Skip main navigation

What is appetite and how can it affect my health?

This article takes a look at what appetite is, how it can affect your health, and how we respond to the signals in our body.
Man holding stomach.
© Monash University 2021. CRICOS No. 00008C

What is appetite?

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).

The signals

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 a 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.

Responding to signals

How we respond to external signals to eat differs 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 our appetite – for instance, a food that is highly valued and desirable by certain people say, for example, foie 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 by a whole host of factors.

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 for 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 your diet.

It’s important 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.

If you’d like to learn more about food as medicine, check out the full online course, from Monash University, below.

© Monash University 2021. CRICOS No. 00008C
This article is from the free online

Food as Medicine

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education