Hunger vs Appetite

A complaint of some people when making a diet change is that they are always hungry. But, what is hunger? Is hunger different than appetite?

It is important that you learn to distinguish between the two because confusing them can keep you from reaching your weight loss goal.

Why the Growl?

One easy indication that you are hungry is when your stomach starts to growl–especially if it has been more than three hours since you have eaten. When you eat, your body releases enzymes to break down and gather nutrition from the food; this occurs primarily in the small intestine.

To keep the food moving through the small intestine a series of contractions, which look like waves, occurs and these contractions are known as peristalsis. As the food moves through the small intestines it sometimes causes a rumbling sound; however, you probably don’t notice it immediately because the intestines are full and the sound is muffled. You tend to notice the growling hours later because peristalsis still occurs. Why does your small intestines restart peristalsis even when there is no food present?

The reason peristalsis restarts is because about two hours or more after you eat, the receptors in your small intestines sense the absence of food and starts the preparation process for the next round of food. The activation of peristalsis enables your stomach and small intestines to clear out mucus, bacteria, and any remaining food. Since your stomach and small intestines are primarily empty at this point the growling is a lot more pronounced. About every one to hours, peristalsis will occur as your body prepares for its next meal.

Growling vs. Hunger Pangs

You tend to hear your stomach growling about two hours or more after your last meal (It can be longer depending upon the contents of your meal. In my experience of living the Achieve Weight Loss lifestyle, this typically occurs about three to four hours after my “Healthy Day” meal.)

On the other hand, hunger pangs begin about twelve to twenty-four hours after the last meal and may continue for a few days. Hunger pangs are felt in the upper left hand side of your abdomen. Hunger pangs may be triggers by the following:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Anxiety
  • Poor quality food
  • Poor nutrition
  • Stomach growling is a result of the natural process of digestion and the result of the body preparing for an influx of food. Stomach pangs consist of a painful, gnawing feeling often the result of stress, poor nutrition, or low blood sugar.


    Appetite is different than stomach growling or stomach pangs. Appetite is simply the desire for food and drink.

    The challenge I find for many people is to learn to distinguish between true hunger and appetite. In some cases one’s appetite may be increased due to medical conditions such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, and Graves’ disease. Also, an increased appetite may be a response to stress or depression, and certain medications.

    Weight Loss

    Most people confuse stomach growl with hunger pangs. If it has been more than twelve hours since your last meal, you are likely experiencing hunger pangs, but if has only been a hour or so since your last meal, you are experiencing stomach growl.

    What is likely happening is your brain is taking advantage of the growl to convince you that you need to eat; you are confusing appetite with true hunger. Why would your brain work against your change to a healthy diet? I think there are several reasons:

    1. Your brain is used to the sugar rush it used to get from junk food and it wants more sugar–which is a drug for your brain.
    2. You are used to “feeling stuffed” after you eat and since you don’t feel “stuffed” your brain is calling for more food resulting in a psychosomatic response by your stomach.
    4. A drop in blood sugar.*

    It is most likely that you are not hungry but your brain is searching for the “Buzz” it used to get from high carbohydrate foods. Since you are reducing your carbohydrate load, your brain misses its “buzz.” My challenge is to ignore the hunger pang and call it for what it is: appetite. (Note, if you are a type 2 diabetic see below.) In other words, you just want to eat for the pleasure of eating rather than for sustenance.

    Help! I can’t ignore the growl!

    If you cannot resist and feel you must eat something, I recommend the following:

  • Approved freebies
  • Approved extra
  • Approved snack
  • Remember, on the Achieve Weight Loss lifestyle you are getting a good balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates; you are getting your nutrients. Your portion size is likely smaller than what you used to eat, but it is enough to adequately fill your stomach.

    Don’t allow the normal growl, which occurs about two hours after your meal, to be used by your brain into tricking you into eating a high carbohydrate, fat-truck running, calorie-laden meal! It may make you happy for a short time, but it will keep you from getting healthier and will result in far more negative results than you want.

    What are your suggestions/ideas for fighting hunger pangs? I love to hear them.

    Have a Healthy Day,


    *If you are a type 2 diabetic, feel hunger pangs within a couple hours of eating and you are experiencing excessive tiredness, cloudy thinking, blurry vision, sweating, etc., check your blood glucose level. If it is greater than 80 mg/dL try eating 1 TBSP of natural peanut butter. If it is 70-80 mg/dL you may add a whole wheat cracker to your peanut butter. If it is 55-70 mg/dL try no sugar added applesauce, grapes, or a banana. If it is below 55mg/dl then drink 100% fruit juice or try honey.

    DISCLAIMER: This is NOT intended to be medical advice. Please check with your doctor regarding these suggestions.

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