The Real Difference Between Being Hungry And Being Thirsty

It takes up only a small region of the brain, but the hypothalamus has some big responsibilities. Located toward the base of the brain and near the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus plays a key role in hormone production and helps regulate your sleep cycle, body temperature, sex drive, and emotional responses (per Healthline).

Another important function of the hypothalamus is appetite control. This one region of the brain tells the body when it's not only hungry but thirsty, as well (via Medline Plus), so sometimes we may think we're hungry when we're actually experiencing thirst. This doesn't help if you're trying to lose weight and consuming more calories than you might need to appease supposed hunger pangs when you're just thirsty. 

Even though it may seem like your brain is giving you mixed signals, there are key signs to help you figure out the difference between being hungry or thirsty.

Signs that you're hungry

Besides our own body sometimes confusing hunger with thirst, marketing tactics do a pretty good job of making you believe you're hungry when you're not. If you've ever started salivating from a commercial advertising a piping hot pizza or a juicy burger, you know the feeling. Throw in the fact that a lot of restaurants offer late-night hours and deals you can find easily on their apps or websites, the temptation to place an order becomes even harder to resist. According to Michigan State University, it's important to reconnect with the physical signs your body uses to communicate hunger. A growling stomach, headache, feeling light-headed or weak, a lack of energy, and being grumpy are all signs that it's probably time to eat.

Keep in mind that hunger can start to come on within two hours of eating your last meal (via Cleveland Clinic). If you're feeling hungry more often than usual, it could be a sign that your meals have too many refined carbs and not enough protein, fat, or fiber. A frequent desire to eat also suggests that you may not be sleeping well, you're distracted, or you're simply thirsty.

Signs that you're thirsty

According to Medical News Today, lots of essential systems of the body depend on water to be able to do their job. Without drinking the proper amount of water, functions such as digestion, pH balance, joint lubrication, waste elimination, hormone production, and oxygen delivery would fail. A 2018 study in BMC Publish Health noted that 60% of body weight is made up of water and losing as little as 3% is enough to lead to dehydration. Livestrong says that feeling thirsty is a sign that the body may be a little dehydrated and lists dryness of the eyes, skin, or mouth, headache, sluggishness, nausea, dizziness, and constipation as symptoms.

Another indicator of dehydration is the color of your urine. Your urine should be between colorless to similar to the color of light straw and honey (per Cleveland Clinic). Anything darker means you need to drink more water. However, be aware that some foods (like beets), antibiotics, laxatives, and food dyes can also alter the color of your urine.