Is this “Hunger” or “Appetite”?

March 2, 2015

What’s the difference between eating for “hunger” versus eating for “appetite”? We often mistakenly use these words interchangeably.

Today, let’s focus on getting in tune with our body to distinguish between eating for hunger versus eating for appetite.Knowing the difference will allow you to be a more mindful eater with awareness of what your body needs for nourishment.

Here is a situation. You are offered a refreshing scoop of French vanilla ice cream drizzled with hot chocolate sauce. If this sounds tempting, you would likely feel a desire for this sweet treat. If so, you have experienced appetite! To confirm that it is an appetite response, ask yourself if you were thinking about eating ice cream a second ago. Likely not. The urge to eat (your appetite) comes on quickly and can be easily influenced by verbal or visual suggestions. Therefore, you could have an “appetite” for foods like ice cream opposed to being physically hungry for it.

Taking a Closer Look at Definitions:

Hunger: A feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat.


Appetite: A strong desire or liking for something. A desire to satisfy a bodily need, especially for food.

Is this Appetite or Hunger?

Here are some considerations when faced with the desire/urge to eat.

Appetite Hunger
Desire comes on suddenly and strongly Desire comes on gradually
Requires instant satisfaction (eating) Can wait until food is available
Easily influenced by smells, visuals from TV or advertising Comes on naturally without outside influences
Crave specific comfort foods (often salty, sugary or fatty foods) Open to eating a variety of foods for satisfaction
You often eat more than expected (mindless eating) You are aware of what you are eating; generally more mindful
Likely to feel unsatisfied or want more You feel satisfied when your stomach is full
Feel strong craving in your head Physical stomach growling or low energy
May feel regret or guilt afterward eating Less likely to feel guilty or shameful after eating

Is it Okay to Eat for Appetite?

The short answer is yes. It is certainly okay to eat for appetite! We all do. Foods are intertwined with many different emotions and social events. The most important thing is that we feel in control and are aware of why we are eating.

In my private practice, I often see clients who feel they lack control over their eating and realize they are mostly eating in response to their appetite instead of hunger. Re-learning feeding-cues helps you to gain back control of your diet and food choices.

As a result, eating in response to hunger (but never waiting to the point of starving) is associated with making healthier choices and staying in control of your eating. So plan your eating for healthful nourishment to ward off hunger but also enjoy those times where you feed your appetite too!

Bottom Line:

Whatever your reason for eating, it is estimated that we make over 2,000 food choices every single day and most of them we make without even realizing it! Food is a source of pleasure and enjoyment. The most important thing is to keep the dialogue going between you and your stomach so you stay in control of your eating!



Andrea D'Ambrosio
Andrea is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Dietetic Directions, a nutritional counselling and education company. Andrea's mission is to inspire clients through motivation and guidance to achieve life-long health behaviour changes. She has taken continuing education in the areas of Food Allergy and Food Hypersensitivity, Health Research Literacy, Motivational Interviewing & Coaching for Behaviour Change.

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