You would think that by this stage in my life I would be able to tell the difference between being really hungry and suffering from a craving … some days – yes, other days … definitely not.
Hunger is defined as “the physiological need for food”.
Appetite (craving) is defined as “the psychological desire for food”.
As with all things in life it’s the desire part that causes all the problems. The smell of bread or sweet treats as you walk by your favourite bakery. My undoing (unless I walk really, really fast), the smell from the Cinnabon® store at the mall. You are in a social situation where food is abundantly available or an ad comes on the television for your favourite brand of _____________ (insert name of favourite snack). Those are all examples of cravings – appetite caused by outside cues. These can happen at any time, even if you have just finished a satisfying meal. Hunger of the mind!
When you are hungry the signs are physical and do not need any outside stimuli. Your stomach starts to growl, you may feel light-headed or slightly dizzy, some people feel weak or develop a headache. Your body is telling you it needs nourishment. This sensation will usually arise if you have not eaten for an extended period of time. Hunger of the body!
For almost everyone, the difference between the two sensations is difficult to differentiate. The simplest test is also the most obvious answer. Wait it out.
Cravings will always disappear. To eliminate cravings you need to distract your mind. Go for a walk, pick up a book, or call a friend.
Hunger will get worse. Hunger originates in your stomach and then signals to the hypothalamus in your brain indicating that your body needs fuel. The physical signs are the pangs, growls and hollow feeling.
A craving asks the question “what can I eat?” For instance a craving for a chocolate chip cookie can definitely occur even though your stomach is full from the large salad you just consumed for lunch. No one needs a chocolate chip cookie! But cravings do not concern themselves with whether you are full or not, whether your jeans fits or not or, whether your calorie count if going off the charts. A craving is about the immediate gratification that comes from salivating, tasting, chewing and swallowing.
Your environment often influences cravings; you indulge in a snack while shopping, you are having a coffee with a friend and splurge on a treat, popcorn at the movies or hot dogs and nachos at the
Hunger asks the question “when can I eat?” Hunger is your body telling you that you need nutrition and nourishment. When the physical needs are met the hunger is satiated and the feeling goes away, allowing you to focus on other things.
According to Jennifer Elliot (www.fitnessrepublic.com) “One of the easiest ways to distinguish between cravings and hunger is to take a moment to discern whether the need for food is general or specific in nature. If the need for food is general in nature, such as you would eat anything so long as it is edible in order to satisfy your body’s need for nourishment, nutrition and energy, it is true hunger. However, if you can pinpoint exactly what you want to eat, such as pizza or cake, or a specific taste such as salty or sweet then you are probably experiencing a craving.”
Sometimes the line between hunger and cravings is clear and other times it becomes extremely hazy. If it is 6 p.m. and you are thinking about pizza for supper … it that a craving or is it hunger? Are you hungry because your body needs nutrition or are you hungry because habit tells you that it’s dinnertime? The bottom line – only you can truly tell the difference. Listen to your body and think about some of the other indicators.
Some tips for the next time you have a case of the munchies, ask yourself the following questions:
1. When was the last time I ate a meal? If it was less than three hours ago you are probably not really hungry.
2. Could a small, nutritious snack tide you over until your next meal?
3. Can you drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes?
Then when you have had your meal, and you still want to reach for seconds, or into the freezer for the ice cream, or into the cupboard for a cookie, rate you hunger on the following scale:
0 - Ravenously hungry
1 - Hungry, tummy growling
2 - Mildly hungry, a snack would tide you over
3 - Satisfied, do not need to eat any more
4 - More than satisfied, ate too much
5 - Stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey
Sometimes an acknowledgement to our selves is all it takes to avoid the temptation of succumbing to a craving.
One of the best pieces of advice I came across in my reading up on this hunger/craving topic was the following:
“Don’t eat treats (i.e. chocolate) when you are hungry –
it conditions you to believe that only treats satisfy hunger”
Like most things when trying to start on a weight loss journey, or a healthy eating lifestyle, we have to unlearn bad behaviours and adopt good ones.