How to Know if You’re Actually Hungry

Article posted in: Lifestyle

Craving, appetite and hunger are three words with similar definitions in the dictionary, but they have very distinct meanings for people trying to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Understanding the differences between them can help you make the right choices whenever you feel a hankering to eat.


What it means: A strong urge to eat a very specific food, a craving can be stimulated by outside forces like a TV commercial or an aroma. Cravings can also be the result of internal factors, such as hormones (like those released during pregnancy) and your emotions. The most common cravings are for sweet, salty or fatty foods. The urge to eat them can be strongest if you’re trying to avoid the foods you most enjoy. Cravings can feel like hunger but they’re not connected to your body’s need for fuel.

What to do: Another important difference between craving and hunger: Cravings often fade as time passes, while the feeling of hunger becomes stronger. If you wait 10 minutes and your craving hasn’t subsided, you can probably satisfy it with just a few bites of the food you can’t stop thinking about.

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What it means: Appetite is a desire for food and it, too, can be influenced by a variety of external and internal factors. Unlike a craving, you may have an appetite for many foods, including healthy ones. Our appetites are controlled by the hypothalamus, an organ in our brains, and leptin, a hormone produced by our fat cells that signals when we need to stop eating. Stress, hormonal imbalance and exhaustion can activate those systems in your body and increase your appetite.

What to do: If you feel an urge to eat even when your body isn’t ready to refuel, you can nearly always satisfy your appetite by snacking on carrots, cucumbers and other non-starchy vegetables, or by sipping a cup of chicken broth. These foods put your digestive system to work and get your metabolism burning, relieving your desire for food. Best of all, they’re all categorized as “unlimited” for those using the Nutrisystem plan for weight loss. So you can feed, rather than ignore, your appetite.

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What it means: Genuine hunger is your body’s signal that it needs to refuel. You get the message from your stomach in the form of growls, pangs and a hollow feeling. If you don’t respond, your brain lets you know with a headache, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Just keep in mind that real hunger rarely occurs fewer than two to three hours after you’ve last eaten.

What to do: Ignoring your body’s hunger signals not only doesn’t feel good, it can slow your metabolism. So feeling hungry actually doesn’t help you shed pounds. Eating well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals and snacks satisfies your hunger, minimizes cravings and keeps your appetite in check. And that is the most direct route to your weight loss goal.