What Causes Hunger Pangs

Grumble, grumble, grumble goes the stomach… it must almost be time for lunch. I was reminiscing about my first year biology class while I listened to my grumbling stomach today. I recalled the term for the grumbling, which is called Borborygmus. Borborygmus is not a part of your body, but just an onomatopoeia (word that imitates a sound), just the same as Achoo for sneezing.

Hunger Pangs are a nagging desire to eat that can be caused by both physiological and pshychological triggers, such as the sight of a favorite food.

Hunger Pangs are a nagging desire to eat that can be caused by both physiological and pshychological triggers, such as the sight of a favorite food.

I’m sure most people, especially ones who are dieting, are all too familiar with what is known as “hunger pangs”. Hunger pangs are used to describe the contractions of your empty stomach as it expresses its great upset in being left unfed. You may think that it is your stomach to blame for these feelings, but actually there are many causes of hunger pangs that have nothing to do with your nagging stomach.

Hunger is one of the most recurring and discomforting feelings people experience. The feeling of hunger is mostly related with the intense desire or need for food and it can be caused by psychological factors or physiological factors or both.

Although the physiological causes for hunger pangs are not quite understood, most believe it either has to do with contractions of the stomach or lowered blood glucose levels. A lowered body temperature can also trigger hunger pangs, which may also help to explain seasonal weight gain.

Psychological factors play an active role in causing hunger pangs. Most of us have a number of eating habits that have been learned over time and some are deeply rooted in our subconscious. People have a tendency to become hungry because of the patterns and behaviors that they have learned throughout their lives. This is demonstrated by the way some people feel hungry just because it is noontime. Some eat not because they are hungry but because eating at certain times or during certain activities has just become part of their routines.

All of the five senses are known to trigger hunger pangs and one of the strongest is the sense of sight. One may not be feeling hungry, but immediately a food commercial comes up on television and hunger is triggered. I experience this all the time when I’m watching TV at night. I’ve had a nice dinner and then I see a fast-food commercial and I’m hungry again. There is also a physiological process that is occurring here too due to the sight of carby food, called an insulin response. If it was up to me, I would ban all food commercials.

Smell is another one of the senses that triggers hunger pangs in people. This usually comes up when a person smells their favorite food or something that is related to their favorite food. For example, has you ever walked past a bakery and gone in and bought a tasty treat just because of the smell?

Finally there is the most obvious sense, taste. Tastes triggers hunger pangs when one tastes a small portion of food and they immediately develop a desire for more. I think that not everybody’s taste triggers are the same, but for the most part salty and sweet foods trigger more of a response than bland foods. For example, I don’t see the taste of brussel sprouts triggering hunger pangs for many of us.

Unknown to quite a number of people, different colors have the ability to also trigger hunger pangs. Where food is concerned, the colors mostly known to trigger hunger are green, yellow, red and orange. This explains why most popular restaurants prefer to use the above colors in their logo. On the other hand, some colors are also known to suppress appetites and one such color is blue.

Satiety is also related to hunger, but it is important to note that the satiety and hunger mechanisms are not exactly the same. Satiety has two mechanisms; one at the level of the brain and the other at the level of the gastrointestinal tract. Two places exist in hypothalamus; a brain part tasked with controlling eating and hunger. The ventromedial nucleus, which is the nucleus of the hypothalamus, is the one that is in charge of giving the signal when one is supposed to stop eating while the lateral hypothalamus is tasked with signaling when one should start eating. Ventromedial nuclei’s function makes people feel satisfied at the level of the brain. At gastrointestinal tract level, satiety is known to originate from a person’s stomach which is in control of short- term eating.

Hunger is generally triggered by a number of factors, both physiological and psychological, which sometimes work together. Try not to be a slave to the borborygmus of your nagging stomach. Although hunger pangs can be very distracting and sometimes distressing, if you know you have eaten enough then try not to cave in to them. Instead, drink a big glass of cool water and wait a few minutes for the hunger pangs to subside.

21 comments to What Causes Hunger Pangs

  • Linda

    all that is easy for you to say, I’ve been on a diet now for five weeks and I still get hunger pangs and appetite promptings, meaning you really don’t feel hunger pangs but you have the desire to eat a cow, I’ve tried hypnosis, I’ve tried to tolorate it which rarely works, I can go 4 to 5 hours before I start to feel like I want to eat, it’s a nervous hunger, before that I could see all the food commercials in the world and not want food, but that forth hour is when it starts, I can go to five but that’s about it, I try to stay on a 15 hundred calorie a day diet, but it is still quite hard because of my out-of-control appetite, I can eat that in six to eight hours if I just let go. I’m working out walking with 25 lbs on my resistant vest, I lost seven lbs so far.
    I’m 54 years old
    weight 225 goal 200
    5’5″ tall
    high blood pressure.

  • Linda, I think that many people who come to this website, myself included, can relate to the “out-of-control appetite” that you speak of. Hunger can flip a switch that causes us to act in ways that are not rational, and overeating is one of them. Dealing with hunger is more of an emotional struggle than a physical one for me and it is something that I battle with daily. I’m not saying I’m always successful at dealing with it either, but I try to use the techniques I mentioned above as best as possible to curb it.

    Congratulations on losing seven pounds and keep up the terrific effort! 🙂

  • Steve

    When a person reaches about 45, very few calories are needed to maintain optimal weight, especially if you have a desk job.

    A thin person I work with, snacks on fruit, vegetables, and tea roughly four times during the work-day- about 9am, 11:30am, 2pm and 4:30pm. I went out to lunch with him a couple days ago. We ordered sandwiches. He removed the inside of the sandwich, cut that into bite size pieces, and left the bread on the plate. I think these habits might work for someone 45 or older. That, along with always parking as far as possible from wherever you’re going, to increase the amount of walking you do. And put a treadmill in front of your TV. Don’t watch TV unless you’re on the treatmill.

  • kayte

    Thanks for the website. lol Right now, I’m so hungry I could eat a whole horse. I skip breakfast very regularly due to my (very) tight schedule. And the after -effects are distarous. I am a 21 year old college student and I wouldn’t want this habit to continue for a long time. However, i must make an extra 7 minutes or more for my breakfast. Oh noooo!!! What does that mean? Waking up 7 minutes earlier???? urrrgghhhh**^&&%%

  • Kayte – Your comment made me laugh and remember myself back in college when there never seemed to be enough time or enough hours of sleep. Breakfast meals do not have to be complicated and can be made so that you just have to grab and go. An apple with two cheese sticks and a small bag of trail mix or almonds, or a yogurt cup with a banana and a granola bar are examples of super fast breakfasts that can be bought already made so that all you have to do is grab some stuff and go. When I was in college I never had time for making my lunch either so what I would do is dump a packet of instant oatmeal into a tupperware container and bring an apple. Then, between classes I would add some boiling water to my oatmeal from the nearest coffee kiosk and head to class, spoon and apple in hand. The bottom line for a busy student like you is to make sure you have lots of healthy foods that are pre-prepared and can be combined easily into meals. Good luck, with school and fighting those hunger pangs.

  • margaret

    hi, im 3 months out from a gastric bypass. i want feeling hungry at all but recently ive started getting awful hungry in the afternoon and at late night. can someone help me with advice so i wont start snacking and ruin everything? ive gone through too much for that to happen now. im slow to lose weight due to holding fluid a lot but am now on a fluid pill three times a week. the last two weeks ive only lost 2 lbs. thank you for your help. margaret

  • Cali

    when you eat late at night ….you wake up so hungry as if you hadn’t ate in days…what’s up with that.

  • wconley

    Hunger is a never ending battle for me. But because it seems like EVERYTHING triggers my hunger, I have adopted a new technique. When I get hungry, if I can’t wait it out I: 1) drink water and 2) do something physical. So, in my mind, I am slowly training myself to expect different responses to hunger than instant gratification by eating. It seems to help some – and I get a little more exercise. That physical activity can be cleaning, walking, sit ups, doing a task, running an errand, stretching, whatever. Most of the time, when I’m done with steps 1 and 2, I’m not as hungry as before – if at all. Good luck!

    • Ursula

      Great idea! We need to train ourselves with responses that won’t lead to eating, especially when we know we’ve eaten. It’s called self-control and I have a hard time in that.

  • wconley – Thank you for your sharing the ways you are trying to combat hunger. They are very positive approaches and I think it is terrific you are choosing such healthy methods. These are great tips for battling hunger that we should all try to do. Great Stuff!

  • Fisherman

    I recently found out what is the matter with us older folks. I am 71. In order to maintain a healthy weight you need to walk 10,000 steps. Walking 1/4 mile is 624 steps for me. It looks like we need to walk 4 miles per day. Wow

  • Strawberryfields

    These past few years I’ve been overeating simply because the food is there. It’s strange because when I was a child I was always a picky eater, but now I’ll eat any food, even if I don’t like the taste. I hope things get better in college, where my mother won’t stock the cabinets with chocolate chip cookies.

  • michael skvortsov

    Yes, why is it when you eat a huge meal the night before, you wake up with such severe hunger it’s unbearable?

  • ensconsed

    I have been successful fighting off hunger pangs by simply drinking hot water in lemon. It works for me. I eat one meal a day (and a very small meal at that), something I would have never thought I will be able to do just a few months ago, but now I am very comfortable. I hope this goes on for a year. Want to weigh 174lbs, I am currently at 200lbs

  • Maria

    Human beings, like any animal, actually thrive on irregular eating. Think about our extremely successful evolutionary history, and think about what life would’ve been like for those early humans: foraging, frequent food shortages, occasional feasts when hunting was successful.
    Lots of fat, lots of nutrient-dense greens, berries, and seeds; no grains at all.

    Until last year I was chubby and tired all the time, and couldn’t possibly go without food for more than 6 hours. When I started thinking about how my body is DESIGNED to work, I switched. I now eat eggs and meat and butter and cheese and as many fruits and vegetables as I want, really. I only eat when I’m hungry, which often means easily going for 12 or 20 hours without needing anything. I’ve lost 15 pounds and my physique is both slim and very feminine. I’m stronger and more energetic than I’ve been in my life, and for the first time since I was a little girl, I’m totally at peace with my body.

    Our culture is CONFUSED, and mass-marketed “wisdom” about eating whole grains and low-fat is NONSENSE. Don’t listen to them; use your brain and think about how our bodies are evolved to work. When you follow that rule, weight and food become easy and natural.

    • Neil

      Very true, but one thing you have to remember is that they were getting massive amounts of exercise. Hunting, gathering, building shelter, making fires, etc. Nowadays we need to force ourselves to get exercise like this because almost everything we do is automated.


    I agree with thinking in terms of our evolutionary history, but that doesn’t mean forget about everything else. One important point you are missing about our ancestors is that they must have been extremely hard-working. Hunting, gathering, building and maintaining shelter, and evading predators is phenomenally hard work. The average adult had to be more fit than modern superathletes. They burned a huge number of calories with their efforts. Today? Come on.

  • sydney

    Whan i eat late @ night, i awaken the next morning, stuffed to the gills, especially if i snack on pop corn. Sorry, i can’t relate to your starved the next morning after a late night meal.
    It requires a great deal of self control to eat one meal a day but it is not impossible and with time it becomes part of a routine.
    I am 66 and weigh the same as i did in high school.

  • Craig

    I think it is important to also consider that during evolutionary progress that other lifestyle choices we make were not an option. Consider smoking, drinking, the medicine cabinet..I could go on. My point is, today people run or ride a bike to keep fit; then just the act of finding something to eat and roaming a territory was enough to keep people fit.

    Not so much running from predators unless you prescribe to the mythos of cavemen riding dinosaurs.

  • Maddie

    Thank you for this article! I am 13 and when I have sleep overs this happens a lot! I can hardly eat and I feel like im going to throw up

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>