June 29, 2007


Our friend Kery over at Color Me Fit had an interesting post the other day about feeling extra hungry one weekend. Kery's thoughtful observations about hunger got Crabby thinking about it too.

So it occurred to Crabby that with all of our recent discussion of Portion Size (what with special plates and tall skinny glasses and whatnot), she was making a major assumption that she left clean out of the discussion. And thus some of us may be talking about completely different things when we talk about limiting portion sizes.

When Crabby strategizes about decreasing serving sizes, she means: tricks to keep from eating well past the point of satiety just because something is tasty.

She does not believe anyone should ever have to go hungry in the name of health. If arbitrary portion sizes are too small to fill you up, then you need to eat more.

But what is "hungry?" What is "full?" These are tricky concepts, because there's a lot of space in between "starving" and "stuffed." Many of us find eating pleasurable. The amount we want to eat is frequently a great deal larger than the amount we need to eat to avoid a state of uncomfortable hunger.

Also, there's a difference between "real" hunger, in which one desires food, almost any food that's not vile, versus eating for entertainment or for emotional comfort. Are you craving chips and cookies and ice cream and nachos but not somehow you're not quite hungry enough for roasted chicken or green beans or spaghetti? Then perhaps you're not "really" hungry. This is the type of eating that Crabby thinks should be controlled--not eating from "real" hunger.

So without doing any research or providing any helpful links to actual studies, Crabby is just going to go out on a limb and proclaim: No diet/lifestyle-change/eating plan or whatever is going to work on a permanent basis if it leaves you feeling hungry all the time. Crabby believes that if you are eating almost exclusively healthy nutrient-dense foods--whole grains and lean protein and fruits and lots of vegetables and reasonable amounts of healthy fats--than you should never have to experience "real" hunger except when it's time for your next meal.

(And what if you just want to starve yourself "temporarily" to meet a goal weight? Good luck with that. From what Crabby understands, what one does to keep weight off is not all that different from what one had to do to lose it. So going slow and adopting lifestyle changes you can keep to always seemed a much more sensible plan than starvation, at least to Crabby.)

But all of this is easy for Crabby to say. She's not fat. Her metabolism works in such a way that she can maintain her desired weight by exercising a lot, eating healthy, and avoiding more than occasional gratuitous recreational eating.

Suppose, though, that she were like many of you--suppose she did all that healthy stuff and was still heavy? And what if she had to put up with all the crap that society dishes out to people who are overweight? Would she still say "eat more if you're really hungry?"

She sure hopes so. Strong healthy people come in all different sizes, and she hopes she would be proud of her strength and good health regardless of the size of her waist or the number on the scale.

So smart readers, is Crabby full of it? (No pun intended). And what do you think of limiting portions to the point of hunger. Do you/would you do that yourself?


  1. Hunger is definitely something that has to mastered on the road to get healthy... I use plain air popped popcorn on those extra hungry days, veggie are good too. (the sugar in fruit can some times increase hunger if eaten alone). That is why keeping a food journal is SO important -- if you see that you have eaten ENOUGH to be healthy - then the hunger is just your stomach being "cranky" from not getting it's usual over dose of food. It gets better over time, but it takes determination.

    Health and Happiness, Lady Rose

  2. "...Crabby believes that if you are eating almost exclusively healthy nutrient-dense foods--whole grains and lean protein and fruits and lots of vegetables and reasonable amounts of healthy fats--than you should never have to experience "real" hunger except when it's time for your next meal."

    I am so glad that you mentioned that nutrient-dense foods keeps hunger at bay. Potato chips and fast food only makes the eater crave more of the same because crap food has very little to offer.

    I am going to risk getting flamed to a crisp. If someone is still overweight and claims to be eating healthy, 99% of the time they are not being honest. I have seen it in my own family. Both my parents claim eating veggies and fruits and eating oatmeal and chicken yet when I go to visit them I find cake, ice cream, and whole fat cheeses in their kitchen. My mom is a diabetic and my dad is pre-diabetic and both are overweight. Others call me asking about this pill and that supplement. It's tiring to repeat myself to eat right 90% of the time and exercise. There is a whole crapload of self-dishonesty going on.

    That broccoli stalk will never negate that bowl of ice cream that was eaten earlier.

    I have been overweight before, so I know I have not been so honest myself.

  3. I think you've made some great points Crabby. Though, I also think that 'hunger' varies widely for everyone. I only wish that I could just go by what my stomach tells me!
    Sometimes, I'm not hungry at all, and could go just about all day without eating and feel totally fine... but that usually is not the case.
    Fairly often, I feel intense hunger even an hour or so after eating a "healthy nutrient-dense" meal. Same goes for when I eat junk food. I've never been able to figure it out, but some days I just am sooo hungry no matter what I eat. I've had some small-ish binges before during these "hunger spells" and even after stuffing my face full of food (which usually isn't even junk food...) my stomach still grumbles with hunger. (And I mean after giving it time to figure it out...) So... I don't know, it all sounds good in theory, but I'm not sure it would really, *truly* work for everyone.

    And... while I'm here, and Crabby once condoned going off topic...

    I just wanted to share some info with you guys about my summer internship. I'm working for a small non-profit called Sustainable Harvest International. They work with farmers in Central America and teach them sustainable, organic forms of farming to help stop slash and burn, thereby saving rainforests, and making the farmers and their families economically independent. It seems way better to me to do things this way than to just go in and try to plant trees somewhere. Find sources of forest destruction, and instead of trying to halt it, find better solutions!
    Anyway, if you want to read more information about SHI...

    Oh! And we're also being featured on Stonyfield yogurt lids. Stonyfield is donating $40,000 to three non-profits based on voting, so if you want to help some forests out, you can vote here:
    Plus, you can get a coupon for a free cup of yogurt online, and then use that to mail in and vote and get free prizes. :)

  4. I try not to let myself get hungry. If I'm hungry, I'm more likely to overeat. On a typical day, I plan my meals ahead of time and apportion out my meals and snacks so that I never get to a point where I'm so hungry that grabbing a candy bar is a temptation.

  5. Oh the horror. If I had to make myself voluntarily hungry to lose weight, I wouldn't last more than a few days, for sure, and that would be so not worth it anyway (who is crazy enough to be willing to spend their whole life HUNGRY??). It's perfectly normal to start getting hungry one hour before mealtime, but not all day long...

    I came to realize that I must actually be one of the lucky people who know when they're hungry: my stomach growls, plain and simple. I "just" have to allow myself to listen to my body, in fact. But this is hard stuff to learn! And it doesn't come after a few days or even a few weeks or maybe even a few months of eating the healthy way... much unfortunately.

    I don't even know why we want to eat more than we should, to the point of being stuffed. A habit? Because we're automatically presented with too much food everywhere we go? To do like other people eating with us? (Cf. the usual stunt of the girlfriend gaining weight because she's aligning her meals on those of the boyfriend. *guilty as ever here*) What did start the cycle, even? I find eating not pleasurable at all once I'm starting to feel stuffed, but... why am I going on eating then?

    And what you're pointing out is also my way of differentiating real hunger from head hunger. If the thought of eating not even thawed fish from the freezer is appealing, then it's hunger. If I find myself thinking "only a McMuffin will quench my hunger", uh, no sorry Kery darlin', it ain't hunger, it's just an old craving.

    So, no, I wouldn't limit myself to the point of hunger... but I would still keep a close eye on it. If I realize that eating more to satisfy it amounts to, say, 4000 calories on a day when I haven't even been exercizing, and if it's rinse and repeat the day after, and so on... then I also know I unfortunately need to tone it done. Because it's also a fact that only very dire circumstances would cause me to really NEED such an amount. Of course, I would also try to curb the hunger with filling, healthy, nutrients-laden foods. Not with cookies.

    (All of this said, I can now affirm that I was right. It WAS the cold. Now that I've been used to being cold for a whole week, I don't feel extra hungry for no apparent reason anymore. Gosh, I like actually knowing what my body's telling me, for a change!)

  6. One of my biggest 'duh' moments came last year. I was 4 months pregnant and simply ravenous all the time. When I did a food diary for a week (seriously, how do people keep these up for more than a week??) I saw that I had almost zero protein in my diet. oops. It was summer, and all I reached for was fruits and veggies.

    Now, when I feel munchy, I grab a glass of water and some protein (nuts, bit of chicken breast etc) before I'm allowed to move to the next level of snacking.

  7. Hi Lady Rose!
    Good tip about the popcorn and veggies! (And as Kate points out further down, protein is a great hunger-stopper too.)

    Hi Goinggone!
    I do think you've hit on the crucial aspect that I should have emphasized more, which is "nutrient dense." And a do agree that a lot of people fool themselves about how much crap they eat. But I do believe there are certainly at least SOME people though who really can't get thin despite healthy eating and exercise--but have no idea what the honest vs. fooling themselves percentages are.

    And I hope there are no flames forthcoming, just respectful differences of opinion!

    Hi Jessica!
    That extreme hunger not long after eating sounds really frustrating. Especially if you're eating healthy stuff that should be keeping you full longer than that. I'm not a doctor, and assume you've checked it out, but I would imagine that would be a really hard situation to figure out how to deal with.

    And thanks for the info on SHI--sounds like a great organization.

    Back in a few minutes...

  8. I've never bought into that absurd guideline about leaving the table while you're still a bit hungry. Oh, I get it. Don't stuff yourself stupid. Makes good sense.
    But if you take that too literally, which many will do, then you'll be hungry later on and if you haven't organized proper snacks you'll reach for some empty calories.
    I can't say much about weight loss as I've never set out to do it. But as long as you're eating proper, healthy nutrient-dense foods in the proper amount for you and nobody else but you, then you ought to be okay.
    Starving yourself to look good is stupid. It's offensive. It's a slap in the face to all the people in the world who really are starving.
    "Strong healthy people come in all different sizes, and she hopes she would be proud of her strength and good health regardless of the size of her waist or the number on the scale."
    Yes, yes a thousand times yes!
    Put it on billboards, Crabby. It's the most sensible thing I've ever heard.

  9. Hmmm...for me the problem is knowing when I'm full. My whole "full" feeling literally doesn't kick in until after about 20 minutes after I've eaten, so if I don't watch my portions I can eat a LOT. And then I'm really full later, but don't quite know when to stop.
    I think if you're used to eating a lot and scale down you will be hungry for a while, that's a given. But if you're eating well and exercising you will get hungry. On the days I run I eat a healthy breakfast and could still knaw my arm off by the time lunch comes around. I think introducing small healthy snacks is better than saving up and then eating way too much at a meal because you're so hungry. Or, I find a lot of times I feel hungry but I'm actually thirsty. Drinking enough water can help with hunger too.

    I agree with goinggone...sometimes you say you're eating well but you aren't . i have a family member who is quite obese and claims she's eating healthy and exercising and can't understand why she isn't losing weight...but I see her eat...very fattening and unhealthy things often. Sure not a lot of it, but it adds up and if you sabotage yourself and don't fill up with healthy foods you're only hurting yourself.
    It's true. Eating healthy with reasonable portions and exercising regularly works. It did for me. If anything running allows me an extra snack now and then...
    just not every day. I still struggle with what a reasonable portion size really is. I actually looked at the portion control plate as not a bad idea for people like me who'll jsut eat whatever is in front of them until it is all gone.
    But if I'm hungry I eat something...even if it's just a slice of fruit. If my stomach is grumbling I know it needs something. Isn't it supposed to be better to have 5 or 6 small meals a day?

  10. I don't think I'd have the will power to stay permanently hungry. One of the big things for me is make sure I'm really hungry and not just "head hungry".

    And knowing when to stop eating. If I like something I tend to eat more of it. I envy these people who can leave the last donut in the bag because they know they're full!

    Not me! I'm the one skulking in the kitchen with a crumbled paper bag and a trail of sugar crumbs down my chin!

  11. Hi bunnygirl,
    Very sensible! And from reading your blog, I know that when you say "snacks," you mean really healthy snacks! (Even on road trips, unlike Crabby, who uses road trips as an excuse for junky crap!)

    Hi Kery,
    Thanks so much for starting this whole discussion for us over at your blog. And that's so cool that you figured out the unaccustomed cold/hungry link. My hunger varies and I can't always figure out why. But I if it's "real" I eat more. And you raise some interesting issues about influences that can make us eat past the point of hunger. Thanks!

    Hi Kate!
    Yes, great point about protein! Perhaps that should be the subject of a whole other post sometime. Because (to stereotype) I think women often tend to grab more naturally for carbs as snacks--when protein is much more filling. I like to do a balance of protein/unrefined carb, like peanut butter on whole wheat, or milk and fruit, or chicken and carrot sticks. But too many folks forget about including protein with snacks.

    Sorry another break, back soon...

  12. Here re my totally random thoughts on hunger:

    Part of losing weight for me, has been a mental exercise distinguishing between hunger and appetite, I'm still working on it. I tend to blur the two when it's cold outside, or have had a hard day, or am at a fun restaurant with friends, etc.

    And I'm with bunnygirl, the longer I let myself go while hungry, the more I'm likely to overeat.

    I heard somewhere to eat until you're not hungry anymore, not until you're totally full. I try to remember that.

    One more thing, I think eating now and then totally and purely for pleasure is just fine. I really think that once in while a big yummy treat for no other reason than to simply eat it is great....but only once in awile.
    Great post crabby!

  13. Hi leah,
    As usual, you make good sense. Don't stuff yourself stupid, but don't leave the table still hungry and grab for junky snacks later. And thanks, sure, just wrestle me up a few billboards & we'll try to promote the message!

    Hi geosomin, lots of good points! And some good tips, like the fact it takes a bit of time to feel full (so eating slow is good) and about eating lots of small snacks/meals throughout the day rather than a few huge ones. (And I often have those gnaw-off-my arm mornings too (great description!), and end up eating lunch an hour after I've eaten breakfast--usually if I've been getting extra exercise.)

    Hi Dawn,
    ha! Yes, I have that "finish the last donut in the bag" problem too sometimes. I "preach" way better than I "practice".

    Hi Katieo,
    As I recall, you left the last donut in the bag recently and even took a picture of it! And you're right, eating til "not hungry" but short of "totally full" is a very good goal. (And hooray for sometimes having treats just for pleasure! Crabby is all for that, too.)

  14. I've tried many things and I've found that when I exercise at the level that we're told we should (30-45 min of cardio most days, strength training 2-3 days and yoga) I'm hungry all the time. The only thing that works to keep the hunger at bay -- I eat 5 or 6 times a day, but I eat smaller portions of healthy stuff. I really have the watch the junk though.. that's the hard part.

  15. When I started my journey of fitness, I discovered something about hunger. I had been eating to get the feeling of being full. In my mind, I was hungry unless I was full. Along my journey, I realized, I no longer felt hungry if I was not full. I felt hungry if my stomach was empty. Even this, I realize, is hunger in its mildest form.

    Anyhow, I thought hunger is a relative idea that means something different to different people. Come to think of it, so is feeling satieted (sp?) or feeling full. I think you expressed this somewhat in what you wrote, but its not as simple as you put it.

    For example, if you told me six month ago that if I was not full, I should eat more, you would have been shocked to see how much I could eat before I "felt" full. The result would have been the same if you told me to only eat when I was hungry.

  16. ...and of course there's the 'emotional hunger' my shrink used to bug me about;-)
    I get so upset at myself sometimes when I complain about hunger whilst trying to reduce(sounded all technical, right?) that I do some major Adam-bashing: "You're hungry? You? You American Swine! I'll show you hungry! Look at all the starving people in...(insert any drought-ravaged country here)"
    But then again, I guess everything is relative; I have a weight problem--I'm always going to be hungry, even if I eat properly, eat smaller, frequent meals, avoid the 'trigger' foods, blah, blah, blah.
    It's the tragedy of the diet. It asks the otherwise fragile human being to be, let's say, superhuman. And none of us are.
    Great post, Crabby.

  17. Hi SmartCookie!
    Good for you for doing the exercise anyway, even if it makes you hungry. Eating smaller portions more often and trying to make it healthy most of the time sure makes sense to me. (Yeah, watching the junk...you and me both!)

    Yes, I think you explained it much better than I did in terms of how "eating when hungry" and "stopping when full" can mean very different things to different people. In my mind, "real hunger" doesn't mean "anything short of completely stuffed," but some people could take it that way, and think I mean "keep going if you've still got room!" Which would be really dumb advice on my part.

    Hi Adam,
    Thanks! And yeah, emotional eating is a whole topic unto itself...

    I do think it's unfair though, that you should have to feel that because of your weight problem you're always going to have to be hungry! I guess I'm naive to think that one can get to a relatively healthy, if not necessarily slim, state without constantly experiencing hunger (the "real" kind, not the emotional kind). I guess not every one's metabolism works that way. Still, I couldn't do it if I were you! I'm Crabby enough without being constantly hungry.

  18. Crabby,

    You sure do attract some mighty-long commenters...myself, often included.

    Strong is good. Feeling fit and ready to jump into each day is good. Always restricting oneself simply can't be good. Restricting oneself sometimes is necessary.

    That's what I think.
    I was a shot putter and a 100 meter dash sprinter in high school. I am the ultimate contradiction. I love it.

    Have a great weekend!

    Sylvia C.

  19. Sylvia,
    Very well "put!"

    And yes, I love my long commenters. (And my short ones too! It's all good).

    I often end up learning way more from each of the comments here than I ever manage to convey in my own posts myself.

    Hooray for Cranky Fitness Commenters!

  20. Hi Crabby! I've fallen behind on my readings here, how will I ever catch up?? And yes, I have told my doctor about the extreme hunger, but he's too dense to realize it may be something more than just me wanting candy. He just shrugged it off and pretty much told me to deal with it. Oh well, maybe it's time for a new doctor? =)

  21. Hi Jessica!
    Well, no worries about being up-to-date on Cranky Fitness, there are no midterms or finals or anything!

    And your doctor sounds awfully frustrating to work with. I know people say "get a new doctor" like it's easy, when it can be an ordeal. But yeah, it sounds like it might be worth it if he's ignoring your problems like that.


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