Are you hungry or thirsty? It's hard to tell

As people get older, they lose their thirst sensation and tend to confuse thirst with hunger. So instead of drinking water they eat, and this results in weight gain.

Knowing and recognizing the difference between hunger and thirst can play a big part in whether we are successful with our daily diets, and feel our best.

People often mistake hunger for thirst because the adult thirst mechanism is weak. Misdiagnosing the sensation of thirst can easily mislead the body into thinking it needs food when what it’s really asking for is water. Moreover, the fact that the symptoms of dehydration (e.g., feeling weak and dizzy) mimic those of hunger, contributes to people’s confusion between the two signals.

Be careful…Obesity can be caused by excessive eating instead of drinking. There is some evidence that such confusion (between hunger and thirst), can lead to eating in response to thirst or drinking in response to hunger. The former can lead to positive energy balance if the energy value of selected foods exceeds that of a beverage that could have been ingested to alleviate thirst, and the latter can have the same effect if the beverage provides uncompensated energy in the diet.

The imperative for access to water is underscored by the “Right of Thirst” in Jewish and Islamic law as well as philosophies in India, Africa and Australia, which state that even strangers be granted access to water in times of need. Thus, thirst is an especially salient deprivation-based signal compared to hunger. In contrast, eating to excess holds greater consequence than drinking to excess, except in extreme cases. 

Did you know?

Tip: Having enough water in your daily diet fills you up, helping you avoid overeating. Do not be tempted to reach for whatever snack is in sight at the first sign of hunger. Your best bet for successfully identifying whether the feeling is hunger or thirst is to drink water the first time you’re brain tells you that you’re hungry. Wait 15 minutes before you decide. If you were truly hungry, that feeling of wanting to eat something won’t dissipate. But if you were in fact thirsty, then you’ll feel satisfied.

Did you know?

References:

  • Fox M. Healthy Water for a Longer Life. Amarillo, TX: Dunaway Foundation; Portsmouth, NH: Healthy Water Research, 1998.
  • McKiernan F., Hollis J.H., McCabe G.P., et al. Thirst-drinking, hunger-eating; tight coupling? J Am Diet Assoc 2009; 109: 486-490.
  • Mattes RD. Hunger and thirst: issues in measurement and prediction of eating and drinking. Physiol Behav. 2010 Apr 26;100(1):22-32.

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