What is hunger? Hunger is the drive to eat, and it comes from the need of energy. Not only that, hunger comes as a response from a signal of the environment and the need to feel pleasure too.

We feel hungry and we tend to eat when there is food available. Choosing the right food to eat is a big factor that determines how healthy you are and how much you weight.

If we try to answer the question “Why do we feel hungry?”, we would expect the answer to be simple, but that is not the case.

When I eat a piece of chocolate, the sensation of eating said chocolate is different than the sensation eating crunching corn chips, a crispy salad, an apple or a warm soup
Woman eating an appleBy Alex (originally posted to Flickr as Mareike) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

When we savor our food, it involves several senses. In involves the view of the food, the smell and the taste. The taste buds differentiate salty foods, sweet foods, and sour foods. Sometimes we need one type of stimulus more than others.

This is why it is important for you to eat slowly, chew well and pay attention to the flavor. When you do this, your brain will receive different stimuli that will activate the centers of satiety (full satisfaction) and hunger completely. If we do not savor the food and are mindful of how each bite tastes, then we will tend to eat more that necessary.

When we feel hungry, this hunger has a lot to do with the communication between the organs. The brain receives a stimuli from the taste buds and it will send signals to the whole body when the brain thinks it has had enough stimuli. Based on the amount of signals produced, this will determine how and when we will feel hungry. High quality foods tend to keep your brain happy for longer amounts of time.
Researchers have classified hunger into two different modalities, that in real life can be classified as “separate” or “adjoined“.
Homeostatic Hunger and Hedonic Hunger


This type of hunger occurs when our bodies need energy. When we have not eaten in several hours, our bodies need to replenish its fuel. It does this by acquiring the energy directly from the food. We feel and hear our stomach grumbling. We also notice other bodily sensations associated with hunger (such as being tired or weak) when we have Homeostatic Hunger. Our brain and body are telling us that it is time to eat.

What happens is that our hunger hormones signal the body that we are running out of energy and we need to eat. One of this hormones is called Ghrelin, which is known as the hunger hormone. Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and pancreas. When our pancreas and stomach come to the conclusion that we need more energy, Ghrelin is produced from these organs. One Ghrelin is produced, the Ghrelin levels in your blood start to rise. We begin to eat food until the level of Ghrelin in the blood is low enough to be suppressed. This is why it is important to chew several times and savor your food before swallowing. The motion of the jaw opening and closing will give the signal to the stomach and pancreas to lower the production of Ghrelin.

Energy BalanceBy KmpH (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

As the food travels to the body, it sends signals of satiety (satisfaction). “We are getting food!” the cells say, “Great!!” our body is happy. The process of digestion begins in the mouth and is followed by the esophagus, stomach and intestines.

Once enough cells are satisfied with energy, all of their signals arrive to the brain. Special peptides, which are small chains of one or two amino acids, will stop the hunger signals.

There are several peptides related to one another that stop hunger. One of them is the “Pituitary Adelynate Cyclase -Activating Peptide” (PACAP) called “amygdalar“.

PACAP, with the help of a special type of growth hormone called “Brain-Derived Neurotoxin Factor” BDNF. When both are produced, the sensation of hunger goes down by activating the central amygdala. The amygdala is a hunger emotional center located outside the hypothalamus.

According to a study in rodents published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology 2015, research on this peptide found that PACAC/PAC1 receptor with BDNF makes people eat slowly and in less quantity between meals

There are other studies that show how food affects the center of appetite and satiety in the brain.

We have to eat to stop Homeostatic Hunger. If we want the feeling of satiety to last several hours, we have to eat nutritious foods. The nutritious foods can be a variety of meals, but a good meal that would be sure to keep you full for long amounts of time are protein complemented foods with foods rich in vitamins, fiber and antioxidants.


Usually, we eat to acquire energy. However, part of our nee to eat comes from feeling pleasure while we eat. Homeostatic Hunger goes hand by hand with Hedonic Hunger normally, but sometimes we just want to eat for pleasure. This happens for example, when we want to eat a piece of apple pie after we already ate our three course meal.

Gelato in Las Vegas in 2007
By Alex Gorzen (originally posted to Flickr as DSC05396) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To avoid constantly eating for pleasure, it is better to get your body used to eating natural foods. Fruits have a natural amount of sugar. If you stop eating artificially sweeten foods, and eat whole fruits instead, you can develop a desire for fruits instead of candies, cakes and artificially sweetened foods. If you train your body long enough to only crave the natural sugars in fruits, then candy, desserts, and artificially sweetened foods would be too sweet for your body and you would not crave those sugary foods. This is what happens to me. I do not like candy in general. I prefer fruits instead.

I began to enjoy fruits at early age. My mom loves candy, but my dad hated candy. He encourage me to eat fruit, and we had a lot of it in his farm.

You have to be careful with juices too. Be sure to choose the ones with no added sugar, but be careful not to drink that much of it. If the juice does not have any added water, the drink is concentrated. If the drink is concentrated, you cannot be sure of how much fruit you are drinking. I could say that ¼ of a glass is a good portion.

We have to be careful with ultra processed foods that contain lot of sugar, fat, additives, emulcifiers, flavor and colors. These are found in decorated cakes, muffins, potato chips, frozen pizza, and ice-cream.
You probably notice when you eat these kinds of foods, you always feel hungry and never seem to be full for long.

What happens is that these ultra processed foods over stimulate the fullness and pleasure signals. This makes us to want to eat more of the processed foods so our body can maintain the unnatural level of pleasure. This is why it is important to eat slowly and flavor our food. Eating slowly and drinking water after eating small quantity of this ultra processed foods can help you to not over eat these kinds of food. It is better not to have this kind of food around the house on a daily basis because they are tempting. They are a treat to enjoy in small quantities once in a while, if, at all. There are no nutritional values in these foods, they just have pleasure value.

Sleep deprivation increases hunger, especially Hedonic Hunger. If you do not sleep well –If we are sleep deprived, or sleep 4 hours only instead of 8 hours– we will tend to eat more snacks that have higher calories than needed which will cause you to gain weight.


Some people are emotional eaters. This means that when they are under stress, they feel hungry. Other people are the opposite. When they are under stress, they are not hungry. Check with yourself to see what the effect of stress is on your level of hunger.

Mild to moderate exercise tends to increase hunger in general. High intensity exercise can briefly stop hunger in some people. Check with yourself to see how exercise affect your feelings of hunger.


We answer the question of “What is hunger?” We do this by looking at the two aspects of hunger. We explain the mechanisms of Homeostatic Hunger – the hunger that we feel when our body needs energy- and Hedonistic Hunger – the hunger that we feel when we need pleasure-. Both kind of hunger go hand in hand in a spectrum.
To stop hunger we have to eat healthy natural nutritious foods and eat them slowly, enjoying our food and have a good night sleep.

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4 thoughts on “WHAT IS HUNGER ?

  1. As an Integrative Health Coach, I’m always telling people to mindfully eat and chew slowly, savoring food. The reasons why are exactly what you put forth in your post, which was very informative. People seem to have a need to have something in their mouth most of the day. We are marketed at to eat all day. Food is everywhere, even at the drugstore at the cash register. Everywhere we are told to eat and satisfy our hunger. Thanks for a great post!

    • It is so important to eat and chew slowly. We are in a hurry thinking about whatever comes to mind instead of savoring and enjoying our food. I am glad that you know that and you are sharing this with your clients. Thank you for your comment.

  2. This is a nice breakdown! I can attest to getting different cravings after a diet change. After switching to REAL Greek yogurt, any other name brand is too sweet to eat, like Dannon for example—even some PUDDINGS are too sweet for me to eat now! Unless my grandmother makes her pudding dessert pies, I don’t touch the stuff anymore. Since I stopped eating name-brand candy bars, my body has stopped craving those as well. It’s nice not to miss any of it. I feel like half the battle is psychological lol

    • Something like that happens to me too. It is amazing how the body gets use to real food when we stop eating candy and processed foods. Keep the good eating habits. Thank you for your comment.

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