Understanding the difference between hunger and appetite

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In past columns we have discussed low blood sugar — hypoglycemia — and how it affects us. Let’s continue that discussion.

You’ve no doubt read myriad articles about the effects of overeating. Today I want to differentiate the differences between the words hunger and appetite.

I don’t want to say that all of us, including me, have been wrong when we say, “I’m hungry,” so let’s start with hunger.

I will take a professional guess and state that of those of you reading this column, not even percent have ever experienced true physiological hunger.

If we would go to Africa, we would find thousands of cases of true hunger. You’ve seen the pictures of emaciated children with arms and legs the size of an adult’s finger.

But who among us can say that our bodies are as truly in need of food as are these people? In these cases, the very cells of their bodies are suffering for lack of availability of necessary nutrients for life and growth. Deformed skulls and skeletal systems, soft bones, poor muscle growth and underdeveloped nervous systems.

Study photos coming out of Somalia, Sudan and Congo and you will get the true picture of hunger.

In contrast, let’s understand appetite.

The Italians have a saying, “l’appetite vien mangiando.” It literally means “appetite comes with eating.” That is very different from true hunger.

Appetite can be, and indeed is, manipulated. In its simplest form, television ads are a good example. Picture a sizzling steak just off the grill or any of hundreds of other TV examples. Our mouth releases fluids intended to start the digestive process.

When we visualize food, our body reacts. Digestive enzymes are released into our digestive tract and cause a multitude of other reactions, all intended for the purpose of digesting food.

When no food is forthcoming, our appetite is aroused. We then crave food to satisfy our ongoing digestive process.

Another example of manipulating appetite is by smelling food, such as when you pass a bakery and get a whiff baking bread or sense the aromas of multiple foods being cooked when you walk by a restaurant.

These odors all stimulate our appetite, which is not hunger.

Yet another stimulus for appetite is hypoglycemia. When blood sugar drops below a certain point, appetite automatically kicks in simply because blood sugar levels must be maintained to disperse energy to our body cells, especially to the brain and muscles.

But as I’ve noted in previous columns, satisfying low blood sugar levels by eating high sugar foods has the drawback of stimulating insulin levels, which in turn lowers blood sugar levels again and, in a closed loop pattern, causes a craving for more sugar.

If this cycle is not held in check, a person can indeed become a “sugar junkie”.

Finally, a few words on the appetite stimulus of the empty stomach. As a survival mechanism, an empty stomach is intended to be a stimulus to eat.

If it were that simple it would not be a problem. But because eating is so satisfying and because a “full” stomach is intended to stops that craving, when we ignore that bodily message and continue to eat our stomachs stretch. Then, we continually need more and more food to reach the point of a full stomach.

I have always been a fan of fasting and this is another reason why.

Stopping eating for a short period of time allows the stomach to shrink back to its normal size and hence to be satisfied with less food.

Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes 41 years of practice plus doing investigative reporting and fitness programs for broadcast media in Hawaii. Now living in Walla Walla, he has written three books and is working on a yoga self-help manual. For more information, go to drftrapani.com.

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