Feeding Your Craving: Thirst or Hunger?

CRegal Editor
  • It's the beginning of January, which means it is prime time for New Year's Resolutions.  Most have to do with self-betterment in some capacity, and though many of us see resolutions fall to the wayside within a matter of weeks, the attempts are still worth it.  Why not at least take a crack at getting to the gym more often, drinking less, sleeping more or being nice to people?  It certainly can't hurt, even if it doesn't last an entire year.


    One of the most popular resolutions, as you may imagine, is to lose some weight.  There are a number of approaches, from fad diets to getting a personal trainer, buying a juicer or actively eliminating carbohydrates.  Yet most weight loss plans boil down to some combination of two things: diet and exercise.  While the exercise aspects will be discussed in other articles on this website, let's take a look at the dietary demands you're putting on yourself.  Some of you may try to eat healthier; some may want to eat less in general.  But before you devise a plan to eliminate unhealthiness, think about the source of that behavior.  When you eat, is it because you are truly hungry or is it to satisfy a craving?

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    In his book Mindless Eating, researcher Brian Wansink defined a variety of conditions that lead people to reach for food.  Sometimes it's legitimate hunger, beginning with the growl of the stomach.  Sometimes it's boredom; other times it's because, quite frankly, the food is staring back at you, tempting you every second.  And other times, it may be to satisfy a craving for taste, such as sweetness.  Or it may be something else entirely - you may actually be thirsty. 


    Can you tell the difference between hunger and thirst?  Certainly it seems simple – thirst is one sensation and hunger is another.  But the two share some common themes that may deceive your brain and lead you to reach for a bite rather than a sip.  Dehydration can actually cause you to misdiagnose your needs, and the senses may do a poor job in informing you about a craving.  According to research published in Physiological Behavior, the concept of depletion-repletion (whereby the body has a sensation of depletion – either hunger or thirst – and is relieved when levels are returned to normal) can be deceptive.  However, this research also found that thirst for a drink may be a stronger sensation than hunger for food, leading one to conclude that the problem, in fact, lands in the hands of the individual.


    Of course, the study also found that there are conceptual, behavioral and physiological differences that the brain is forced to interpret.  The Purdue University researchers asked where the body and brain draw a line between food and drink.  How is the content of an energy-providing drink, such as a juice, interpreted?  Or a semi-solid, like a shake?   They also asked about the utensil used for consumption (spoon versus straw) and how this may be interpreted.   In the end, this study concluded that there is great difficulty in measuring eating and drinking cravings in a research setting – no doubt a difficulty shared by the brain.


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    To come full circle, reaching for a glass of water may be the answer to your 2014 resolution.  Drinking more water is recommended in countless diets, and the CDC has reported that only 22 percent of Americans drink the daily recommendation of eight glasses of water a dayMindless Eating also noted that it may be wise to reach for a glass of water before reaching for food, to ensure that your first attempt at satisfying a craving is with a calorie-free glass of water.  Use a drink as a means to re-evaluate your "hunger" – after that glass of water, now how do you feel?  Water can also be beneficial in filling up your stomach a bit before a meal, leading you to feel fuller sooner and avoid overeating.


    Small changes such as this could help you reach and sustain your goals through the New Year.


Published On: January 08, 2014

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