The Difference Between Appetite and True Hunger

What's the difference between appetite and true hunger

Two weeks ago, I took a swan dive into the subject of phytochemicals and why they’re so important.

Today I want to talk about the difference between appetite and true hunger.

Get this…

The absence of micronutrients in the diet (vitamins, minerals and the all important bad-ass phytochemicals) lead to weight gain because it increases your appetite, but not your true hunger.

Follow me over to bus stop #1, and I’ll explain: 

There are two phases of digestion.

1) Anabolic phase

The anabolic phase is when we eat and digest food.
Easy ‘nuff.

2) Catabolic phase

The catabolic phase is when we’re not eating or digesting.

This second phase is super important because when the body isn’t hard at work digesting it has the opportunity to heal and repair itself. It does this by cleaning out toxins and detoxifying our system.

This can only happen during the catabolic phase of digestion.

With me so far?

The toxins that the body cleans out during that second phase of digestion come from crappy processed food, sugar, alcohol, second hand smoke, carbon dioxide, toxic household cleaners and beauty products, and impure water, just to name a few.

What you need to understand is the body is a self-repairing MACHINE, always trying to keep up with the toxic lives that we lead by maintaining consistent health and balance, even when we’re bombarding it with crap.

This balancing act is also known as homeostasis and it’s pretty fucking rad.

Let’s see what’s over at bus stop #2: 

I want to explain what happens when we eat lots of crappy processed foods (vegan or not).

This is where things start to get wonky.

When we get to the second phase of digestion (catabolic phase) – the self-healing, repair phase, the body gets to work, removing toxins through the bloodstream. And what happens when toxins surge through the bloodstream? We feel like shit on a stick. Headaches, exhaustion, body aches, brain fog, nausea, and general lethargy can all be part of the detox ride.

When these uncomfortable symptoms appear, we naturally reach for food because, guess what?

When we eat and digest, we go back to that first phase of digestion, the anabolic phase, and when that happens, we are no longer in repair mode, so the body stops cleaning out toxins. Since there are no more toxins surging through the system (at the moment, anyway), the detox symptoms momentarily stop, and we no longer feel like shit.

So when the diet is filled with lots of crap food, we keep eating not because we’re truly hungry, but because our appetite tells us to keep eating so that we can feel better and stop the discomfort of detoxing.

And here’s the thing.

We’re not even conscious that the reason we keep eating is to stop the detox symptoms.

Remember how I told you that the body is always trying to reach homeostasis? Well part of homeostasis is feeling good.

This is the vicious cycle that plays out when we eat too much processed fat, sugar, and salt and not enough nutrient-rich foods.

Unfortunately, the diet that leads perfectly to this bat-shit crazy cycle is The Standard American Diet. Boo-ya! There is work to be done!

Hop on over to bus stop #3 with me, and let’s look at the flip side of all this: 

Now that you know what the body goes through when we eat crap food, let’s talk about what happens when we eat whole plant foods filled with micronutrients (AKA really damn healthy).

Well, it’s kind of crickets over here because there’s not actually much to report.

When we get to the second phase of digestion, the catabolic phase (self-healing repair phase), we feel perfectly fine because we’re not having an avalanche of toxins going through our system.

The body does what it needs to do and we don’t feel a thing. We feel energized, we don’t have headaches and we don’t feel the need to eat again until we’re actually hungry. And when we do get hungry it’s not urgent.

Let’s put this theory to test.

Think back to a time when you ate a huge unhealthy dinner. Maybe it was lots of pizza, lots of Buffalo wings and ranch dressing over bacon for dessert. Maybe it was steak and gravy. Or maybe you just binged on a block of cheese and a box of crackers.

Do you remember feeling tired and not so hot after you ate it? I’m guessing yes.

Compare that to a time you had a big green salad with lots of veggies and a healthy, no-oil dressing for lunch (kind of like the one below).

No food coma after you ate, right?

Now you know why.

So if appetite is just a craving or a way to stop feeling crappy, what is true hunger?

Bus stop #4 has the answer:

We only get truly hungry when our brain gets low on the glucose.

The brain can turn amino acids from muscle tissue into glucose, but our body prefers that we just eat food instead, so it triggers hunger. Basically, we get hungry only when our brain needs to eat (creepy visual, I know).

And when we’re truly hungry we actually feel it in our throats and mouth, not our stomach. When we’re truly hungry, our taste buds get extra sensitive, so food tastes better than it would if we weren’t hungry.

Again, the human body is amazing and miraculous.

Here’s another thing that will change how you think about how much you eat.

When we feed our bodies truly healthy, micronutrient-rich food, we never have to worry about how much to eat or counting calories.

Here’s why.

Our bodies are precise computers directing us to approximately 25 calories of what we need to consume each day.

That’s right. Our body knows almost exactly how much to eat to maintain our ideal, lean body mass. And this is why counting calories is not necessary when we’re eating the right way. Our body will do it for us and we won’t even know it.

We just eat when we’re hungry, stop when we’re no longer hungry, and repeat. We only gain weight when we eat outside the demands of true hunger.

WAY easier than adding up points and trying to keep track of macronutrients.

Now that you have all this awesome info, you might be wondering what the hell to eat and what to avoid to reach true hunger. Plant Fueled Life has you covered. All you have to do is follow along and I do the rest.

If you’re buying salad dressing from the store or making it with lots of oil, try making this Oil-Free Orange Sesame Dressing instead. You’ll be hooked in the best possible way!


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Our Sweary Saturday Love Letters are written by our ex-boozer, ex-smoker, plant-loving co-founder, Molly Patrick.


  1. Ricky Crane on September 20, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I’ve read three of your articles so far and really appreciate the information you provide. You definitely know your stuff! I just want to ask, however, if you’ve considered that many of your current and prospective readers may be very offended by much of the slang and foul language you use? I would love to share these articles on my Facebook and twitter pages, but can’t because of the language content. I’m not angry with you, but would appreciate and respect you so much more if you would use a more professional ethic on your articles. Thanks so much for listening…

    • Molly Patrick on September 21, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Ricky Crane – Thanks for your comment. This is not the first time I have heard this 🙂

      Here’s a post I wrote about this very topic.

    • Ken on October 11, 2014 at 8:31 am

      I agree, really didn’t expect the Fbomb is this article, so I didn’t share the article, not my style!

      • Ken on October 11, 2014 at 8:32 am

        but it contains really good stuff, with a unique biochemical perspective

  2. Wanda on September 21, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Molly, Your irreverence is a gift and so is your knowledge and gift for the written words..all of the words. Don’t change for anyone. Wanda

    • Molly Patrick on September 21, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      Wanda – I can feel that love and I thank you for your comment.
      I’m not for everyone, and that is okay – I’m good with that.
      My people will find me, and when they do, we have fun.
      You my friend, are one of those people.

  3. S on September 3, 2017 at 10:20 am

    I don’t know about not feeling hungry in the stomach. I can sometimes hear my stomach rumble!

    The f word? I don’t use it and don’t like it when people use it but it is your blog. That’s my problem and not yours. No one’s making me read your posts! I still like your blog. To be honest, it didn’t even register in my mind in this article :-).

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl on September 5, 2017 at 6:56 am

      Hi S, thanks for stopping by and reading. We appreciate your note!

      Team Dirty Girl

  4. Pat on March 21, 2018 at 5:42 am

    5 stars
    I am doing a lot of reading and trying to “prepare” myself and my kitchen to follow the WFPB way of eating. I hate the word “diet”. That word feels like failure to me. My question about feeling hungry is, along with feeling hungry, I get a drop in blood sugar that I usually satisfy with a highly processed carb like bread, etc. How do I combat that on the WFPB?

    • Team Clean Food Dirty Girl on March 21, 2018 at 7:47 am

      Hi Pat,

      Your mindset shift about fueling your body rather than “dieting” is a big one that will help you set up an eating pattern that is lifelong for health. Every body is different and the longer you stick with whole food plant based, the food pattern that triggers those cravings for you will become clear. It’s a good idea to see your doctor just to make sure you don’t have something else going on as an initial step.

      As far as combatting those feelings, get into a routine so that you have delicious wfpb options in your refrigerator ready to be made into a meal – this is one of the reasons our Plant Fueled Meal Plans are beloved by people well into their wfpb journey. Recognize that we’ve been conditioned to have certain foods at certain times of the day and release those notions – food is food. Fuel your body with the foods that make you feel good when your body tells you it needs fuel.

      When you do have an episode of monster hunger, as Molly so aptly calls it, journal your eating pattern in the day/hours leading up to that feeling so you can recognize the pattern and make adjustments to avoid it in the future. Did you have alcohol the night before? What about pastries or other processed foods? Is it possible that you need more than just some whole grain bread with nut butter for breakfast?…(Absolutely for me). Look at your activity level too, being active on a regular basis helps your body utilize the fuel you give it more efficiently.

      Cheers to you on your journey to eat all the plants!

      Team Dirty Girl

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