Is It Hunger or Just Appetite?
Is it hunger or appetite that has you poking around in the fridge at midnight or making an impromptu run to the ice cream shop two hours after dinner?
What’s the difference, you say?
It’s like understanding the difference between love and lust. Sure, they’re related, but just like confusing lust with love can cause you to choose a bad partner, confusing appetite with hunger can drive you to choose bad food.
The Hunger vs. Appetite Test
Have a sudden overwhelming desire for chocolate cheesecake? The one that’s sold by the slice down at the corner bakery -- and nothing else will do? Think before you take the plunge. If hunger is driving you, then other, more healthful foods should sound appetizing as well, like sliced strawberries, a fresh pear or low-fat yogurt with low-fat granola, to name a few. To determine if a food craving has you in its grips, consider your interest in munching on anything you normally like to eat.
If nothing but that chocolate cheesecake sounds good, then you’re not really hungry at all. Your appetite has taken control. After all, when you’re hungry and your stomach is rumbling, a slice of fresh apple with peanut butter or a juicy peach sound like heaven on earth.
Satisfy Your Fix
Unlike hunger, appetite is not your body begging for fuel. It’s a desire for food based on emotions, habits, moods, sights, smells and memories. So ask yourself what you’re really craving. Company? Call a friend. Stress relief? Go for a walk. Even a change in location or activity can quell a habit-based craving -- such as the tendency to snack while lounging on the sofa or watching TV (or both!).
It takes a little practice to recognize the difference between hunger and appetite, especially if you’ve mixed up the two for years. But once you know how, making healthy food choices is a whole lot easier.
Densie Webb is a Texas-based registered dietitian and writer. She co-wrote The Dish: On Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous.
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