Starve and hunger: Know the difference

Ever wondered why you don’t feel full even after eating? Or that you feel hungrier after eating? This is because we often confuse ‘hunger’ with ‘starve’, Dr Rohini Patil, nutritionist and founder of Nutracy Lifestyle, pointed out.

“Hunger is the feeling of being hungry. Starving, on the other hand, is when a person has lost all sense of hunger and even though they are eating, they don’t feel satisfied. When you are hungry, it’s because your body needs food. When you are starving, it’s because your body can’t process or store enough food,” explained Dr Patil.

She further highlighted that the difference between starving and hunger is that “hunger is a feeling, whereas starvation is a medical condition”. “People who are starving often feel hungry because they’re not getting enough nutrients from their food or their environment. Hunger can be caused by low blood sugar levels, poor diet quality, anorexia nervosa (severe calorie restriction), or other illnesses,” she further said.

Are you hungry?

Hunger is a physical sensation and feeling. It is the need to eat or to drink, but it also includes many other desires and cravings. “Hunger can be experienced in different ways. Some people may feel hungry when they get up in the morning and others may feel hungry when they go to bed at night. Some people may have a craving for certain foods, while others experience cravings for different types of foods. Hunger is often confused with other types of discomfort — like fatigue, sleepiness, low energy, or brain fog — but it can be different from hunger because it’s more intense and lasts longer,” she tells

Know all about your eating patterns (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

The expert also shared that there are many different types of hunger and each type has its own unique characteristics. “For example, hunger for food can be described as an empty feeling inside that needs to be filled immediately with adequate amounts of food. But can also feel hungry for water, which again, can  be described as an empty feeling inside that needs to be filled immediately with adequate amounts of water,” she pointed out.

Here’s how you can recognise hunger –

The last time you ate was more than 5-6 hours ago
Your last meal was a small portion
You feel pain in the stomach with gurgling sounds
Hunger can also play a role in other things like depression, anxiety and irritability. These conditions can often be related to poor diet or lack of sleep or exercise.
Be cautious of how you are feeling when you feel hungry. Our mood reflects on our hunger and appetite too! Thus, to avoid overeating, make sure you are not overwhelmed with any particular emotion.

Are you starving?

The term “starvation” is often used by lay people and doctors alike to describe a person who has had little or no food for an extended period of time. The word “starvation” can be misleading because the definition of starvation is different from person to person. The Merck Manual defines starvation as “a condition in which adequate food intake is reduced for a prolonged period of time, usually weeks or months.”

“Most people think of starvation in terms of eating only one meal a day and feeling hungry. But that’s not the whole story. The body has a variety of mechanisms for making sure we don’t starve, even if our food intake is severely limited. Starvation can occur when a person’s caloric intake is inadequate to meet their energy needs, usually because they are malnourished. Starvation can also be caused by an inability to obtain food in an area affected by war or conflict. In these instances, starvation may be intentional or unintentional,” she said.

When a person is starving, they may show symptoms similar to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). These symptoms include weakness and fatigue, dizziness, confusion and irritability. A person who is starving will also have pale skin as well as dry eyes and lips.

Starvation may be classified as a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Here’s why one might get into starvation –

lack of money to buy food and pay bills
lack of access to grocery stores or farmers markets
lack of access to transportation (or the inability to use it)
inability to cook meals for yourself or family members

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