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Appetite, hunger and cravings

It can be easy to eat beyond the point at which we have satisfied our hunger. Why?

The hormones ghrelin (the 'hunger hormone') and leptin (which tells us when to stop eating) govern our hunger. These hormones should keep us balanced between being hungry and full, and stop us eating when we're not hungry.

But as we all know, it's easy sometimes to eat beyond the point at which we have satisfied our hunger.

This is because our brains sometimes override our bodies. Novelty attracts us. Think of a smorgasbord, which offers a tempting array of different foods to delight the senses. Research has found we tend to eat more in these situations than we would given fewer choices. In contrast, too much of one thing bores us.

Appetite can also be affected by familiar foods triggering memories of past experiences, good or bad. We eat our favourite foods because they make us feel good, completely unrelated to appetite.

These foods can cause the release of chemical messengers in the brain and mood-enhancing hormones giving us a buzz and therefore a strong reason for eating. Those particularly pleasurable foods are also capable of increasing hunger signals and blunting the feelings of fullness; which explains why we seem to have no problem downing that last chocolate or slice of cake.

Interestingly, men are more likely to link cravings to hunger; whereas for women, they are usually driven by moods and emotions. These are heightened when cravings are for foods perceived as 'forbidden', such as chocolate or chips.

Not surprisingly, therefore, cravings are more common in dieters.

Date modified: 3 April 2017
First published: May 2007


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