November 5, 2021

What affects your hunger and appetite?

We need to eat (food) to survive. That’s a fact. That is why our bodies send us hunger signals, like a stomach growl, to encourage eating when we need to maintain energy levels. Without these signals, we would be lethargic and probably fainting all the time.

Hunger is physiological – controlled by physical and hormonal signals in your body. Despite desires to suppress your hunger to eat less, it’s just not possible if you’re not getting the nutrients your body needs!

Hunger vs. Appetite

Appetite represents the desire to eat. While hunger occurs due to our bodily needs, appetite is fueled by hunger but also other factors like mood, seeing, smelling and even thinking about yummy foods.

A perfect example is having a super filling buffet dinner that satisfies your hunger, but looking at the dessert table makes you miraculously grow a second stomach. Relatable? That’s appetite.

Factors influencing hunger and appetite

While we can’t stop our stomachs from growling just because we want to, there are a few ways we can delay our hunger signals between mealtimes and dampen appetite levels if desired.

1. Dietary fibre

Fibre is important in helping us feel full and keeping us full for longer.

  • It increases stomach stretch due to the volume it provides, signaling satiation (fullness)
  • It keeps food in the stomach for longer, allowing you to feel full longer
  • It is fermented by gut microbes, which produce compounds that signal satiation

Try incorporating 25-30 grams of fibre per day into your meals.

2. Protein

Protein is more satiating than carbohydrate and fat, meaning that it can make you feel full more efficiently than the latter two nutrients, allowing you to reduce your appetite for more food.

Make a conscious effort to include high protein foods such as chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, beans into your meals. If you prefer a sweet breakfast, try adding protein powder to your smoothie or oats!

3. Degree of food processing

Research shows that the more food is processed, i.e. the more fresh and raw food strays from its original form, the lower the satiety potential it has.

This means that eating processed and ultra-processed foods are more likely to be less effective in making you feel full, and staving off hunger than eating raw, minimally processed foods.

Minimally processed foods: fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs, fresh meat

Processed foods: cheese, bread, canned fish and vegetables

Ultra-processed foods: chips, lollies, chocolate, soft drinks

If you are itching for a snack, instead of reaching for a bag potato chips, try having an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter for the sweet-salty deliciousness instead!

4. Exercise

There have been studies showing that a single bout of moderate-vigorous exercise can temporarily suppress appetite, by the mechanism of hunger and satiety hormones.

Even if you a regular gym-goer, there is evidence to suggest that you won’t fully compensate in energy intake for the extra calories you are expending during exercise because of beneficial changes in appetite-regulating hormones.

5. Mood and emotional states

Stress, anxiety, depression, boredom and loneliness can cause an increase or decrease in appetite for some, and can steer an individual towards choosing fatty, sugary and salty foods over healthier options.

Emotional eating is common and normal! Some methods to tackle stress are detailed in this article.

Other factors affecting our appetite include ageing where our appetite decreases as we get older. Our perception of how a particular food tastes can affect our appetite for it. Certain medications can also suppress the sensation of hunger, and even alter our sense of smell and taste, reducing the pleasure associated with eating.

The Bottom line: we are often told to fear our hunger or appetite but this is not something we need to worry about. Hunger is a good thing- it’s a sign of health and it’s how your body communicates with you. Our hunger and appetite may be altered to some extent by our diet, exercise and stress levels. BUT, if you are experiencing a growling stomach and getting hangry, it is your body’s way of telling you to EAT! It’s okay to eat if you are hungry. 

If you’re interested in working with a dietitian in taking the next step towards nourishing , book in with me for a FREE Discovery Call.