Is It Hunger or Appetite?

By Floria, Barbara

If you’re like many people with weight issues, it doesn’t seem to matter how much you eat, you never reach satiety—that feeling of being full and satisfied.

So you keep on eating, which leads to too many calories and extra pounds.

One way to overcome this predicament is to understand the difference between hunger and appetite and stop responding to them interchangeably.

Different triggers

“Hunger is the physiological need for food that your body signals when it needs nourishment, but appetite is a psychological desire to eat triggered by senses and emotions,” says Jyl Steinbach, a fitness trainer based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and coauthor with Edward B. Dietrich, M.D., of Fill Up to Slim Down.

For example, if you feel “hungry” just a few hours after you’ve eaten a meal, it’s likely you’re responding to something you saw or smelled.

“Your desire to eat also could be triggered by an emotion; for instance, when you gorge on a comfort food from your childhood after a hard day at work,” Steinbach says. “The clue here is that appetite tends to be food-specific—you want chocolate chip cookies or pancakes—because only these foods will satisfy your needs.”

On the other hand, if you feel a need to eat because you’re hungry, there’s a range of foods that will do the trick, plus it’s likely you experienced physical signals of hunger, such as a rumbling stomach, fatigue, or a lack of concentration.

In either case, learning which foods satisfy hunger and promote satiety can help you feel full faster and stop eating sooner.

High satiety index

If you’ve ever wondered why no matter how much of some foods you eat, you never seem to feel full, while a small portion of other foods fills you up in no time, you’ve hit upon the science behind the “satiety index” (SI).

In general, foods that have a high SI have one of the following:

  • Plenty of fiber

  • Lots of water or liquid

  • Bulk, which tends to fill you up

  • Lean protein

Foods that have a high SI include boiled potatoes, oranges, apples, whole-wheat pasta, microwave popcorn, lentils, fish, eggs, and beans.

Low SI foods include low-fiber, dry foods, such as potato chips, doughnuts, cake, and croissants.

Fill-you-up tips

Practically speaking, here are several ways to make food choices with satiety and health in mind:

  • Choose oatmeal for breakfast instead of a high-sugar, low-fiber breakfast cereal. Per pound, cooked oatmeal has 300 calories; cold cereal, 1,200 to 2,000.

  • Reach for a package of light microwave popcorn when snack time rolls around, and you can enjoy up to 6 cups of a tasty snack for the same number of calories you’d get in two small, sugar-packed cookies.

  • Start dinner with a green salad. Your experience will likely coincide with participants in a Pennsylvania State University study, who found that eating a salad before the main course helped them eat fewer calories than those who skipped the greens.

“When you design your meals with satiety in mind, you’ll eat less, be full faster, and you won’t feel hungry as much,” Steinbach says. “And feeling full for longer time periods will help you avoid emotionally triggered eating, which is often to blame for failed attempts at losing pounds and inches.”

Medical Reviewer: Review in Process Last Annual Review Date: 2008-04-02T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: © Health Ink & Vitality Communications