Does hunger and satiety drive eating anymore? The science of eating behaviours and food metabolism asks the question in a provocative study. This question is the hidden question behind food, fast and mindfulness.
We all know that eating more vegetables and fewer cakes are conducive of better health. But we often end up eating cakes in the heat of the moment. Recreational eating is very common and with it meal frequency and total energy intake are on the rise. So let’s start to understand the mechanisms of hunger and appetite.
1- Hunger is a body cue, Appetite is a brain cue
Approximately 4 to 6 hours after you eat a meal, you start to feel hunger pangs that may become quite strong. Your stomach rumbles and you feel your tolerance’s threshold diminishes. So you imagine that fasting for longer will create stronger hunger sensations. But this is exactly what does NOT happen.
- Hunger is a hormonal signal with its natural circadian rhythm.
It comes in waves and disappears. Remember, the last time you were busy at work. At 12 pm, hunger pangs knock at the door. A couple of hours later, you realize you still haven’t had lunch. It clearly shows your level of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, does not escalate.
- The rhythmicity of hormonal hunger also responds to habitual cues.
Hunger is a learned phenomenon. If you consistently eat at the same time, then the time of the day itself becomes a conditioned stimulus for eating. Despite a huge meal at dinner the night before, you may become ‘hungry” at the time you normally eat breakfast.
- When hunger becomes a suggestible state, it is called appetite.
Appetite is linked to the desire to eat and is disconnected to the physiological need for food. As food is highly intertwined with emotions and social events, appetite responds to serotonin and dopamine release. It is often associated with cravings. You are eating for appetite when you get a strong desire to eat a dessert at the end of a generous meal.
Both eating for hunger and eating for appetite is fine as long as you feel comfortable and know WHY you are eating.
2- Become less reactive to your hunger and appetite
The best way I know to retrain your body and your brain to be less reactive to both hunger and appetite is fasting.
Eating less often, Time-Restricted Feeding is a great way to retrain your hunger cues. When you do prolong your fasting window, research shows that your levels of ghrelin lower. At the same time, your body gets used to the passing surge of this hormone. And when you start to randomly delay meals and vary the intervals between meals, your conditioned response to hunger disappear.
With fasting, you also realize going without food for longer is possible because fasting promotes metabolic flexibility and energy efficiency. Your cravings are better managed and your emotional attachment to food dampens. As you open your fasting window, you become more in control with your eating patterns, your urges, and your desires to eat.
Gourmandise, in French, is the capacity to appreciate and consume good food with awareness and pleasure. I wish you eat to nourish yourself and enjoy those times when you feed your appetite too!