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What is appetite and how can it affect my health?

Appetite can be defined as a natural desire to satisfy a bodily need, especially for food; or a strong desire for something, such as food. (Oxford Dictionary). Hunger is the physiological driver of appetite – mostly we recognise this as physical signals from our bodies that it’s time to eat – a rumbling tummy is a signal that our body is seeking food.

In humans, our desire to eat can be driven not just by physiology but by our situation – for example, a delicious cake is available at work to celebrate someone’s birthday – we may not feel hungry at all when it’s time to have the birthday celebration or have little appetite but we may still eat a piece of cake, not to fulfil our hunger but because it is simply available and everyone else is having cake…so we have some too.

How we respond to external signals to eat differ considerably – for example, some people seek food when they are upset or depressed, in others the exact opposite may occur and negative feelings induce a lack of appetite or desire to eat. A range of cultural issues can also impact on our appetite – for instance a food that is highly valued and desirable by certain people say for example, fois gras, may be very unappetising to another person. So, our desire to eat is driven not only by physiological signals that tell us we need to eat to sustain our energy intake but a whole host of factors.

So, appetite can be affected by a wide range of factors including physical activity, psychological, social and cultural influences. It is a complex area with no simple explanation why everyone eats the food they do… but your own appetite and what drives it is very important to consider when you are thinking about making changes to diet – to understand what your individual drivers of appetite and food choices are because if you can understand these then you can learn to respond differently to them if you need to.

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This article is from the free online course:

Food as Medicine

Monash University