Hunger vs Appetite

INVITATION: Think about what the terms “Hunger” and “Appetite” mean to you (in as many languages as you can) before reading this.

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I suspect that many people (and especially children), say “I am not Hungry” when they actually mean “I don’t have an appetite”.

When I asked ChatGPT (transcript) to differentiate the two terms, it said “Hunger and appetite are related but distinct concepts involving the desire to eat”, gave a breakdown of the two terms, and summarised as “hunger is a physical need driven by the body’s requirement for energy, while appetite is a psychological desire that can be influenced by a range of external factors”.

Show breakdown


  1. Definition: Hunger is the physiological need for food. It signals the body’s need for energy and nutrients.
  2. Cause: It is caused by biological factors, such as the empty stomach, low blood sugar levels, and hormonal signals like ghrelin.
  3. Symptoms: Symptoms of hunger can include stomach growling, weakness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
  4. Purpose: The primary purpose of hunger is to maintain energy balance and ensure the body has the necessary nutrients for functioning.
  5. Regulation: Hunger is regulated by the body’s internal mechanisms and homeostasis.


  1. Definition: Appetite is the psychological desire to eat. It can be influenced by emotions, senses, and external cues.
  2. Cause: It is influenced by various factors, including sight, smell, social situations, and emotional states (e.g., stress, boredom).
  3. Symptoms: Appetite can manifest as cravings or a desire for specific foods, often independent of the body’s actual energy needs.
  4. Purpose: The purpose of appetite is often linked to pleasure, social experiences, or psychological satisfaction.
  5. Regulation: Appetite can be regulated by external factors and can exist even when the body is not in need of energy.

I followed up by asking if people use one term when they mean the other and ChatGPT agreed, and volunteered some reasons (complete list in transcript) why this happens, including:

  • Language Convenience: For simplicity, people might use the more familiar or general term “hunger” to describe any desire to eat, regardless of its underlying cause.
  • Cultural Norms: In some cultures, the distinction between hunger and appetite might not be emphasized, leading to more generalized use of the terms.

I suspect this to be the case in both major languages (Sinhala and Tamil) in Sri Lanka. For example it would sound very formal and stilted to say “I don’t have an appetite” in Sinhala (මට ආහාර රුචියක් නෑ) - it sounds formal to me even in English. In both English and Sinhala I would be more likely to say “I don’t feel like eating right now” - but that could understood as “not feeling hungry”, so doesn’t actually differentiate hunger from appetite.

Anyway, this local bias may have influenced by hypothesis, and that is partly why I would like to know your experience of it.

PLACEHOLDER: Update after I write more about Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (the transcript already contains the question about whether we struggle with the interoception of appetite if we are not familiar with the language for it);