It is important to be aware of what type of hunger you are feeling so you can address it appropriately.

The four different types of hunger that I most commonly observe with patients are listed and detailed below.

1) Thinking hunger: aka, thinking about food. 

Thinking about food is often not accompanied by real hunger, the actual need to eat.  Signals like feeling tired or having difficulty thinking are real signals of hunger.  However, just thinking about food does not equate to actual physiological need for food, or hunger.  Often our environment can trigger thinking about food, especially if we are bored, watching television, or browsing the internet and social media.  These outlets are filled with recipes, food promotions and advertisements for food.  Late night entertainment can lead to the desire for snacking and late meals.  These actions contribute to obesity and other declining health issues. 

Instead of eating late we should eat when we awaken and quit eating earlier, no later than 5-7 pm for most healthy adults.  Adding structure or new organization to eat early and quit eating early, then utilizing night time for activities like hiking, cleaning, studying or exercising can help reduce the temptation to falter toward night time eating and snacking.  Altering our behavior, having less sedentary time, creating more structure, and limiting screen time can also help reduce thinking about food.

This study concludes that “Having a late dinner or bedtime snack was associated with a higher probability of overweight/obesity.”

Also read this study which investigates food and hunger cues :   “Most food consumption in western populations happens for reasons other than energy shortage, suggesting that a significant proportion of food consumption is driven rather by pleasure than by a physiological need [1]. Dietary behaviours and the drive to eat are undeniably powered by food-related cues. Food cue stimulation is omnipresent throughout the day. Advertisements, an abundance of products in appetising packages in stores but also the sight or smell of food, people eating or talking about food as well as emotions, feelings and activities can represent cues. The number as well as the density of the food-related cues have been implicated in choices to consume food or restrain from it [25]. It has been suggested that exposure to cues triggers the expectation of rewards in the form of food, which might be misinterpreted as hunger. 

2) Taste hunger: aka: sensory desire for eating (smell, taste, crunch, hand to mouth desires)

“Taste hunger” is very much driven by our senses.  The desire to crunch on something, or hold a hot cup of liquid, the desire to smell certain foods, the desire to taste certain foods, especially sweet foods, are the desires I refer to as taste hunger.  We often have the idea that the momentary pleasure of the sight, smell, taste and touch of that food will create more happiness within this moment.  However, this pleasure is short-lived.  The body creates the desire to repeat eating again and again.  Eating based on these sensory desires does not often result in good control over our diet or eating whole food based meals.  Often eating foods to fill this desire lead us to overeating, too much snacking, eating too late in the evening, eating outside of a healthy 8 hour window, and indulging in highly refined foods.

This study states “Foods with a higher GI, such as drinks sweetened with sugar, are rapidly digested and absorbed and provoke a rapid increase in blood glucose, a fact that exacerbates hunger and favors hyperphagia, since these foods are unable to stimulate the mechanisms of satiety”

3) Stomach hunger or real hunger: actual hunger when the stomach is growling.

Real hunger.  The actual need to eat.  This happens when we are in a slightly fasted state, our body has utilized much of the readily available energy and we begin getting signals like stomach growling to let us know it is time to eat. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone that helps us know when we are truly hungry.  Some people  ignore this signal in an effort to extend our fasted state.  If we are attempting an eating style like intermittent fasting where the eating window is smaller  (less than or equal to 8 hours per day) and the fasting window is larger (more than, or equal to 16 hours per day.)

You can read more about Ghrelin and it’s impact on hunger in this article.

4) Energy hunger: need to obtain sunshine

This is the kind of hunger that is recharging your battery.  This cannot be replaced with a vitamin D supplement or with energy drinks. This is photon hunger.  Sunshine has been studied to have health impacts on pregnancy, bone health, vitamin D levels, immune system health and metabolism. Sunshine helps our body increase metabolic functions.  If you are feeling hungry and continue to snack or drink things and cannot feel satiated, go outside and obtain direct sunshine on your skin (even if it’s cold).  Put on a coat if you need to and face the sunshine for 20 minutes.  Then reassess if you are still feeling “hungry.”

This Kristen Clore OTRL, I-MD & PhD Student in Integrative Medicine