Sore stomachUnderstanding and being able to tell the difference between your hunger, your appetite and satiety is one of the first steps you can take to building a healthier relationship with food. Tapping in to when you are truly hungry versus when your appetite has got a hold on you and most importantly when you are full will stop those feelings of guilt and obsession over food and may, as an added bonus, help to control weight.

What is hunger?

Hunger is the physiological response to a need for food. Hunger is triggered by various stimulants some of which include; an empty stomach, hormones, the types of nutrients present or missing in the bloodstream, what you ate for your previous meal or whether you have been exercising.

A growling stomach, ‘hunger pangs’, a gnawing feeling in the stomach, a feeling of restlessness and light-headedness are all physiological cues we might feel when we are hungry.

What is appetite?

Appetite is the desire or craving for food and is associated with the pleasurable aspects of food. Our appetite can be stimulated even when we are not hungry; simply seeing, smelling, reading or talking about food can get your mouth watering and your taste buds craving certain foods (I am looking at you Pinterest and Instagram!).

Other appetite stimulants or suppressants include stress, illness, emotional cues, culture, environmental influences (such as whether it is hot or cold, how big the portion sizes are when eating out etc) religion and social situations.

Your appetite combined with hunger determines what to eat, when to eat and how much. So you can see that if there is a tendency to eat in response to appetite rather than hunger, it is possible to eat in excess of what your body actually needs.

What is satiety?

Once you start eating and food enters the gastrointestinal tract, hunger will subside and satiation will start. Signals that start in the stomach travel to the brain and as these increase, they promote the feeling of fullness and prompt you to stop eating. This is where the theory behind waiting 15-20 minutes before diving into a second helping originates from, as these “fullness” signals can take a while to hit the brain and register.

Once you stop eating, satiety continues to supress hunger and appetite and stops you from wanting to eat again for a few hours.

So, satiation says ‘stop eating’, but satiety says ‘do not start eating again’.

Tuning in to your hunger, appetite and satiety

So how do you distinguish between when your hunger or appetite is doing the talking? And what types of foods should you eat to promote satiety?

Using a hunger/fullness scale before, during and after eating can help your work out if you are eating in response to hunger or your appetite and whether you stop eating when you are satisfied or over-stuffed.

Tips for using a hunger/fullness scale

  • When you wake up in the morning, it is actually a good thing if you are sitting at 2 on the scale (it means you haven’t over-eaten the night before!)
  • When you are eating, take the time to pause during your meal to re-assess your hunger. If you are still below 6, it is OK to keep eating, but remember that it takes 15-20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are full
  • Once you have tracked your own hunger and fullness for a while and have a better idea of how YOU PERSONALLY respond, try to keep your hunger controlled within the 4-7 range. That is, eat when you are at 4 and stop when you reach 6-7. Ideally you want to avoid getting so hungry that you can’t concentrate on anything other than food. You also want to be able to stop eating before you reach that point where you feel physically ill

Hunger, Appetite and Satiety

Download my Hunger & Fullness Scale (PDF 268KB)

Eating to feel satisfied

  • Protein is considered the most satiating nutrient when compared with fat and carbohydrate, so include some lean protein with every meal
  • Fill up on veggies
  • High fibre foods (vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit) slow the rate at which nutrients are absorbed and promote fullness
  • Start your dinner with a salad
  • When tracking your hunger and fullness, also keep an eye on the foods that make you feel particularly satiated so that you can incorporate them into future meals
  • Eat slowly to allow enough time for those signals to reach your brain and tell you that you are full. Putting you knife and fork down between each bite, thoroughly chewing your food AND swallowing the entire mouthful BEFORE your next bite can also help you slow down

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/


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