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Sep 10, 2012 02:10 PM

Have we forgotten what it is like to be "hungry"?

Do people even know what it's like to feel hunger anymore?

It seems most people eat either based on time (12 for lunch, 6 or 7 for dinner, etc.). They're like robots.

Or they eat out of habit -- e.g. "I cannot start my day without my Starbucks cappuccino latte with 2 extra shots" or "I need my midday Snickers bar" or whatever ...

Do people even eat when they actually feel "hungry"?

Better yet, do people nowadays even remember the true sensation of "hunger"?

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  1. I just saw an article the other day talking about how pediatricians are concerned that they are seeing children who literally never stop's one snack after another from the time they open their eyes until the time they go to bed. The pediatricians are worried that not only is this an enormous intake of calories, but that children are not learning to stop eating when they are satiated....

    And look at some of the "diets" of the last several years that are well-meaning (if misguided) and intended to stop one from being hungry and binging at regular meals...but there are plenty of programs out there that recommend breakfast...then a mid-morning snack...then lunch...then a mid-afternoon snack...then dinner....then a snack in the evening! So the parents are setting the example for the kids, and enabling a non-stop grazing to go on throughout the entire day.

    29 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      Small frequent meals/snacks are probably the healthiest way to go, especially if you exercise much. Large frequent meals and a sedentary lifestyle on the other hand...

      1. re: cowboyardee

        The article suggests otherwise...and there is a point at which you obtain diminishing returns.

        ...and the French seem to be doing quite well in a culture of not snacking at all.

        1. re: sunshine842

          The article isn't exactly a shining example of meticulously researched nutrition science.

          That said, there are plenty of things in it that I agree with. Frequent meals aren't necessarily a solution for everyone, and if you're healthy eating 3 meals a day, then keep on keeping on. Anyway, if you're eating often, the size and quality of those meals and snacks is extremely important, but simplistic dietary advice to eat more often can easily be misinterpreted as a green light to eat whatever you want whenever you want. I'm less sold on frequent meals as a way of managing one's appetite (especially for sedentary folks) for some of these reasons.

          On the other hand, small frequent high-quality meals have an excellent track record with competitive athletes and exercise buffs. And what nutritional science there is has generally shown fairly positive outcomes from small, frequent meals if those meals are proportioned well and well balanced, even in less athletic individuals. But it may be the kind of thing the average person should research for a while before implementing, because eating 6 plates of spaghetti a day along with a light dessert or two probably isn't the best way to go.

          1. re: cowboyardee

            "but simplistic dietary advice to eat more often can easily be misinterpreted as a green light to eat whatever you want whenever you want."

            and I think THAT is the crux -- I remember when the low-fat craze came, and people were stuffing their faces with anything that said "low fat" on the label (remember Snackwells, and Hey, Cookie Man?)....then they realize that they were GAINING weight, because the calorie count had gone through the roof, even though the fat level went down.

            And I would offer up that an athlete in training is a whole different set of nutritional requirements than your ordinary 8-5 Joe or Joanne....or their children.

            Everybody wants dietary advice in 30-second sound bites...and nobody wants to take the time to see how that advice REALLY works.

            1. re: cowboyardee

              Great thread! Thanks for starting it ipsedixit! There are a few raw vegans I know who eat constantly, but raw fruit and veggies and green smoothies mostly, with an avocado or two thrown in the mix. This diet gives them a constant flow of high energy I've observed.
              I love to wait until I'm very hungry to eat, the meal is so much more enjoyable. But waiting til I'm real hungry and/or doing the raw vegan constant sipping and nibbling thing can be hard to pull off if you want to dine with others.
              My mom was kind of afraid of feeling hungry, and used to carry a candy bar or two in her purse as a remedy. I'm lucky enough to live in a time and place where I don't fear starvation, so sometimes feeling hungry makes me feel more alive. To deaden or snuff out ever feeling hungry for no good reason seems boring to me. After all, even zombies call out for braiiiins!

            2. re: sunshine842

              weighing in at 130 lbs, 3000 calorie a day diet -- and still losing weight? you betcha I was grazing!

              1. re: Chowrin

                Nice try, Chowrin's parasite! ;)

                1. re: Prav

                  *snort* my 30lb. backpack is not a parasite!
                  *stomps foot*

            3. re: cowboyardee

              I don't have any scientific evidence, cowboyardee, but I really do not like eating multiple meals (or grazing).

              I exercise quite a bit, and I actually prefer to do it on an empty stomach. When I used to do marathons or tri events, my last meal would be what I ate the night before the event.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Do what works for you. I'm not suggesting otherwise. I've been working out a decent bit myself recently, and I don't eat as often as many sources indicate I should, mainly because it doesn't fit into my habits. Seeing pretty decent results anyway. There's more than one way to be healthy.

                I'm just saying that the evidence suggests that frequent meals when implemented well can be a very healthy strategy.

              2. re: cowboyardee

                The thing I don't like as a parent about the non-stop snacks my kids are offered at daycare and school (between the two, my daughter had *4* regular snacktimes her first grade year) is that it encourages the kids to pick and choose not only when but what they eat. My kid has to be HUNGRY to eat vegetables and is even losing her love of fruit. The snacks offered are good quality, not typical junk food, but often high carb and/or high fat. Protein is secondary. There is raw fruit and veg served along side but it loses ground. And then, stuffed from all the snacking, my kid is less likely to eat her dinner, which includes cooked veggies and also my attempts to broaden her palate. Too many options, too often.

                1. re: julesrules

                  Are you allowed to send her to school with snacks you would prefer your kids eat so you have more control over their hunger signals, what they are eating and how it fits in with the rest of your planned family meals?

                  My kids never had school provided meals in grade school. Every snack, lunch or after school program included a brown bagged meal/snack provided by me. I know times have changed but not necessarily mindsets to oversee what our children eat during school/after-school hours.

                  Today, the typical school provided lunch bears little resembalance to what I would have been happy packing my grade schooler.

                  1. re: HillJ

                    Well for a while, she also had me send her *another* snack, to fit in with the school's healthy eating program (they have weekly fruit or veg assigments, and kids who bring that food get entered in a draw for prizes). But that snack didn't always get eaten and we realized it was over the top. Ths year in second grade there are no longer school-provided snacks so it's not as excessive as last year.

                    It's tricky. I actually like that she eats when and what her peers are eating because I see sharing food as a human/social pleasure. I appreciated there was no pressure on me to send things like overpriced, overpackaged granola bars (junk disguised as health food IMHO) that her peers may have brought if snacks weren't provided. At daycare, I'm not going to tell her that she alone is not allowed to eat the daycare cook's homemade cheese strudel, only the carrot sticks that I sent. The meals provided are actually not bad, but the choices she makes within those meals are not great. I could have input on the food if I joined the board, but I know they are already pretty strict, banning any chicken with skin, for example. They stopped using canned food due to BPA concerns many years ago. Etc.

                    1. re: julesrules

                      Homemade cheese strudel over carrot sticks.......hmmmmm, what would I pick :)
                      If that's an indicator then I was overbase in thinking the food offered wasn't to your liking. What you're describing actually sounds very nice by school provided standards. Easier to keep the ongoing conversation about choices with your child than to step in on school decisions (via a Board) anyway.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        Exactly :) And she comes by it honestly too - I also always loved rich foods. Most of the kids at the daycare are lean and eat this stuff pretty sparingly. We have different genetic tendencies to struggle with. We do okay, overall. But 4 snacks a day last year seemed a bit much when I was trying to get her to eat her veggies at dinner.

                2. re: cowboyardee

                  when i was a kid, we had 3 meals a day, no snacks -- "it will ruin your appetite." we all were slim.

                  the recommendations for smaller, more frequent meals came about when low-fat, high-carb became the standard. to keep from having insulin crashes you needed food all darn day.

                  having given up grains and upping both my fat and animal protein, i eat fewer calories easily and usually just eat twice per day. i do feel true hunger and no longer have an insulin gremlin nagging, nagging at me.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    "the recommendations for smaller, more frequent meals came about when low-fat, high-carb became the standard. to keep from having insulin crashes you needed food all darn day."
                    I don't think that's accurate. The kinds of medically recommended and/or sports-based diets I'm talking about are often comparatively low carb and emphasize foods like nuts, beans, lean meats and fish, especially healthy oils, and non-starchy vegetables.

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      but conversations regarding diets for athletes in training really don't apply to a guy who sits in his car or on the train for an hour each way to his office, sits at his computer all day, then kicks back on the sofa in the evenings.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Athletes are not the only beneficiaries. I mention athletes because there is so much information about proven diets that very fit people abide by. Less active people need fewer calories. Which is still entirely possible eating small meals frequently, perhaps more easily for some depending on their particular propensities.

                        You're conflating two very, very different diets. On one hand, a diet consisting of multiple small meals of foods chosen for their nutrient density and their ability to keep a person satiated and energetic. On the other, eating two or three large meals a day and then snacking on sweets, junk food, refined carbs, etc, in between. The similarities are entirely superficial.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          but you understand what I'm saying, and I'm pretty sure you'd agree that there are far too many people out there who interpret "multiple small meals" as a license to gorge.

                        2. re: sunshine842

                          What I could eat at 20 and what I can eat now are very different and I've beeen active my whole life. What was important was working with my body as I've gotten older and knowing what my limit is. Some folks can get by on very little food and yet aren't active enough to be considered fit.

                          Being slim doesn't mean you're healthy and heavy folks aren't all one step away from death. Figuring out what works for you when it comes to portions, food choices and activity is the best starting every age.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              from the nytimes article:

                              ..."From their days caring for infants, she said, parents are conditioned to be prepared for a sudden attack of hunger. And so she keeps her car and purse amply packed with pretzels, baggies of Cinnamon Life cereal, Goldfish crackers and Clif bars.

                              For her children, little bites between meals have in some ways supplanted the meals themselves. “They usually need a snack midmorning and midafternoon,” explained Ms. Dyner, who lives in Beverly Hills, Calif. “There may be a third snack, and this is usually due to the fact that our kids didn’t care much for what we provided for dinner, so now it is 7:30 and they are hungry. At this point we may give them a yogurt.”


                              so the kids feel hungry all the time because they never have protein and very little fat. the craptastic grains that they snack on all the time keeps insulin circulating at unhealthy levels and just makes them want more grains and sweet stuff.

                              adults eat like this too now. servers at my restaurant come in between 4-5 pm. they get staff meal, or have a chance to eat something they brought form home before service starts. almost everybody is eating something again at 8 or 9. many of them then go out after work around 11 and eat yet again. these are not 20-year-old kids with lightning fast metabolisms. they are industry pros, mostly in their mid-30s and up. one woman i work with, for over a year now, i swear i could count on one hand how many times i have seen her eat protein. she grazes on grains all day and whines that she is always, always hungry. she is eating every time i see her.

                              most competitive athletes need to consume 1000s more calories per day than the average joe or jane. some simply can't get in enough food in 2 or 3 meals. i get that. this is a very small segment of the population.

                              a blueberry muffin at starbuck's comes in at 352 cals. a blueberry muffin at dunkin' donuts is 460! a chocolate chunk cookie at starbuck's is 358 cals. at dd's it's 340. frappucinos and hot chocolates and such can be 200-500 cals!!! even just ballpark averaging gives somebody 600-700 cals and it's all flour and sugar that won't keep them full very long. i can't even finish the pile of bacon and eggs that would clock in at 700 cals!

                              this is not a "snack" for an office jockey. but it is.

                    2. re: cowboyardee

                      There are several weight-loss diets, that stress just what you mentioned.

                      I have never tried one, and seldom have the time to "nibble" much during the day, however good it might be for me.


                    3. re: sunshine842

                      A quote from that article - “It has all just gotten out of hand,” said Sean O’Neill, an illustrator and father of two in Chicago. Mr. O’Neill wonders why snacks must be served at every sporting event, even those taking place at 10 a.m. or an hour before lunch."

                      I could not agree more. It is crazy. My son plays two sports and the constant snacking drives me bats. This is how it went Saturday morning - breakfast at 9am, arrive at soccerr at 9:45 with "snack served at 10:30am. As far as snacks go it was pretty decent - organic juice, string cheese and orange slices. But even organic juice is little more than tasty calorie-filled water.

                      Baseball was even worse - snacks and juice plus the added irritation of the group of parents that were constantly organizing after game ice cream trips, which would occur right before supper time. Yes, as the parent I have control of the situation but it is easier said than done when your little one is the only one not allowed to go and starts to cry.

                      1. re: cleobeach

                        In other sports, like wrestling.. you cut weight. Crazy arse binging up and down to make a gym scale and Coach happy. Moving up divisions, adding weight. Strategies for the team during the season, cutting weight. The most unhealthy HS sport going and dozens of kids I know dealt with it. Made me crazy when my youngest son was on a team for 4 years. Messes with your health, your head and your food life.

                        Being hungry is a good signal to have. Training it is a good idea. And my gym coach recommended that I listen to it years ago to maintain a balance for my body size (which is lean but petite). What you crave is also important to listen to. Working out isn't the only answer, portion size is important too.

                        1. re: HillJ

                          Could not agree more with your wrestling thoughts. I grew up in a wrestling-crazed area and I remember boys passing out in the halls between classes, constant nose bleeds, etc. I know several now-grown men that have borderline eating disorders from an entire childhood through college age wrestling lifestyle.

                          1. re: cleobeach

                            You won't find any member of my family at a match today. Hung up the wrestling singlets and threw out the shoes. None of us misses that time in our family life.

                            Thankfully my son overcame. Took years and living on his own most recently to make true peace with food again. I'd like to kick that Coach from here to you know where.

                            1. re: HillJ

                              I hear ya. It is the only activity that I would refuse to allow our son to participate in. I was close with the coach's son and as he aged out of the sport and got away from the brainwashing, it was sad/interesting to hear his version of the experience. (most often came pouring out after many beers)

                    4. I work in a hospital, and my patients are often unable to eat for extended periods. Some people deal with it just fine. Many others, not so much. We seem to have a kind of culture of instant gratification, and a lot of people just get used to that. But there are plenty of individual exceptions.

                      Honestly, I'm more amazed at the lengths many people will go to not to walk more than a block or two. I've known plenty of people (some in my own family) who diet without complaint and exercise hard at the gym, but seem to think walking a mile or two is an absurd proposition.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        <but seem to think walking a mile or two is an absurd proposition>

                        How about here in LA where, coming from the gym, drivers will get into potential fist fights fighting for the parking space next to the door of the local coffee house. It's really illogical.

                      2. Yes, I think that the average Westerner has forgotten wha "hunger" feels like. I admit I practically have. I try to fast one day every couple of months. Not only is it supposed to be "good for you" physically, it puts me in touch with hunger and being hungry while not sating it. I come to appreciate how often I'm either stuffing my face or thinking about what I'm going to stuff my face with next.

                        Mind you, I don't get anywhere near as hungry as someone who lives with chronic food shortages. I experience little hunger pangs, and I think, "Gee, how unusual this feeling is!"

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: EarlyBird

                          Well, I'm not talking about starvation, I'm just talking about learning to listen to our bodies.

                          Eat when we feel hungry as opposed to eating because that's what we normally do at that particular time of the day, or because we're watching a football game, or because it's "dinner time" or whatever.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I understand. That's one of the hardest things for me to do. My Danger Zone is the evenings when I'm home watching t.v. or reading. Oh, don't let me get into Food Network during those hours, or suddenly I'm "famished" and am raiding the fridge.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Sadly, I've learned that eating relieves boredom.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                to a degree....while I totally agree that eating because of some trigger (a social event, the television, boredom, whatever) is to be avoided when you're not really hungry...

                      's also good to maintain some sort of schedule -- I tried this once, and ended up skipping meals at regular times -- but then I'd be hungry at weird hours when it wasn't always convenient to get something to eat.

                                So now I try to eat something at regular meal times -- even if it's really just a snack, because it's easier than trying to find something to eat at weird hours.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  The OP starts out by saying : "It seems most people eat either based on time (12 for lunch, 6 or 7 for dinner, etc.). They're like robots"

                                  The elaborates by adding "Eat when we feel hungry as opposed to eating because that's what we normally do at that particular time of the day"

                                  Let me preface by saying most of us employed by others and do not unlimnited discretion as to when 'Luncheon is served.'

                                  My main thought is that I get up at 7:00a.m and 'break my fast' as I choose. Not surprising to me, five or six hours later (12:00-1:00) I'm hungry again. Nor am I surprised that six hours or so after that, I am again hungry (7:00 pm)

                                  It doesn't seem to me that this is programmed in, as a robot. The fact that many humans are hungry (or at the least want to eat) every 5 or 6 hours does not seem to be imposed by society.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Something I've been learning about that bears on this is the subject of "exorphin peptides."

                                    There's a lot on the Internet about them, ranging from scholarly to faddish, but the gist is:

                                    When we eat gluten (wheat, barley, rye) or casein (from dairy, though caseinates are used separately as thickeners), our bodies do not have the necessary enzymes to completely break these proteins down into individual amino acids. Clusters of amino acids remain, and some of these clusters have biological activity.

                                    A few of these clusters take the form of peptides that resemble morphine and endorphins enough for them to have mild drug-like effects. These have been dubbed "exorphins".

                                    Individual sensitivity to exorphins varies a great deal; however, if a person is sensitive, one of the noteworthy effects is that the person experiences withdrawal symptoms a few hours after consuming gluten or casein. This is very likely the cause of "carb cravings" experienced by a person starting a low carb diet.

                                    It's significant to note that if the person eats a substantial meal, the withdrawal symptoms will likely appear BEFORE the person's body has used up all the calories from the meal.

                                    Thus, that person begins to feel "hungry" before his or her body is in need of food. This leads to overeating. (This also suggests an explanation why eating several small meals is effective--you eat before your body goes into exorphin withdrawal, letting you better control your food intake).

                                    I personally am sensitive to the effects. I have been eating a mostly gluten- and casein-free diet for the better part of a year, and I have lost close to 50 lbs. without otherwise dieting or restricting my food intake. (This can be a perfectly healthy diet. Removing gluten still allows you a variety of other starches, such as rice or potatoes, and an adult can easily replace the nutrients lost by shunning dairy.)

                                    I've learned to tell the difference between food cravings caused by exorphin withdrawal and genuine hunger in that time. I would say that before this year, I really didn't know what hunger was, because what I thought was hunger was exorphin cravings.

                                    1. re: fogeylv

                                      I thought of this thread when I scheduled a 2-hour meeting from 10:30-12:30 today, and the very first remark was "Are there snacks with this meeting?"

                                      Not sure if I have the same sensitivity you do ... I have eliminated gluten before for 10 or 21 days, and didn't notice much.

                                      How would you describe exorphin cravings vs hunger? I'm pretty positive my stomach growling is hunger :) I tend to experience it as a physical sensation. I also get cravings, which I agree is something completely different--for something salty, sweet, chocolate ... or for 'comfort food.'

                                      My stomach was growling when I got up this morning ... I know some dieters wait for a growling stomach to eat. I find that if I'm really hungry and still wait for a couple hours to eat (perhaps due to an out of control schedule), I end up being a very indiscriminate, undisciplined eater at that meal.

                                      1. re: foiegras

                                        Since I have been low carb and higher protein and fats, I find that I am rarely "stomach growling hungry"...... ever. whebn I ate sugar, I would feel hungry often.

                                        I do get hungry if I fast. I try to fast one day per week. I have a feeling of emptiness first, then I actually hear my stomach make noise.

                                        1. re: foiegras

                                          That bit about snacks at the meeting is funny.

                                          I regularly meet with one client in the morning between 9-11, usually for a 1 or 2 hour meeting. Every single time he comes into the office he will bring a cookies from Starbucks or whereever for everyone in attendance. Then we sit around BS-ing, eating cookies for half an hour or so. The first topic of conversation is always, "So what are you guys thinking about for lunch?"

                                  2. I certainly do ... I feel hungry on a daily basis. I eat breakfast whether I'm hungry or not on weekdays. On the weekend, being hungry for breakfast drives when I get up. Sometimes my mealtimes are driven by other considerations, like when I need to eat to be on time to a meeting, or if I'm eating at a scheduled time with others. But I typically wait till I'm hungry to eat a meal or snack.

                                    I kind of gather that not everyone gets ravenously hungry. I do, and it's much better if I eat before I get to that point.

                                    1. I try not to feel hunger and attempt to eat on a regular schedule. I get anxious when I get hungry and away from my apartment. So for me it is comfortable knowing when my next meal will be and lets me focus on other things. But there are occasional days when I can't bring myself to eat and I do get hungry. I've always been underweight/low BMI.