Thirst Can Be Mistaken for Hunger

Quick Read – 3 minutes

Thirst can often feel like hunger. Studies have indicated that 37% of people mistake thirst for hunger because signs of thirst can be weak and misinterpreted. If you have eaten recently and feel hungry, your body may be indicating that you are dehydrated.

Research evidence suggests that the types of foods we eat affect our thirst mechanism, making it less reliable as a cue to drink. A 2009 Australian study reported that individuals who consumed food that is high in fat and sugar exhibited weaker thirst sensitivity than those who ate less of these foods.

There is also evidence that the 21st-century environment has weakened the links between hunger and eating and between thirst and drinking in detrimental ways to our health. In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetics Association in 2009, volunteers were asked to rate their hunger and thirst levels every hour and record their eating and drinking schedules for a week. The data showed that the volunteers rarely ate when they were hungry or drank when they were thirsty. Instead, they ate and drank at their usual mealtimes. On average, 75% of the volunteer’s fluid intake occurred during mealtimes. The researchers suggested that previously hunger and eating and drinking and thirst were much more interconnected, but that current environmental factors such as cheap and readily available food have weakened these connections.

Below are some common symptoms of hunger:

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

Whereas signs of thirst may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dry mouth and lips

To prevent thirst from being misinterpreted for hunger, do not wait until you feel thirsty to take a drink. Staying hydrated throughout the day reduces tiredness, prevents headaches, and aids digestion. If you do feel hungry after a meal, try not to snack immediately. To identify if the feeling is hunger or thirst, have a drink and wait for 15 minutes. If you were hungry, you might still feel empty or experience your stomach rumbling. If you were thirsty, you would feel satisfied.

Data Source:

Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation