Why food tastes better when you are hungry?

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Food you normally think it’s good tastes perfect when you’re very hungry. Even regular food tastes special when you are starving.

In: Biology
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You just answered the question: because you’re hungry.

Your body wants food, and it wants to make you want food, so that you’ll eat the food and give your body what it wants. If something tastes good, you’re more likely to continue eating it.

When you eat normally, you sense the taste and that makes your brain feel good.

When you’re hungry, you get all that AND it satisfies a need that you feel. Therefore, it feels even better to eat when hungry.

It’s your hypothalamus the one that does that. The taste of the food as measured by the chemical receptors in your tongue (and also nasal cavities) is the same; but the emotional response you experience to that food is an additional component to what we call “taste”, it’s part of the satisfaction we feel when we eat something tasty, or even when we drink water when we are very thirsty. That emotional component is controlled by your hypothalamus, it’s a primitive region of your brain that regulates a lot of visceral responses, but that is also correlated to emotional behaviors.

So your hypothalamus knows whether your blood needs more nutrients or not, and regulates the emotional response of taste according to that. It gives you the additional boost of emotional satisfaction when you need to continue eating, so you actually continue eating.

Taste (like some other senses) has two parts – one “physical” (meaning actual sensation using the chemical receptors on the tongue) and second “mental” (meaning what we make that experience mean in our own minds). So you may notice that something simple on a particular day (when you are upbeat / happy) may taste very good and fulfilling. However on a particularly difficult day (when you are stressful / sad / irritable) – an exemplary dish may seem “OK OK”. The difference in both those instances is the “second part – the mental aspect”.

If we pay attention, anticipate, look forward to something – we have a tendency to appreciate it when we “get it” (and not criticize it or be dismissive about it or take it for granted). Having such an “aware” mind – amplifies our experience of food (or of life in general).

When we are really hungry – we are in a zone where we are anticipating and pining for food with our entire being / attention. This makes us be appreciative of it when we get it – and hence we end up enjoying it more. In such a state – our mind even overlooks minor “faults” or “deviations” which would have been a major “tantrum” issue otherwise. Its like the “mind dog” suddenly behaves like a “good boy” when hungry – by shutting down all interpretations / modes / responses which may deprive it of its needs. Its almost like the mind makes it taste better – so that we eat more of it and the body (and the mind) survives to live another day.