Being able to differentiate hunger from appetite is something many individuals struggle with. We live in an age where we are surrounded by endless ads and seemingly endless amounts of food and advertisements for food. This has driven up not only the obesity epidemic worldwide but also created a situation where people often can no longer tell the difference between actually being hungry and just having their appetite stimulated.
So, to begin, let’s figure out what it means to be physiologically hungry. Hunger physiologically, has things happen that drive this. For example, if its been a while since we last ate our stomach may send signals that create the production of the hormone ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, or it can stimulate the vagus nerve which signals the brain telling us to get food, or perhaps our blood sugar levels start to drop off and we feel tired and need to eat. These are all physiological needs that drive our survival instincts and tell us to get food. On the other hand, appetite is not driven by physiological need. Our appetites can be driven by simply seeing an ad or driving down the street and smelling something good as we drive by a restaurant. In addition to this, maybe we are stressed or bored and we feel the need to eat despite not actually being hungry. These are all things that may run us into trouble when we are in a fat loss phase. While hungry is happening for a reason, the appetite signals tend to be the issues that make us overeat and fall off of our healthy eating plans.
So how can we control our appetites? Here are 5 ways that can aid in controlling the appetite and gaining a better understanding of hunger cues.
The first tip is to improve food selection, especially in terms of protein and fibre. Fibre, especially soluble fibre, sits in the stomach longer and makes digestion slow down. This makes us feel less hungry as there is more mass inside the stomach limiting the production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. In addition to this, protein has been shown to have a much higher satiating effect when we eat it. This means that when we eat the same amount of calories from protein as we do from carbohydrates for example, we would feel fuller for longer with the protein compared to carbohydrates. With these two changes we will tend to be more full and satiated
The second tip is to drink enough water. When we drink enough water it will stretch the stomach a little bit. Within the stomach, there exist stretch receptors, when these are stretched and activated we do not feel hungry and feel the need to eat. The issue with this is water is quickly absorbed and dealt with, this means it’s not a good solution for a lot of people unless you drink a lot of water. But it can help, a simple trick to do is to have a cup of water before a meal to help control how much we eat.
The third thing to consider is sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, that is 4 to 6 hours being considered “restricted amounts” the ghrelin hormones rise and the hormones our fat cells produce leptin, which is the satiety hormone actually decreases. This means that only getting an average of 4 to 6 hours of sleep can cause the combination of ghrelin increases and leptin decreases. This puts us at a disadvantage hormonally to avoid overeating from a stimulated appetite, we are put in a situation where we have to fight the hormonal output of the body. By getting 7 to 8 hours the hormones tend to normalize and we are put in a much better position to be in control of what we put in our mouths. Adding onto this, the research has noted that when we are in that hormonally disadvantaged state we tend to crave more sweets and sugary food. So now we are eating more junk food.
The two final factors are boredom and stress. When people sit around and have nothing to do people tend to wander around after a while and go to the cabinet. When people are not as busy or in a routine they tend to wander around and look around and see what there is to eat or snack on. This makes it important to keep yourself busy and do something you enjoy to occupy the brain. Managing boredom is key to help from unaccounted snacking and wandering.
Tied to this is stress, when we are stressed we tend to eat a lot and this is common for a lot of people, be it studying for a test or just bad days in life stress creeps up on us and we tend to eat more during these times. This makes it critically important to have individualized strategies for identifying stressors, times of stress and getting out of a stressed state and into a more positive one. This can be something as simple as taking a step back and realizing the thing that’s making us upset is really not a big deal or matter in the big picture. Perhaps it is requires us to reach out to someone for support or perhaps it involves creating and executing a solution to the problem that’s making us feel stressed. Whatever the method, it is important for individuals to learn what works for them when it comes to managing stress, if not for our own mental health, then for the vanity of not overeating due to stress levels.