Hunger is physiological.
Our body needs nourishment and requires food to get it. Our stomach contracts in a way that can sometimes be mildly painful and we have the strong desire to eat. If we don’t eat soon enough, we may become irritable, lightheaded, or weak. We are HUNGRY.
When you stop feeling hungry after sufficient food intake, then you have ingested as much food as your intestines (and really, your whole digestive system) can process at this time.
Appetite is psychological.
Eating is fun for most of us: it tastes good and is enjoyable to consume. Appetite is the desire for food, unrelated to our need for food. Eating this way often constitutes snacking, or can easily lead to overeating. You may have been hungry at the beginning of the meal, but by the end it is merely your appetite that subsists.
If you want food in general – maybe even feeling like you’re willing to eat anything – then you’re probably hungry. But if you want a very specific food item only, then you’re probably not.
Craving a specific food, however, could imply a physiological need for a given nutrient in that food which your body needs. Your body could merely be trying to rebalance a deficiency. Or the specific food might be a nostalgic trigger for a certain type of emotional comfort you crave. Memories and senses are tightly bound, and associations can be very powerful. But if you want that cookie because it reminds you of how special you felt when you used to “help” your mom with the baking as a young child, then the cookie isn’t really going to address the problem. You would do better to find a more direct route of reminding yourself of how special you still are.
Craving a specific food could also indicate an allergy. When we eat something that we’re mildly allergic to, one of the body’s responses is to release a course of adrenaline, to help the body cope with this irritant and ride it out. This causes a feeling of a “lift” or a “rush”, which can be addictive unto itself. As the feeling wears off, often a person is left feeling tired, weak, and even depressed, which leads to the desire for another lift. This is how you can come to crave the very foods you are allergic to. If there is a food that you feel you cannot do without on a daily basis, then there is a good chance that you are allergic to it.
Hunger signal VS Thirst signal
There is another reason why we might eat when we are not truly hungry, or why we might overeat. Our bodies are notorious for confusing the sensation of thirst for the sensation of hunger. Dr. Batmanghelidj* explains:
The central control system in the brain recognizes the low energy levels available for its functions. The sensations of thirst or hunger also stem from low energy levels. To mobilize energy from that which is stored in the fat, one needs hormonal release mechanism. This process takes a while longer (and some physical activity for energy release) than the urgent needs of the brain. The front of the brain either gets energy from hydroelectricity or from sugar in blood circulation. Its functional needs for hydroelectricity are more urgent – not only the energy formation from water, but also its transport system within the microstream flow system that depends on more water.
Thus, the sensation of thirst and hunger are generated simultaneously to indicate the brain’s needs. We do not recognize the sensation of thirst, and assume both indicators to be the urge to eat.
*quotation taken from his book, Your Body’s Many Cries for Water
The bottom line you need to understand from this is that often we eat food when what the body really needs is water. If you drink a glass of water about a half hour before each meal, not only are you providing your body with the fluids required to digest the food that is soon to follow (the digestive process requires and abundance of water), but it will also help to separate the two sensations. Now you are less likely to overeat in order to satisfy your body’s need for water.
If you feel hungry but it hasn’t been more than an hour or two since you ate, chances are you are actually thirsty. Drink a glass of water and wait 10 minutes or so. Do you still feel hungry?
Keep hydrated. Eat when you are hungry. Drink water when you have an appetite. Take proper care of your cravings. Eat that which is appropriate for you and chew thoroughly. Take your time when you eat. Relax. Enjoy. And once you no longer feel hungry, stop eating.
Keep it simple, friends.