25

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Types of hunger

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 02, 2010 at 6:36 PM

Like many people, my body awareness has increased since going paleo, and in particular my relationship with hunger has been radically redefined. (Richard Nikoley has some good posts about this: here and here).

Now I feel like I need a bigger vocabulary to define various states which I would have previously lumped into one word.

I'd be interested in other paleofolks' experiences with hunger. Do you recognise any of the descriptions below? Or is all "hunger" just the same to you? How do you personally define it?

I've basically identified the following distinct entities (bear with me now, hehe!):

a) Wanting to eat something (aka "mind hunger"). Arguably not really hunger at all. Usually induced by boredom, habit,psychological cues or cravings. I often use the "steak test" to identify this: if I imagine a piece of plain cooked steak but I cannot really see myself tearing into it right now (however good it might look), then it's not hunger. Note: I distinguish this from "hunger pangs" (see c below).

b) Tickly/gurgling sensations in the belly. Sometimes these get mistaken for hunger even though they probably just result from the digestive system going about its normal business (and therefore still very much engaged and not ready for more food). For me they tend to happen 2-3 hours after a meal, suggesting it has something to do with gastric emptying (it feels like my stomach finally easing its load and getting less distended).

c) Hunger pangs. There is a genuine physical sensation in the stomach area (sometimes painful), or a feeling of tightness in the throat, or increased salivation, or all of the above. Usually happens at regular times and goes away after an hour or so (but it would probably pass the "steak test").

c) "Body wants fuel" hunger. This is what I would consider genuine or healthy hunger, if there is such a concept. It's the hardest one to describe. There is a physical sensation of very subtle general weakness (like your muscles groaning) and a weird feeling in the mouth, of being ready for food, if that makes sense. Above all, it passes the steak test with flying colours. It even passes the sardine test, the boiled liver test or the [insert your own "palatable but less appetising" paleo food] test. In other words, if you can imagine the most plain, bland or boring food and feel a desire to eat it, that's the one.

d) Starvation mode hunger? I've probably never experienced this, but I wonder if there is a type of deep, extreme hunger where your body is basically screaming for nourishment or some serious damage will result. Maybe I should try a 2-week fast to find out what it feels like (joking... half).

PD. There is another kind which I've left out, as I'm presuming it rarely occurs in paleo people: hypoglycaemic hunger. The one that has you nervously shaking all over the place, desperate for anything (preferably carby) to eat.

Oh, and sorry for the essay - I just love categorising! (I'm only human after all...!)

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on January 10, 2012
at 08:37 AM

Actually not that bad. Doing it from Sunday night dinner to Tuesday lunchtime is easier than it sounds. Given that I never eat breakfast anyway, it's just a case of skipping my Monday lunch and dinner. By the time Tuesday lunch comes round though, I am very delighted to eat. I don't feel particularly hungry on the day.

4d6aa1a676240b15dc569ff8ade0500f

(2546)

on January 03, 2012
at 10:38 PM

can you describe the experience of a 40-hour fast a bit? i've done 24 but can't imagine 40.

B0454de6d4f4cdd9ca2e59021dc105bf

(606)

on June 26, 2011
at 12:33 AM

Good point about hunger. I've always had a less nuanced categorization of hunger types. For me, there's hunger then there's HUNGER.

50637dfd7dc7a7e811d82283f4f5fd10

(5838)

on November 24, 2010
at 03:43 PM

Great post. I think I've experienced all of them. Most frequently the mind hunger. I used to think that was true hunger.. lol. Now it's me wanting to consume all my tasty paleo food ;)

70d9359a2086e890a4c3bccb2ba8a8cb

(2254)

on June 04, 2010
at 04:37 PM

Yep, Ben, I actually recognise your "deep hunger" as well (I guess it would come between c and d in the list). It's true that a lot of the element of enjoyment that comes from knowing that you can stop it at any time, and choosing not to do so for the time being. The realisation that your body can actually work well (or even better) without food for a while, is quite a powerful mood-booster I'd say :)

70d9359a2086e890a4c3bccb2ba8a8cb

(2254)

on June 03, 2010
at 06:28 AM

BTW, I just want to point out that the steak test isn't my own invention (I wish it was!), I read about it ages ago somewhere on a paleo site (possibly freetheanimal.com, although it was a long time ago so I can't really remember). It's one of the most useful mind tools I've ever come across :)

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12 Answers

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7
F8fa4b0809d3b74fcf0361c0d53b60c1

(911)

on June 02, 2010
at 07:59 PM

Interesting to see your categorization. I've had this very discussion with my non-paleo friends, and I normally break down "hunger" into just three things.

  1. Hypoglycemia. This goes away when you stop fueling with carbs.
  2. The stomach being empty (growling, etc.). Once I got used to fasting, this was no longer an unpleasant sensation, just neutral.
  3. A psychological compulsion to eat. My mind frequently wanders to food, and the thought of eating is overwhelmingly appealing. This is what I now refer to as hunger. I pretty much only experience this during intermittent fasting, when I didn't get sufficient caloric intake in the preceding few days.

5
2b4f887f5fd32a37c6038eb0aaaf3bf5

on September 27, 2010
at 06:01 PM

I learned something interesting about hunger in my biopsychology class. Some forms of hunger (probably c on your list) is actually created by our habits. If we eat regularly at certain parts of the day (say, breakfast), our body actually prepares itself to eat at that time, and releases hormones to cue the hunger. So it may be that you don't really need food, but that your body is just ingrained in habits.

This also happens due to environmental cues (smell of food, seeing food on tv, etc), that your body thinks it is about to eat, so it prepares itself by releasing hormones and creating the physical sensation of hunger.

3
667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 02, 2010
at 11:09 PM

i just want to chime in and say that i think this is an excellent post. I love your breakdown of the types, and i find all the same in my own life. The steak test is new to me and i think its genius. Thanks so much.

maybe one more type: A pleasant feeling of what i might call "deep hunger". I only get these when i purposefully do a longer-than-normal IF. I do indeed find it pleasant (partly cuz i know theres an end somewhere yknow? like, i know im not going to die). I find myself feeling particularly light-bodied, sometimes ever so slightly light-headed, and just empty/light overall and ready to take on good clean fuel (read: food).

Probably doesnt earn a place in your list but i thought id post it and see if anyone feels similarly. -ben

70d9359a2086e890a4c3bccb2ba8a8cb

(2254)

on June 04, 2010
at 04:37 PM

Yep, Ben, I actually recognise your "deep hunger" as well (I guess it would come between c and d in the list). It's true that a lot of the element of enjoyment that comes from knowing that you can stop it at any time, and choosing not to do so for the time being. The realisation that your body can actually work well (or even better) without food for a while, is quite a powerful mood-booster I'd say :)

2
1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on June 02, 2010
at 06:56 PM

Pretty accurate descriptions in my view. I get the 'starvation' ones when I do a 40 hour fast weekly. Near the end, your mind keeps wondering to food, and the idea of eating sounds great. I'd only add one - when very thirsty, on say a hot day, I sometimes mistake thirst for hunger. I wonder if that is my body thinking there is no water available and directing me to eat watery foods like fruit.

4d6aa1a676240b15dc569ff8ade0500f

(2546)

on January 03, 2012
at 10:38 PM

can you describe the experience of a 40-hour fast a bit? i've done 24 but can't imagine 40.

1c4ada15ca0635582c77dbd9b1317dbf

(2614)

on January 10, 2012
at 08:37 AM

Actually not that bad. Doing it from Sunday night dinner to Tuesday lunchtime is easier than it sounds. Given that I never eat breakfast anyway, it's just a case of skipping my Monday lunch and dinner. By the time Tuesday lunch comes round though, I am very delighted to eat. I don't feel particularly hungry on the day.

1
61b801de5dc345b557cd4623d4a4f26b

(2682)

on November 24, 2010
at 02:35 PM

This is a great list!

My hunger cues have changed since starting my paleo path. Rarely do I notice my stomach growling or any cramps caused by hunger. It seems my stomach has moved to neutral ground somehow.

Somewhere around your category C, I get weak, lightheaded, and, if I let enough time pass, I get a headache. The strange part is the headache feels just like a sugar headache (I have categories of headaches instead of hunger types!). I am not completely paleo and wonder if the headache is caused by my body saving the less-than-optimal fuel for last? I don't know if that's even possible.

I have noticed I am hungry less often but I do get "mind hunger." I will try the steak test. 8)

1
1cbb6b2a813475d6c0b17fd5e898dc50

on November 24, 2010
at 05:34 AM

Honestly, I only have hunger and boredom. If I am not busy (which I am 98% of the time, like our ancestors) I get bored and will either eat some food or drink alcohol. I think the longer you eat clean foods the more you know "true" hunger. I have IFed for 48 hours many times and got bored and just ate, because, lets face it....we don't live in the paleolithic time period. The reason they IFed (and the reason it's good for us is because it's wired in our genes) in the first place was because they didn't have access to food at all times of the day like us. I am an avid bowhunter and can tell you how hard it is to take prey with, what modern humans call a primative weapon.

1
0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on September 28, 2010
at 09:40 AM

b) Tickly/gurgling sensations in the belly.

I understand this one. I'm rarely get that hungry, however if you sit me in a university lecture without eating and within half an hour my stomach starts gurgling loud enough to disturb people sitting around me. This is unrelated to hunger but having a snack beforehand prevents it. This never happens at any other time.

I don't know why this happens.

0
3e1302331d594587b2598b89f71e765e

on May 16, 2011
at 05:27 AM

Im not sure whats wrong with me, I crave red meat, the rarer thebetter, and I have hunger attacks where i am in physical pain like you get when you havent eaten in a while and your just starving this happens after i ahve eaten anything except red meat any help?

0
9dbfedbe21eae2a65093f8774ba8ad4d

on April 08, 2011
at 06:04 PM

My experiences so far:

Hypoglycemic hunger - Went away almost immediately when I started paleo. Once in a while I'll have more carbs than usual for dinner and I'll feel this hunger in the morning.

Body wants fuel - Being in ketosis I got used to eating as little as 800 calories a day. There was the initial energy rush, then after a week I became lethargic but also tense and unable to focus, like a 'wired but tired' sensation. I now recognize that as true hunger, but with my regular schedule I don't feel it too often.

Mind hunger - This is my most common experience of hunger. I have coffee+cream and eggs for breakfast and I'm rarely hungry at lunchtime, but I still eat a small meal out of habit.

My biggest meal is usually at night when I feel properly hungry. Even then though, because it's not hypoglycemic, it's hard to overeat. I feel satiated after a simple meal. I also don't crave many flavors anymore, just salt, pepper and vinegar, and my (now-defunct) sweet tooth is placated with cream, berries, dark chocolate, or sweet potatoes

0
F72d0bbd98345d65515472a630e8f56f

on April 08, 2011
at 04:19 PM

This is a great list- Part C seems to be where I like to be before eating.

I seem to have the same headache issue. I don't like to eat if I'm not hungry but I do get the headaches (headache before hunger). I think this is mostly due to being an ectomorph, high metabolism body type. Although I wonder if its because i still need to eat starch (as per PaNU: white rice, sweet potato) to avoid the headaches. Strange. Anyone have any suggestions?

0
F5698e16f1793c0bb00daea6a2e222a4

(678)

on September 27, 2010
at 07:26 PM

Great post.

I struggle with "hunger" all the time, but I've come to realize it's mostly in my head. I hate the cephalic/psychosomatic response when I smell something delicious or even just think about what I have planned for my next meal. Suddenly my mouth is watering and I'm craving it even though my body has no immediate need for it.

What's real is how my body has adapted to my feeding schedule. My weekdays are very structured and I eat at the same time everyday. On the rare day I'm late for whatever reason my body is very quick to start requesting the food it's expecting. I feel like i should commit to IF to get a better handle on this, but as of right now I don't need another challenge.. ;)

0
89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on June 02, 2010
at 07:26 PM

I can recognise them all. And I like the steak test!

I used to make a distinction between a craving and real hunger.

A craving would be your 'mind hunger': not really hungry, but because of an (usually environmental) cue, you want something. E.g. walking with no hunger and then all of the sudden smelling a nice smell (usually something sweet) and bang: you feel your stomach wanting something.

In the future I will definitely try your 'steak test'. The above would not pass the test.

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