Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

Why Are You Hungry?

Posted by Dr. Gray on Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Article by Dr. Josh Sonsiadek

There are two main drives that influence our desire to eat and consume food energy, hunger and appetite. These two things differ tremendously.

Hunger, our main physical drive to eat, is under the direct control of physiology inside our bodies. Organs, such as the liver and brain, interact with hormones, hormonelike (neuroendocrine) factors, the nervous system, and other aspects of body physiology to influence feeding behavior. For example, as nutrients are absorbed, the liver and surrounding organs communicate with the brain through the Vagus nerve. This changes subsequent food choices by sending information about the rate of digestion and energy metabolism from the gastrointestinal tract and the liver to the brain.

Appetite, on the other hand, is controlled by external food choice mechanisms such as seeing a desert or big juicy steak. The problem with appetite is that there are many external factors that control it, such as environmental and psychological factors. Appetite is not necessarily a biological process like hunger is, but it does influence food intake. Many of us eat to celebrate or overcome a stressful event. We associate certain foods with an event that relaxes us or puts us at ease. In most of these cases food is sought for the purposes of comfort and not for its real purpose, and that is energy.

With all this said, it is time to put hunger and appetite into perspective. Remember the physiological influences on eating behavior the next time you pick up a Snicker’s Bar or go to the Chinese Buffet a second time. Body cells (brain, stomach, intestine, liver, and other organs), hormones (like insulin and cortisol), neurological components (like histamine and serotonin), and emotions all influence food intake. Where food is in abundance, appetite- not hunger- triggers most eating. Keep track of what triggers your eating for a few days. Is it primarily hunger or appetite?


One Response to “Why Are You Hungry?”

  1. Kara Shaw said

    In the case of food allergies/sensitivities, sometimes you find that when you remove the offending item (generally dairy/casein or wheat/gluten or sugar) they have really been acting like addictive substances in your body. They tend to bind to opiate receptors in the brain for some people.
    In the case of dairy/casein, it often takes a month or more to get past that hurdle of craving dairy…

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