There’s an experience that hits everyone every now and then. Maybe it sounds familiar to you.
You’re driving around town, maybe taking a scenic route to an appointment. Maybe you know this area of town, maybe it’s new to you–either way, you pass a bunch of restaurants. You pass a pizza joint, then another one. You never realized just how many pizza restaurants were on this route. When you pass the first one you think, “Oh, I remember their pizzas were good.” You pass the next one and think, “I could go for a slice.” With every new pizza restaurant, the thought becomes more certain. “I want a slice of pizza. Maybe more than a slice. The whole pie.”
The funny thing is, you don’t even need to love pizza to get this craving. Yet the urge is there.
What’s going on? It’s the result of appetite vs. hunger. Who knew your body could be in conflict with itself? Let’s discuss this further.
Appetite vs. Hunger
What Causes the Feeling of Hunger
Hunger is a physiological reaction to the body’s need for fuel. So, here’s a little science. When your stomach can tell it’s starting to get empty, it sends a signal to your body to produce a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for the hungry feeling.
If we have a healthy relationship with food then hunger should cause cravings for the foods we need. In this case, when we got hungry, we’d crave proteins, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and things that our bodies can use to maintain health.
There is a difficulty. Our minds develop pleasure/pain responses to physiological processes. The thought isn’t, “I am hungry–I need fuel.” Usually, the thought is, “I am hungry–this is unpleasant.”
A sense of displeasure is a survival mechanism. We’re wired to avoid unpleasant things and seek pleasant things.
The result of this is a culture of food-creation built around rewarding the pleasure-seeking part of your mind.
We burden food with ever-increasing layers of rewards for pleasure. Things like emotional eating and food anxiety become prevalent because of this type of thinking. Creating “pleasant food” is such an ingrained part of food culture that it’s sometimes hard to remember that food does anything other than cause pleasure.
Food is fuel. That doesn’t mean it needs to be boring or unpleasant, but we would do well to remember that we eat to live as much as we live to eat.
Hunger and Appetite
In American culture, we tend to have an unhealthy relationship with food. Because food is the basis for life, this can also turn into an unhealthy relationship with our own health.
Hunger is a purely physiological response to a need for food. It never lies to us. Hunger is body chemistry, and chemistry has no agenda. It has nothing to prove. It just responds to nature and reacts to what happens.
The craving for a slice of pizza isn’t hunger. It might feel like hunger, but hunger is simply telling you that your stomach is getting empty.
On the other hand, appetite causes cravings for foods like pizza. We often make the mistake of talking about hunger and appetite as if they’re interchangeable. That’s not quite right. We’re in the habit of thinking about them as the same thing because food culture has trained us to think that way.
We tend to treat food craving as the key signal to help us know what our body needs. Body awareness is supposed to be our friend. If we can’t trust our bodies, then we experience interruptions.
Unfortunately, many of our bodies have had lousy training. We crave pizza when what we really need might just be a glass of water.
Listening to Your Body
The good news is it’s possible to retrain your appetite. Pizza cravings might feel like your body talking to you. However, those so-called cravings could be your body attempting to react to the ghrelin hormone produced by your stomach. Your subconscious mind interprets the hormonal response in the way it understands the best, based on the way you’ve rewarded yourself through nourishment in the past.
So, maybe you can see what needs to happen: you need to retrain your subconscious to crave different rewards. When your body produces that ghrelin hormone, we need to get your subconscious retrained to stop thinking of pizza as the only or the best reward. That’s not to say indulging in a slice of pizza now and again is bad. It isn’t. That part of your thinking might need rewiring as well.
Sounds tough, right? Don’t worry! I’ve developed the training you need to make that happen. I want you to get back a healthy relationship with food. You should enjoy eating, but eating shouldn’t be a cause of poor health. Eating should make you feel happy and healthy. We can train your appetite so you crave good fuel when you feel hungry.
Now that you know the difference between appetite vs. hunger, you can differentiate between physiological vs. psychological needs when it comes to eating. If you’re struggling to create a healthy relationship with food, book a 1:1 clarity call. We’ll see where you are at and give you a roadmap to follow for the future.