Thirst and Hunger

Let’s Talk: Hunger vs Thirst!

These two sensations ride a fine line, and being able to tell the difference can help you be successful with your daily diet! Studies have shown that 37% of people mistake hunger for thirst because thirst signals can be weak. Some of the sensations we feel from thirst or dehydration, are the same we feel when we’re hungry, leading us to reach for extra calories when we should be reaching for water! With obesity becoming the epidemic it is, being able to tell the difference between thirst and hunger is an important skill, not only to ensure you prevent dehydration but to prevent unnecessary overeating.

The Hypothalmus is a bridge between the nervous system and the endocrine system, which regulates hormones in the body, controls body temperature, and generates our sensations of hunger and thirst. Our internal cues for hunger and thirst send messages to the brain that are so subtle we often don’t listen. To further confuse us, the area in the brain that interprets hunger and thirst signals is the same. YIKES! We can become desensitized to the signals the hypothalamus sends out when it comes to thirst and hunger. Habitual eating and stress eating all disorientate the body’s natural signals. Lack of sleep can disrupt your hormone balance, increasing levels of the hormone ghrelin, signaling to the brain that you are hungry. 

Reasons we feel Hungry or Thirsty

The type of fluid we consume will affect the body’s hormones. Limiting caffeine and alcohol will help keep hormonal balance. Caffeinated drinks, such as soft drinks, contain additives and interfere with your body’s ability to rid itself of toxins. Most drinks advertise the ability to act as anti-toxins. The best anti-toxin is water because it helps flush toxins naturally out of your body.

Stress raises cortisol levels in your body and will cause an increase in appetite. Stress often makes us reach for carbs and sugar, fueling the roller coaster of continued imbalance. Western diets rich in sugars and saturated fats result in a lower awareness of the body’s signals of thirst and hunger, because sugar kills our ability to recognize hunger and leaves us in a constant state of wanting to eat.

The foods you eat will make a huge difference.  Many believe makes you thirsty, but new studies are showing the opposite may be true. Increased levels of salt intake initially make you thirsty, but will cause the body to conserve water. The energy used to conserve water in turn makes your body need more fuel (food).

Processed foods contain little water, causing our bodies use water to break down the food we eat, furthering dehydration, stay away from the fake food people!

If you do not get enough to drink on a daily basis, you will feel tired. You will feel hungry because your body thinks it needs food for energy. This sense of feeling tired relates to your body not taking in enough fluids, which help your body function better. Your body’s organs need water just as a car’s engine needs fuel to run efficiently.

Signs of diabetes include feeling hungry and thirsty, the American Diabetes Association, or ADA, says. If your blood sugar fluctuates and is not within normal values, you might have mixed signals of hunger and thirst. You will become dehydrated if your blood sugar remains high, and you will crave food. You will urinate less as you become more dehydrated with high blood sugar. As your blood sugar drops, you will urinate more. It becomes a vicious cycle not knowing if you should eat or drink fluids. Your doctor needs these symptoms reported to him.

 The Signs

Here are some common hunger symptoms:

  • Empty feeling in your stomach
  • Stomach gurgling or rumbling
  • Dizziness, faintness or light-headedness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Nausea

Signs of thirst symptoms may include:

  • Dry skin
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Dry-eyes
  • Increased heart rate
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

When true hunger strikes, many people are guilty of opening the fridge or pantry and immediately looking for ready-to-eat or pre-packaged foods for a quick fix. The next time you get a stomach pang, though, pause and ask yourself if you’re really hungry or could you just be thirsty?
The truth is, most people confuse thirst and hunger, often mistaking the former for the latter. Clinical studies have shown that 37% of people mistake hunger for thirst because thirst signals can be weak. This can create added issues for chronic kidney disease patients who are sometimes placed on fluid restrictions to reduce their kidneys’ workload. Always follow these restrictions, but also make sure your body is getting enough fluid, too. 


  • I recommend 3 liters of water per day for men and 2.5 liters for women.
  • You should eat a healthy diet with fruit, vegetables and protein so you can get some of this water from food!
    Try using apps to track your water intake and ensure you consume the right amount of water!
  • Try fasting to become in tune with your body’s signals for hunger, abstinence makes you more sensitive. Fasting is proven to be beneficial for your health and the body feels really cleansed and nourished when you eat and quench a thirst after a day fasting.
  • Be realistic, if you’ve just eaten a couple of hours ago then you shouldn’t really be hungry. Kick those habits of filling up on high calorie energy snacks. Don’t let your eyes feed your mouth, just because you see some chocolate or a slice of pizza doesn’t mean your body needs it.
  • Try using apps to track your water intake and insure you consume the RDA level of fluid.
  • If our diet and lifestyle habits have disconnected us from being sensitive towards our body’s signals for thirst and hunger we need to re-evaluate our lifestyles.
  • Habits easily become a routine like snacking an hour after having a meal just because we’re watching a movie, or jumping for that sugary chocolate bar to relieve your afternoon slump and boost energy levels.
  • Change your drinking habits too. We thrive on caffeine and soda drinks and these are liquids but they don’t keep the body in a state of hydration, they actually cause dehydration. Our body’s naturally 60 percent water, and we need to replenish it with water not calorie-containing drinks that confuse the body.

With symptoms that overlap can easily lead to misdiagnosis when it comes to hunger vs. thirst. Pay close attention to these feelings when you have them and think about what you’ve eaten or drank so far for the day. Here are a few helpful reminders to keep your cravings in check:

  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to grab a drink. Staying hydrated throughout the day helps curb cravings, keeps you alert, and helps digestion. Make sure you’re reaching your daily fluid allowance. Also be sure to monitor your fluid intake to avoid dehydration and its pesky symptoms, like nausea and headaches.
  • Listen to your body. Don’t be tempted to reach for whatever snack is in sight at the first sign of “hunger.” To figure out if that feeling is hunger or thirst, drink water—within your fluid allowance—and then wait 15 minutes. If you were truly hungry, you might still feel a stomach pang, whereas if you were just thirsty, you’ll feel satisfied.
  • Opt for kidney-friendly foods when hunger strikes. Fiber-rich snacks, which are low in fat and high in antioxidants, are a great option to help chronic kidney patients stay within protein, phosphorus, sodium and potassium guidelines. A few examples include apples, berries, and red and purple-skinned grapes.