Hunger

The longer I go down this path of paleo-like eating, the more I am convinced that hunger is the key. I tell people, now: ultimately, this is not a battle of the bulge, fat, or weight. This is a battle over hunger and ultimately, your hunger is going to win in the long run unless you simply have the rare constitution to be miserable all the time -- like many of the calorie restriction folks do.

Fortunately, there is a solution, and that solution is to eat a natural diet of plenty of meats, fish, natural fats (animal, coconut, olive), vegetables, fruits (moderation), and nuts (moderation too). I think that the reason so many Atkins dieters ultimately plateau, stall, fail and put weight back on is that they have the wrong focus: low carb. Now, a natural diet is almost always going to be low carb unless you opt to have starchy tubers play a big role in your diet. But so often I see those who focus on low carbohydrate eat way too much processed junk (just like many vegetarians, now), much of it chock full of anti-food like unfermented soy protein, soy oil, and other heavily processed and refined "vegetable" oils. And, because it's low carb, people eat in unrestricted amounts, they tend to eat a lot of favorite junk (like diet sodas and protein bars), and they are not getting the proper nutrition

What I and others have found is that over time on this sort of diet (paleo), keeping cheating to a minimum, your hunger alters radically. At this point in my progress, it's difficult to imagine failure and regression. Why? Because I simply have no hunger for crap, anymore. Yea, I might take in a slice of pizza, now and then (can't even remember the last time, however), or a burger, but I quickly realize that I'm satisfied after only a few bites. Moreover, it can have negatives effects that turn you back the other way. During the holidays, I partook of three cookies after an evening meal of real food. Where prior to that I felt wonderfully satisfied, the whatever in the cookies made me feel uncomfortably full (now an unfamiliar feeling) for a couple of hours. Yuk.

And as far as the daily paleo eating goes, I often have to motivate myself to eat, because I simply don't get hungry at "mealtimes," anymore. Some days I'm hungry by 9 am, and some, not until 1 in the afternoon. I might be hungry for dinner at 6, but sometimes not until 9 or 10, and sometimes not at all, which is a good time to take in a fast. When I say not hungry, what I mean is that I have no desire to eat anything at all. Food doesn't even occupy my thoughts in the slightest.

I also think that if you've been eating paleo for at least a few months and you haven't seen noticeabgle changes in appetite and hunger, then maybe you need to do some fasting, twice per week, 24-30 hours each. It seems counter-intuitive, and I don't know enough to say what sorts of hormonal changes might be taking place, but I think forcing hunger intermittently plays a big role in reseting your whole hunger mechanism to a more natural state.

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Comments

  1. Hi Richard,
    I really enjoy reading your blog. As someone who has practiced CRON for the past 5 years, and as someone who is transitioning to a Paleo style diet, I would like to respectfully disagree with your statement that CR'ed people have a 'rare constitution to be miserable all the time.'

    Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I have maintained a consistent calorie level around 1500/day for several years and I can vouch that I am not miserable. In fact, I feel healthy and well nourished. Moving to a more Paleo oriented way of eating has made me feel even better, but except in my earliest CR days I have not been miserable, and that is is because in those early days I had not yet learned to balance my nutritional intake properly.

    How we deal with hunger is not only influenced by physiological conditions, but psychological ones as well. In other words, it is not just the presence of hunger, but our reaction to it.

  2. Rich, I think you're exactly right about the Atkins Diet. Too many weird replacements for things that people shouldn't be eating in the first place. Another thing that struck me as a problem with Atkins is that it is built to encourage "carb creep." Ramping up carbs over a timeline seems to me to be playing with fire.

  3. Fair enough, Rachel.

    BTW, for other readers: CRON = Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition.

    My principal source of info was a couple of news magazine reports over the years, a bit here and there on the web, and then also Art De Vany who spoke at one of their conferences and has remarked several times that he observed then to be "miserable." That's his subjective assessment, of course. I doubt people told him so. Mainly what I have heard in interviews is caloric restriction practitioners testify that they are hungry a lot and have to get used to it.

    I would guess that your positive experience has a lot to do with Paleo eating, which I presume includes meat and fat. I'm sure that your hunger regulation is going to be far different from a CR eating lots of pasta, bread, and stuff with sugar.

    A question for you. What do you make of claims that at a cellular level, intermittent fasting achieves the same or near the same as CR? I presume you know about autophagy, which would no doubt play a role in both approaches. Currently, I'm doing about 2 fasts of 24-30 hours per week. It would be interesting to compare my weekly caloric intake with a CR person, rather than daily. To be sure, I do have hunger for those two sessions, but over time it has become easy to deal with, sometimes even enjoyable. Wouldn't want it to be a chronic thing, though.

  4. Richard, nice post.

    I absolutely agree with your logic on fasting. I was never that large — overweight definitely, but not obese. I've lost about 11 pounds doing "low carb" and have about 20 more to go. After being stalled for months, the only thing that has started to get weight off again is intermittent fasting and high intensity workouts. Low carb, even at around 1500-1700 calories per day, simply wasn't doing it for me. It may work for a lot of people but it's not the entire evolutionary key.

  5. Hi Richard,
    I have been quite intrigued with the claims that fasting may achieve the same ends, and I agree with the autophagy theory. Have you seen this study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17912023?dopt=AbstractPlus? It is possible that the effect of regular feeding, even in the smaller amounts encouraged in CR, are ultimately more damaging than giving cells a true shock to the system by depriving them altogether via fasting. I just think current studies are unclear as to whether or not that's the case. It does seem that both CR and IF do cause autophagy if done properly and that autophagy is desirable (provided, at least, that when cells die off it is mostly the bad ones and mostly the healthy ones reproduce), and given these facts, practicing either is beneficial.

    I should also point out that most CR'ed women don't eat pasta, bread, and refined sugars. The consumption of these kinds of foods deeply interferes with the Optimal Nutrition part. Women simply don't have the caloric room for them. For a CR'ed woman, the goal is to get as many nutrients in as few calories as possible. Bread, pasta, and sugars are, calorically speaking, very bad bargains, and true CR practioners avoid them. In fact, we call people who eat low calorie but eat crap 'obesity avoiders' not CRON practioners. The significant difference for me between my former CRON practice and my current eating is more that I have reduced my plant carb/dairy carb intake and upped my protein intake, as well as consuming saturated fats like egg yolks and butter. I do agree with you that my increased consumption of these foods has allowed me to manage my appetite better.

    Speaking to your other point, the acuteness of chronic hunger definitely fades. Many long term CR people find it to be a slight and even pleasurable edge to which they credit a feeling of mental alertness.

    That said, to each his own :) I am certainly interested in trying IF myself, and I would love to see where you came out calorie wise in a week versus the average CR'ed guy (most guys CR at ~2000 cal/day).

  6. I find I have a difficult time explaining it to people. It's not that there's no hunger at all — I still get the feeling now and then, even on no-fast days — it's just that you have a different mental attitude about it. I'm sure restoring brain and other hormones to evolutionary balance plays a major role. The logic implies that you definitely want a hunger signal, but not one that's so overwhelming you can't function mentally, or just as bad, that you don't engage in your hunt carefully and deliberately.

    It's interesting to watch big cats and other predators. No matter how hungry, they always approach the setup and pursuit with the utmost care. Imagine if their hunger was so debilitating that their brain hormones were out of whack and they got anxious and impatient, and alerted prey too early.

  7. Richard,

    Long time reader first time comment.
    I could not agree more with your post.
    In regards to your predator comment responding to Keith.
    Sometimes when I play in tennis tournaments, I play "hungry/in a fasted state" I never run out of gas and I'm razor sharp. It took me a while to trust this process. Worrying I would run out of "fuel" years ago I'd guzzle gatorade and eat raisins. I don't even bother explaining it to people.
    Thanks again for your great blog.

    Marc

  8. I hadn't seen that study, but good to know it's out there.

    Regarding hunger, I recall once trying Lyle McDonald's Rapid Fat Loss regime, i.e., low carb and low fat both. My protein calculation came out to around 225 grams a day for about 900 cals. Well, I had a tough time eating that much protein. I only did the diet for about 5 days, just couldn't take it. But hunger was certainly not a problem.

    If a CR guy does 2k cals per day, that would be 14k per week, and if I did four fasts, that would leave 2,800 for five days. I'll bet that's not far off and in fact, I'll bet I'm eating substantially less than that. Maybe I log in fitday, but I just so hate doing that.

  9. When I started fasting, after the first couple of fasts (short 15-18hrs), I found that the quality of my hunger changed as well as my response to it. It became more of a background transient thing that I could ignore, instead if something that took over my thoughts to the point of obsession. Haven't been able to do a longer fast for the last two weeks or so, but now that the holiday insanity is over I can resume. Starting right now, in fact…

  10. Erin in Flagstaff says:

    I started eating more paleo or low-carb last summer. As someone who used to go crazy when I was hungry, and even felt like I'd faint if I didn't make it to the vending machine in time, I find it amazing that when hunger hits now that I can ignore it. It's not debilitating. I even miss a meal now and then.

    I just wish that everyone could understand this part of eating this way. It's not about weight loss, it's so much more. More energy, less hunger, and feeling much less apathetic and depressed.

  11. Richard,

    I have to concur with the "not hungry" part. Since making the full-on Paleo transition almost two years ago now (wow, time flies), it's a rare instance where I actually feel that gnawing type of "gotta eat now" hunger (an experience I had often when I was a high carb cowboy), even during fasting periods.

  12. John Campbell says:

    I have to chime in with agreement to all the comments – after almost a year of Paleo, I cannot imagine going back. Richard, you are spot on about Atkins because people think of it as a "diet" meaning a temporary change in their pattern of eating. They also eat "low carb" frankenfoods with lots of artificial sweeteners.

    As you constantly stress – real food! and avoid the grains and sugars! I am beginning to think all those PUFA's as well, but these are most often found in manufactured food.

    I would also add – listen to your body! As you eat more naturally and Paleo, your body will start to tell you what it wants and what it needs. I certainly cheated over the holidays, but suffered little because a small cheat was more than satisfying and some stomach rumbling reminded me of why I am eating Paleo in the first place. I think that the typical North American diet is so full of junk food assaults on our bodies that either we become used to the suffering, or we just ignore the background din of our body. Unhealthy becomes normal. Your site reminds us that we are indeed still animals – not machines.

    Richard, keep up the good work! and the food porn! BTW The River Cottage Meat Book, which I read about on your blog is great! What a treat to read and drool over the pages. Meat rules! The author, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall loves and respects his animals as much as the meat they provide. I certainly hope small scale farming catches on much more widely – tastier and healthier.

    Cheers and all the best for the New Year!

  13. I just got my copy of that book yesterday, which I ordered from Amazon the moment it was mentioned by a commenter. Amazing work and I can't wait to get a few hours to really dig into it.

  14. Thats really interesting! I know what you mean about feeling uncomfortably full after a non-paleo meal. My friend came over for lunch and I gave him a paleo meal and he commented on how nice it felt. He said he felt full but not bloated. Anyway. I might have to give this IF a better try if it reduces hunger more.

  15. Good post.

    "I think that the reason so many Atkins dieters ultimately plateau, stall, fail and put weight back on is that they have the wrong focus: low carb."

    Precisely.

  16. At the Hunger Hut, we satisfy our appetite with whatever food establishments we find and provide our review of the place.I too am sad when i read of such disasters. We have got to support and put an end to the suffering. Hunger can be solved.

  17. I’ve never heard of paleo eating, but rather stumbled on to your blog by accident.
    Currently, I am a short, overweight woman. (Yeah, just what everybody wants to look at!) I’m hungry ALL the time, even if I just ate! It’s driven me crazy for years. I finally decided to try something different: ignore it. That’s why I came online, looking to see if my theory holds any water. (Oh, I really should start drinking more water.) For lunch I ate half the meal I normally would have, but felt fine right afterwards. Fifteen minutes later I felt like I hadn’t eaten, and I just couldn’t see getting anything more. Later I ate a stupid snack that had the same effect.
    I’m really curious about this paleo diet. Your recipes sound wonderful to me. I’m not against healthy; it just seems to leave me wanting more – even more than usual. But maybe it’s a transition. How did you get past your initial hungrier-than-usual transition?

    • Jen:

      Try more protein & fat in your diet, and by fat, I mean natural fats: all animal fats, coconut oil (or coconut milk — makes great curry dishes) and olive oil.

      There is absolutely nothing like meat to satiate.

  18. Weight Loss Tips says:

    The thing is balance, which we don’t care. Just keep on eating and don’t do work accordingly. I mean the consumption of the calories are also must. If we just keep on eating and work is nill then we gonna over weight for sure.

  19. Thanks for this informative post.

    Richard, I’m new to the Paleo diet. I’m not new to health consiousness though, I do take basic vitamin supplementation and I lift weights and do moderate cardio.

    Since I’ve gone on the paleo diet (1 week), I’m ALWAYS incredibly hungry. What can I do about that? Even though i ate carbs before, I wasn’t into junk food or binging, so I’m a little confused by this hunger pangs.

    Also want to ask your opinion on a few things:
    1. Meditterenean diet (French/Italians) with cheeses, wines, pastas, breads.
    2. Is dairy as bad as grains or sugars?
    3. Are fruits bad? (pineapples, mangoes, etc).
    4. How strict are you on artificial preservatives?
    5. How do you add variety to your diet? One big fear I have is that I’ll get sick of chewing leafs.
    6. Can one drink anything other than water, and are there any primal/paleo deserts?

    cheers,

    William

  20. Richard,

    The analogy to big cats is spot on. I first startd IF following your guest post a year or so ago over at Mark’s Daily Apple, I’ve done many 22-24 hour fasts, no problems and I tend to get a slight hunger ‘signal’ roughly about 14 hours in, but certainly not those horrendous pangs we all remember. The hunger diminishes within 30 minutes or so, I’m assuming that this is about the point when all the ‘energy’ from my last meal has been used up and I switch into fat burning mode. I have gone over 30 hours on fasts, the longest I tried was 48 hours, and felt awesome both physically and mentally. I felt extremely alert, had no problems with any physical or mental tasks during the fast, other people seemed to be moving in slow(er) motion…shame I wasn’t a cannibal on the hunt! On more than one occassion during a fast I’ve received comments that I have the look of a predator of some sort, and as far as I’m aware I was acting perfectly normally at the time!! Maybe it’s something about the eyes when we’re ‘hungry’ or preparing to eat/’hunt’, a form of body language?

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