Hunger vs. Appetite–Published in Pune Mirror, March 28, 2011

You enter home and the smell of batata wada is permeating in the air — you suddenly feel a pang in your stomach. But wait, is it really hunger or is it your brain signaling to your stomach that it desires food – your appetite getting aroused by the whiff of a fried temptation.

Quite simply — Hunger is the physiological need for food. Appetite is the psychological need to eat. Many times the two are confused leading to unnecessary consumption and weight gain. When is our body really hungry? Lightheadedness, stomach growling, tiredness, and headaches are often the signs of hunger – they are real physical signs.

Appetite is stirred up by external factors. Smells, sounds, tastes and pleasing images all contribute to appetite. How many times have you taken a bite to taste something and suddenly felt the need for more? How a dish is presented is important to the chef – plate decoration and garnishing stimulates your appetite. Aromas make you instantly take a bite of food – freshly baked bread, the smell of sheera being cooked or fragrant biriyanis.

Stress, anxiety, business or personal problems plays a large role in forming an appetite. You think you are hungry but in reality your appetite is fueled by the need to escape or to ease daily tensions.

Social situations also create a desire to eat. Meeting a friend for coffee at a café, you see good looking sandwiches and the brain instantly thinks it is hungry for a sandwich. If you did not have the meeting at the café, most likely you would not have felt any need to eat. We may be hungry when we go to family functions, dinner parties, and lunch dates but it appetite that makes us eat more than what is needed to fill our hunger.

When you are bored, do you take a walk to the kitchen to look for something to munch on? The mind wanders to food to fill the boredom. You may be studying a subject you do not particularly like so you go hunt in the refrigerator to see what will satisfy you for the moment.

So how do you control your appetite? It is not so easy to suppress – especially with all the outside cues that are constantly stimulating it. Here are a few tricks to help with appetite control:

• Every time you eat, ask yourself why you are putting food in your body – is it for nourishment or is it to fulfill another need?

• If it is not meal or snack time and you feel the need to eat, set a timer for 20 minutes and distract yourself for that time. At the end of 20 minutes if you still feel hungry then go ahead and eat. Chances are that you will have forgotten about food and occupied with something else.

• Slow down – it takes 20 minutes for the body to register that the body is full.

• If you eat at more than 4 hour intervals then you should be hungry, but it is wise to eat healthy snacks in the interim so that you do not overeat in the next meal.

• Drink a glass or two of water. Many times a dehydrated body feels hunger instead of thirst.

• If you are tempted with food, engage in another activity that will make you feel good – go for a walk, call a friend, organize your closet, etc. These activities will make you feel better than eating.

• Eat fiber-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables so that you remain full longer. Processed and sugar laden foods will give you a quick pick up, but then you feel hunger once again quickly.

• Do not keep fattening snacks at home. If you must have them then do not store them in transparent containers so that they are visible. Keep them at distance in the cupboards.

• When you are having your meal focus on it and the feeling of fullness and enjoy!

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