Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Gosh darn it, when did eating get so complicated?” Because it really shouldn’t be. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, and it’s if you’re feeling any confusion, it’s certainly not your fault.
We live in a food and weight loss-obsessed culture. Without even trying, we’re exposed to numerous food and fitness ads, ideas, and theories on a daily basis. They’re everywhere: the internet, social media feeds, TV commercials, even tabloids in the aisle at the grocery store.
All of these tidbits of information can be overwhelming. And oftentimes, to confuse things further, we hear opposing “facts” about the same topics. This encourages us to disengage with our natural eating instincts, and ignore our internal cues regarding hunger and fullness.
Today, I wanted to address a few words/concepts that may help you get back in touch with how to eat like an actual instinctual human rather than a confused oversaturated-with-misinformation human. Let’s go.
Hunger vs Appetite:
These words are often used interchangeably, but actually have different meanings in the nutrition science world. Physical hunger is defined by the physiological need for food. This may manifest itself as a rumbly tummy, empty-feeling stomach, low energy, and/or inability to concentrate. I know for me personally, I feel light-headed when I need to eat. But everyone is different.
Physical hunger is a result of blood glucose dropping in your body. When this happens, and your stomach is empty, a hormone called ghrenlin is released by your GI tract, sending a signal to your brain to increase gastric (stomach) acid and let your brain know “Hey! You up there! I need food!”
Ghrenlin stops being released when food enters the stomach, letting your brain know that the need for food has been taken care of.
Appetite, on the other hand, is a desire to eat, less from a physical need, and more as a result of physical or environmental cues, such as the smell of freshly baking cookies, routines, and/or the desire to eat the doughnuts in front of you at a meeting even though you may be physically full.
If you eat in a very rigid, routine-style fashion, you may develop appetite to eat out of habit, kind of like a dog (#relatable).
Fullness vs Satisfaction:
These definitions are less out of the textbook, and more ones I use to understand my own body. So take them for what you will. Anyways, to me, fullness is the physical sensation of not having an empty stomach. Satisfied, to me, means that physically and mentally, I feel nourished and not like I need more food.
Sometimes you can be full and not satisfied. This happens to me when I eat a crap load of raw veggies and/or watermelon or berries. Physically, my stomach has a lot of stuff in it. I might even be bloated from lots of fiber or FODMAPs. But I don’t feel nourished or necessarily satisfied to keep moving on with my day. If you’ve ever, like me, gorged on watermelon and feel super bloated but hungry again an hour later, you’re experiencing fullness without satisfaction.
Satisfaction, on the other hand, is usually a result of adding some lasting energy – whether that be a source of fat from nut butter or avocado or a cookie, and/or a complex carbohydrate source, like whole grain bread or sweet potatoes.
Sometimes, if I’m in a rush and just inhale a few spoonfuls of nut butter, I’ll feel satisfied but not necessarily full or mentally like I ate something. I think this is why I’m not very into smoothies. (Because to me personally, I like chewing to feel satisfied; you may be totally different on this topic and that’s more than okay!)
And sometimes, I can be full and not mentally satisfied. Sometimes I just want dessert even though I am fully physically full. Or perhaps I’ve been snacking on sweets all afternoon and physically feel as if I have a full tummy and plenty of energy, but still feel as if I should eat something (even if it’s small) for dinner, just because mentally I don’t like skipping meals.
Ideally, after a meal I like to be somewhere in the middle: both full and physically and mentally satisfied. This usually occurs by combining fats, proteins, carbs, and fibers in a combination that doesn’t overdo any particular group in particular. Mental satisfaction to me also occurs after I’ve had a bite (or 10) of something sweet after dinner.
Eating can be confusing , especially when our Insta feeds are filled with 90 different viewpoints from different “wellness experts” on what to eat and when to eat it. My best advice? Do you. Eat foods that fill and satisfy you.
My hope is that by sharing this info you can someone start to understand your hunger/appetite and fullness/satisfaction cues to lead you to a happy healthy eating pattern!