fats and proteins in your diet. Try these stabilizing Fat Bombs as a quick and easy solution to mitigate the intensity of your cravings. Another helpful way to stave off cravings is to incorporate an organic MCT oil into your morning coffee or even your AutophaTea. If you are using food as a way to soothe challenging emotional states, as we all do at some point in time, try a nourishing solution such as this Coconut Vanilla Bean Smoothie to give yourself what you actually need instead of filling up with empty calories.

By eating a diet high in good fats, you are creating an optimal situation where your appetite will be cruising on auto-pilot and your hunger will be triggered appropriately. Additionally, when it comes time for a fast and you need to push through real hunger, you’ll be able to rebound with ease and without any harm to your body. Actually, the benefits are richer than simply avoiding harm: they include expedited results, increased autophagy and a longer quality of life, or what I call – health span.

If we are not getting our emotional and nutritional needs met, appetite and food can quickly become a replacement strategy for deeper issues.

Balanced Enjoyment

To be clear, I’m not advocating to not enjoy food. Having a hearty appetite is one of the great joys of being human! However, I find it empowering that we get to savor, delight and feel pleasure in the ways we feed ourselves. That we have the choice in what foods we crave is quite powerful and something I want you to fully embrace!

Hunger is how we know when and what we need to eat to fuel our bodies with integrity. So please try this: today, pay attention to your hunger signals, eat a nutrient – dense diet enjoying a lot of good fats and polyphenols, and take some time to be aware of how you consume your food. At the end of your day, pause and reflect on how your day went. Did your energy, mood, and appetite improve based on when and what you ate? Repeat this day in and day out. I’m sure you’ll find appetite and hunger will naturally find their balance in the flow of your life when you do!


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