Have you ever caught yourself snacking and realized you aren’t even hungry? Do you choose to eat because you feel physically hungry, you are bored, you're in a social setting where friends are eating, or because you saw an advertisement for a visually appealing food? Food choices have become complex. Psychological and social factors impact our behaviors, and we are constantly bombarded with food marketing. However, the difference between hunger and appetite is simple and important.
Hunger is the instinctive physiological response and need for food that occurs when blood glucose levels have dropped several hours after eating. When glucose levels drop, hormones created from the stomach are released into the blood for the brain to recognize that your body needs fuel. Think of this as ‘stomach hunger.’ Appetite is the desire for food and is a conditioned response based on sight, smell or taste. While appetite does take cues from our digestive systems and brain, appetite is also linked with emotion and can influence our cravings. Think of this as ‘brain hunger.’ Being aware of your appetite and listening to your body’s hunger cues for satiety will help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent overindulgence. Why does this matter?
Research has shown that perception and understanding of nutrition claims can affect perceived appetite sensations. A study looking at the influence of nutrition claims on appetite sensations found that labels such as ‘low fat’ are associated with overconsumption. It also found that participants ate around 35 percent more when the snack was labeled “healthy.” These snacks were also rated higher by participants in satiety due to their nutrition claims. While nutrition claims are meant to help consumers, they are often misunderstood and can lead to misleading eating behaviors.
What does this mean for you? Be aware of your hunger and appetite to prevent overindulging; eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed.