Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Alfred Dawes | Respect the difference between true hunger and ‘feeling peckish’

Published:Wednesday | January 8, 2020 | 12:00 AM

There is not one among us who does not open the fridge or the cupboard at night to see if there isn’t something light inside that we can snack on. We aren’t hungry, just feel a bit ‘peckish’ (a craving for food).

For many struggling to lose weight, it is giving in to this dangerous feeling that sabotages our weight-loss efforts. Snacks provide a very dense-calorie meal that can wipe out all gains made dieting or at the gym. We often mistake cravings for hunger and, as such, give in to the compulsion to eat, even while wondering why we are so hungry all the time. To truly make a sustainable attempt at weight management, we need to respect the differences between cravings and true hunger.

True hunger is caused by a hormone produced by the stomach called ghrelin. When empty, the stomach produces ghrelin and as the stomach is stretched with food, the production stops. The stretched stomach not only drops hunger-hormone levels, but also signals the brain that you are full, and you need to stop eating. Hunger tells us that the digestive tract is empty and we need more food. True hunger can be appreciated by a stomach that feels empty, growling, lack of concentration, light-headedness or even headaches. True hunger goes away with any food as the stomach stretches.


This contrasts with cravings that come on even when we have food in our stomachs. The cravings are usually for a certain type of food, e.g., something sweet, salty or crunchy. You may have a craving for food even a few hours after you’ve eaten and are still digesting the food. Cravings do not go away even when the stomach is stretched and you feel full. It is the taste of the food rather than the hormone ghrelin that drives the eating. Some persons have a weakness for a particular type of food. In Jamaica, this is commonly chips, nuts, biscuits, or other baked goods. It is not just an addiction to sugar that causes this compulsive eating, as salty foods have the same effect.

After giving in to a peckish episode, you may feel guilty because you may have overeaten and are now uncomfortable, or you wasted valuable calories for nothing in a moment of weakness.

Being educated on what to eat will not solve the problem, as many of my patients eat well all day but it is the late-night snack that wipes out their daily gains.

It is important for you to identify what is your weakness that you crave and try to limit how much of it you have easy access to when the cravings hit. One should endeavour never to get into the habit of bored eating or eating while studying or watching TV. Those actions form habits over time and as soon as you are in the situation, the cravings hit like clockwork.

Knowing this often-overlooked difference may just be the single most important bit of information you need to empower your weight-loss efforts this year.

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to and