Did you know that our feelings of hunger don’t actually come from our stomach? Or that there are scientific reasons for why we eat when we don’t need food? You even have a “hunger clock” inside of you (no unfortunately not a real clock).
In this fifth installment of the Psychology Series, I’ll be answering the above questions and telling you some facts you probably won’t know about hunger, like why you always have room for dessert.
The Need to Survive
Yes, your body actually needs food to survive, hopefully you already know this. . . Cells within the body need a supply of nutrients, which it obtains from the food we eat. When our cells decide its time to replenish their nutrient supply they let the body know it’s time for food.
The internal signal from the cells affects us on the inside and outside. We get that empty feeling in our stomach and we often become slow and tired. By eating food we give the cells the requirements they need to keep up their processes, getting rid of these feelings.
However, it takes around three hours for the body to break down the food and get it to the cells. Doesn’t this mean it would take three hours for our feelings of hunger to go away? The answer is no and its background is interesting.
Receptors in the stomach and liver let the body know food is on the way, and to not feel hungry anymore. However, there is new evidence saying these aren’t the main ways our body lets us know to eat (or stop eating).
Hunger and the Brain
The most interesting fact behind hunger is that it doesn’t originate from your stomach. Scientists preformed an experiment to test this. They had a test subject swallow a balloon. Once the balloon was in his stomach, they inflated it. As expected he began to feel full, however, after a couple of hours he began to feel hungry again–while the inflated balloon was still in his stomach.
This put scientists on track to eventually discover that hunger comes from the Hypothalamus gland: Hunger from the Lateral Hypothalamus and being full from the Ventromedial Hypothalamus.
To bring it all back together, some hunger does originate from our stomach, however, most of it comes from our brain; showing hunger isn’t more physical than mental.
A lot of our hunger actually comes from our internal clock. Most people eat around a certain time every day. The body then adapts to eating at that time every day, meaning around that time it starts to send out feelings of hunger.
I have breakfast around 6:30 AM, lunch at 11:30 AM, and dinner around 6:00 PM. Just before all three meals I begin to feel very hungry and if I miss a meal I’ll feel empty until the next meal–even if I eat a very large meal before it.
The Psychology of Eating
Why do we eat dessert even when we’ve had a massive meal and should be full? You know, the “Don’t worry I saved room for dessert!” line you say after dinner? The reasoning behind this is that dessert makes us feel good! And the body likes to feel good, even if it’s the temporary “good” some cake and ice cream incites.
We remember how amazing that ice cream sundae topped with hot fudge and caramel with some whipped cream tasted, and we want to feel that again! So the brain won’t tell the rest of the body not to eat more.
It’s like going to Disney Land early in the morning. You’re tired, but since you know you’re going to have a fun day, you forget about it.
All in all hunger is very important in our lives: it allows to live and eat food while we’re at it!