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Hunger vs. Appetite: Know the difference.

Acknowledge your hunger and keep your appetite in check!

Truly listening to your body is one of the greatest tools we have for mental and physical health and the body is amazing at being able to tell you what it needs and wants. When and what to eat is no exception. Eating is often driven by external factors rather than truly listening to your body’s internal cues signaling the need for food. Knowing and acknowledging the difference between hunger and appetite can lead to healthier food choices and fewer empty calories.

Hunger vs. Appetite: Know the difference. jillconyers.com #nutrition

Hunger is the feeling you get when your body needs food. Your stomach will rumble and if you wait too long to eat you may become fatigued, shaky, lightheaded or the dreaded by those around you, hangry!

Appetite is wanting to eat for reasons other than physical hunger. This may be triggered by emotions, boredom, habits or even just seeing someone else eat.

Hunger vs. Appetite: Know the difference. jillconyers.com #nutrition

Tips for acknowledging your hunger and keeping your appetite in check:

Eat regularly. Don’t skip meals and don’t wait until you feel like you’re starving before you eat.

Eat slowly. Give your body time to realize it’s full before you go for another serving. Slow down, enjoy the meal and appreciate the flavors of the food.

Have alternatives to food that provide comfort and happiness. Read a book, do a crossword puzzle or meet a friend to workout. Yoga has been my go-to alternative to food lately. I can do it at home, it doesn’t take a lot of time and it allows me to refocus and see things with clearer eyes.

Eat foods that are satisfying and that you enjoy. This might sound like a no brainer but feeling satisfied after eating can lead to fewer cravings or less mindless snacking. Or is it just me?

When you suddenly feel the urge to eat wait 10 minutes. If you still feel the need to eat after 10 minutes you’re probably physically hungry and should eat.

Of all the habits I’ve ever had emotional (or stress) eating is one that I can fall back into the easiest. Recognizing the difference between hunger and appetite has made it easier to go for a run rather than mindlessly snacking. Recognizing the sudden need to eat for what it is and then deciding whether or not to grab a snack.

My mental reminder…hunger is a physiological need to eat and appetite is a psychological desire to eat.

Hunger vs. Appetite: Know the difference. jillconyers.com #nutrition

Ask yourself, do I need to eat or do I want to eat?

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43 Comments

  1. I think eating on a regular basis (every 3 – 4 hours) has been the best way to keep my hunger under control. Of course, it really depends on the type of food you’re eating as to how soon you feel hungry again, but I’ve always found meals high in protein do prevent me feeling hungry throughout the day.

    Thanks for the great advice!

  2. I’m not longer on antibiotics, but let me tell you being on them was a pain in the bum. I had to take them 30 mins before eating. The problem was that I had little appetite, and then when the hunger hit it hit with a vengeance.
    So I took the tablet 30-45mins well in advance of when I thought I would be hungry, it worked.
    This is also one of the reason why I like whole30, because you have 3 meals, no snacks. Which can be challenging but it’s doable.

  3. So true! It’s a game-changer when people start paying attention to physical hunger & noticing when they are a truly physically hungry (many people don’t realize it). If I let myself get TOO hungry, of course, I’m going to want foods that aren’t as nutrient-rich as others (sugar) because it’s my body’s natural response. Mind hunger and wanting food not out of hunger is a big one for people because a lot of times it’s hard to sit with the feeling/emotion and people just want to eat to comfort themselves (temporarily).

  4. Great reminders! There’s definite value in taking pause before eating and thinking about hunger v. just wanting to eat for other reasons.

  5. Fabulous post on a problem that so many of us seem to face. As an instructor I have found it hard to find balance as I feel like I am ALWAYS famished these days. Even though I know better I still find myself over eating from time to time. It really is a constant battle!

  6. Great post! Sometimes it is so hard to discern hunger or appetite. I tend to eat more when I’m stressed out – emotional eater! Thanks for sharing these tips 🙂

  7. Great tips and points. I like the tip about waiting 10 min. to see if you’re actually hungry. Sometimes I find I get a craving and immediately need to satisfy it, and will think I’m hungry, but I’m clearly not! I’ll have to start using this tip 🙂

  8. I don’t think I knew the difference between hunger and appetite but that all makes sense. My problem is I don’t eat enough during the day and then at night I am starving – I’m working on changing that these days!

    Good luck and have a super time tomorrow at the 12 hour relay – I can’t wait to hear all about it!!

  9. I asked myself this a lot when doing The 30 Clean! I’ve learned a lot and used to be a HUGE snacker… for no reason!! Now I think twice and think about it!!

  10. Great post and wonderful tips! Eating out of boredom is one bad habit I’m always working to break. I started drinking tea after dinner to get a little sweetness and have something in my hands so that I wouldn’t reach for a sweet treat I wasn’t really hungry for.

  11. I’m a stress eater and I really wish I wasn’t. That’s when I crave sweets the most. I’ve been working on keeping up with my water intake and that has really helped my cravings as well.

  12. for me, hunger is set in when my brain starts to slow down. LOL! not kidding. And i must rechage it, and eat slow!

  13. Yep! Even running the miles I do, and the food I can get away with eating, I still definitely eat more than I should, and when i am not hungry, just because I enjoy eating. I need to move awy from this. Thanks for the tips. GOOD LUCK TOMORROW!

  14. I think we have become a culture that doesn’t know how to stop and savor as much as eat and inhale. I always tell Ben that I’d love to live somewhere that they take their time to relax and truly enjoy the experience of eating. These tips are great!

  15. Love this! I know I give in to appetite more than I would like to. I prefer small meals but sometimes I have to go longer between and that’s where I get into trouble.

  16. You always have great posts and a knack for framing the topic too. I used to be an emotional eater before my weight-loss. I probably should write a post about that someday. But now I’m actually on the other end of the spectrum. I don’t eat when I’m stressed and struggle to get enough nutrients. It’s hard to eat intuitively.

  17. Another great post! I am such an emotional eater. Happy. Sad. Bored. Thirsty. Tired. The clock says I should eat… even though I am not hungry. 😉

  18. These tips are such a great reminder and I need to keep them somewhere I can find them when I’m back in school. I think I eat due to stress way more than I’d like.
    I’ve heard a saying, ‘you’re either head hungry or stomach hungry’. I have to keep that in mind when I want to snack…is it in my head or am I truly hungry?
    Thanks Jill

  19. This post came at the perfect time. As a teacher home for summer break, I find myself snacking too much. This is exactly why I gain weight every summer! I try to stay active during the summer but nothing compares to working with kids all day! Thanks for the great reminders!

  20. I have been dealing with major emotional eating lately– these are great tips. Sometimes, for me, pausing and asking myself what’s at the root of wanting to put something in my mouth. Many times, it’s emotional. The sad thing is, I very rarely feel my tummy grumble. I am several pounds heavier than my usual weight, and I can tell you that every pound is emotional baggage– time to put it down.

  21. Eat slowly. It’s important to slow down and enjoy our food 🙂

  22. Uggggghhhh Jill, I struggle with this. I have a huge appetite! I don’t eat crap by any means but I swear I’m always on the prowl for “what to eat next”. These are great reminders of how to tell the difference!

  23. I’ve had to learn that I shouldn’t FEEL hungry – i need to keep fuelng myself a little at a time and it’s worked well for me!

  24. It’s amazing how kids have this down, but somewhere along the way we lose our ability to listen to our bodies and sense our hunger and fullness cues. It takes some work, but it’s so attention to re-learn!

  25. I am guilty as charged for being a closet stress/emotional eater…I have gotten SO much better about this, but still, IF I see other people eating, even if I’ve had a HUGE meal, I immediately want to eat! I don’t know how to change this! It’s tough because this happens to me when I have to eat BEFORE certain events/occasions when bringing my own food is not an option, and then everyone is eating cake/cookies/etc. and I’m just standing there drooling and feeling famished! Also, my appetite waxes and wanes so much, I’ve been trying to make sure I eat consistently every 3-4 hours, hungry or not to avoid the state of starvation!

    1. I agree! Eating is such a social event now. Whenever a get together, food is almost always involved.

      I struggling with binge eating, so this is easier said than done, but this post is a great push for me to keep it under control.

  26. Really great post. I know the difference, I just don’t always act like it!

  27. Agree x10000. The tricky part is knowing when to honor what–your hunger/craving at times should be honored, but at others should be held in check. It’s a tricky balance, for sure. But a good, balanced diet with all the good macros goes a long way for sure.

  28. Eating regularly keeps your appetite down. I try to eat a varied diet, moderately and often.

  29. I KNOW all these things, it’s just a matter of actually doing them!! I have a real issue with eating slowly. I seem to do everything at one speed these days – FAST!

  30. I’m definitely an appetite eater…got to work on using your tips!

  31. Emotional eating squeaks into my life every so often. It’s more times with stress and boredom that I turn to food. Great points to keep in mind.

  32. As always great post. I find that I tend to emotional eat more times than not. I have a stressful “day” job and inevitably we pretty much stay in crisis mode putting out “fires” all day long. By the time I get home I may be exhausted and just want to eat to “destress”. Also very good points about appetite vs. hunger. I will definitely keep that in mind next time.

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