Appetite itself is a good thing. Having a healthy appetite means that you will likely get the nutrients you need. But it can be easy for a person to let their appetite take over their better judgment, leading to over-eating and obesity. Remind yourself of the difference between appetite and hunger - it can help you keep a more balanced attitude toward food and eating.

Hunger is the need to eat. If you're hungry, you need food because your body is telling you so. It's sending you signals, like those rumbling stomach growls known as hunger pangs. Hunger cannot be controlled; it is instinctive. And for some individuals, ignoring hunger can cause serious consequences. Waiting too long to eat once hunger kicks in may mean the risk of low blood sugar and the wooziness and fatigue that come with it.  

Appetite is the desire to eat. Appetite occurs as a coordinated effort between your brain and your belly. When you feast your eyes on a delicious, delectable food, your mouth may water, and you can practically taste it and feel the textures on your palate. Even the mere thought of food can elicit the same emotional response. But unlike hunger, appetite can be ignored. And since appetite levels are greatly influenced by your brain, it is a learned behaviour, and you can even learn to control and change the level of your appetite.

  • Set your sights on satiety. Satiety is the satisfied feeling of being full after eating. If you've ever had to unbutton the top button on your jeans after a meal, you know that we all eat beyond the point of fullness now and then. But just as your body sends signals when it is hungry, it also sends signals that it is full. To pay attention to our bodies' signs of satiety, we need to slow down and chew our food fully.
  • Eat filling foods. Empty calories can add pounds to the frame but leave you hungry for more. Opt for nutrient-dense foods that fill you up while also providing your body with the nutrients it needs. High-fibre fruits, vegetables, and whole grains sate hunger pangs and can help you stave off between-meal temptations.
  • Trick your brain. In a research study, two groups of people were fed the exact same food - a chocolate-raspberry protein bar. After eating the bar, one group reported feeling hungry. The other, not so much. The difference? Beforehand, the first group was told that they would be eating "a new health bar", while the second group was told they would eat "a chocolate bar that is very tasty and yummy with a chocolate-raspberry core." Just thinking the food was "healthy" made the first group feel hungrier. And the more vivid, enticing description resulted in greater satiety.

Controlling your appetite is different from having a decreased appetite. This is when, despite hunger and the body's ongoing need for nutrients, a person has a reduced desire to eat. A person's appetite may decline during illness or as a side effect of medical treatment. Appetite may also decrease with age.

See a doctor if you notice that you are losing weight without trying. Likewise, you should speak to your doctor if you experience an unexplained and persistent increase in appetite. This could be caused by particular medications or could indicate an underlying condition.

Amy Toffelmire