Hunger, appetite and cravings

Did you know that there’s a difference between hunger, appetite and cravings?

  • Hunger is physiological.
    • It occurs because of biological changes throughout the body, which signal that you need to eat to maintain energy levels. Every action in the body – whether it is the heart beating, leg muscles contracting when you walk, the brain processing the contents of a conversation, or an arm moving to scratch a nose – requires energy.
    • We get this energy from the calories in food, either directly after we eat or from the calories we store in our bodies as glycogen or fat. Since getting enough energy, along with other nutrients, is incredibly important for our survival, our bodies send hunger messages that encourage us to eat.
  • Appetite is simply the desire to eat.
    • It can be a result of hunger, but often has other causes, such as emotional or environmental conditions. For example, feeling very stressed, upset, or bored, or being exposed to food that looks or smells delicious, can increase appetite even when you aren’t really hungry. Being stressed, depressed, or distracted can also make you lose your appetite even when your body is hungry.
    • Appetite can also be a learned behaviour. For instance, the desire to always eat at exactly the same time each day is often more from appetite than from hunger, or simply yielding to routine.
  • A craving is the 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, there isn’t much research to support this belief. The type of foods individuals most often crave are rarely rich in nutrients that they might be deficient in but are often high in sugar and salt.

Now, that you’re familiar with the terminology, be sure to read this article about how exercise impacts hunger.

Adapted from an article by writen Lauren Bedosky posted to and an article posted to the Canadian society of intestinal research

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