Diet & Exercise: Appetite vs. hunger: What is your body telling you?

Published 4:35 pm Thursday, October 19, 2017

When consulting with folks for weight loss, many will say “My problem is I have a huge appetite; I’m just hungry all the time.” Today I’m going to present approaches to help control your appetite, and explain some of the complexities that cause us to overeat.

First, let’s get clear that appetite and hunger are not the same. Hunger is the body’s physiological reaction to low levels of glucose in the bloodstream. It’s the body’s chemical response to the need for fuel.

Appetite is the desire for food, and while still biochemical in response, can be triggered by a complicated array of signals such as memory, sight or smell.

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Hunger says, “ I’m hungry, I eat; I’m full and I stop.

Appetite says, “I’m hungry, I eat; I’m full, but that dish looks so appealing, I’ll have more.”

Ever heard the saying, “Your eyes are too big for your stomach”? Both physiological and psychological impulses can sometimes prevent us from registering we’ve had sufficient nourishment.

Here are some proven methods to avert the impulse to overeat.

1. Chew slowly. People who hurriedly eat consume more calories than those who don’t. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to get the signal that you’re not hungry anymore. Chewing longer also makes matters more suitable for your gastrointestinal tract. Yet another benefit of chewing longer is better nutrition. Fruit and vegetable cells are coated with cell walls made of something called cellulose. Cellulose is microscopically like little bits of wood and we can’t digest it very well. Chewing longer helps break open more of these fruit and vegetable cells, thereby increasing bioavailability of their nutrients.

2. Get enough rest. Lack of sleep sets off hormonal changes that can increase appetite.  Insufficient sleep raises levels of the appetite increasing hormone “ghrelin,” while decreasing levels of the appetite lowering hormone “leptin.” Leptin signals that your body has had enough to eat.

3. Lift weights and get aerobic exercise. When you exercise, blood pulls away from your GI (gastrointestinal tract) to fuel your muscles. This in turn decreases appetite. Also aerobic exercise and resistance training (lifting weights) increases your metabolism which in turn burns calories, and the both make you stronger, better balance, more toned, and fit.

4. Choose water-rich foods. When we speak of water-rich foods, we’re talking about fruits and vegetables. These foods are low in fat and sugar (particularly vegetables), and are loaded with water, so they help you feel fuller longer. They’re low in calories, too.

5. Don’t go long periods without eating. Some folks think fat loss is uncomplicated. You don’t eat, so you won’t gain weight. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple.

When you starve yourself, your brain decreases its production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps you feel full and controls mood. Also, when you go long periods without food, your body doesn’t know you’re purposely depriving yourself (your body can’t tell the difference between what it chooses to do, or has to do), it just recognizes food’s not coming through the system, and then advances into survival mode. When that happens, the body holds on to as many of its fat stores as possible. Eating small meals (mainly vegetables) all through the day apprises your body that food is available so it doesn’t need to hold on to so much fat.

Diet or exercise question? Email me at or text 864-494-6215. David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 29 years.