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Hunger and the desire to eat

How to avoid hunger

(Resisting temptation in the modern world)

Hunger and the desire to eat are primitive instincts that kept our ancestors alive. But in the last few decades, something has been going wrong with these instincts all across the Western world. Vast numbers of people are now consuming far more calories than they need – and putting on unhealthy amounts of fat.

Understanding how hunger and the desire to eat work should

What is hunger?

Hunger isn’t a single sensation, but is actually quite complex. It is the result of a combination of factors, including:

Eating itself can make you feel physically hungry. That may seem odd, but it makes sense when you think about our cavemen ancestors. When food was scarce, the best time to get hungry was when food was right there in front of you. This reaction is less helpful these days with the biscuit tin close to hand. Sweet foods can be particularly bad for this.

Eating a lot of starch or sugar can make you feel hungry (and tired) an hour or two later. This is because your body overreacts and ends up taking too much glucose out of your blood. That brings a feeling of hunger even though it is not long since you ate. This can lead to a cycle of overeating.

The desire to eat

Hunger is a set of physical sensations, but your brain also plays a large role in eating without you necessarily being aware of it.

When you taste something pleasurable, chemicals a bit like opium are released in your brain, and these add to the sense of pleasure. Afterwards, people often want to repeat that pleasure, and subconsciously you may be driven to seek out that food again. For many people, it is virtually impossible to eat just one chocolate from a box, or one biscuit from a plate.

If you eat a pleasurable type of food repeatedly, associations build up in your mind and you can end up developing a habit that is difficult to break. For example, if you eat a doughnut every day at 11am, your mind will soon associate 11am with the pleasure of the doughnut. Even if you are not hungry, come 11am you may find your subconscious taking you out of your way to find that doughnut. This process is more powerful than many people realise. It’s a little like drug addiction.

Sweet foods, and those containing fat, oil or salt – or, indeed, a combination of all of these – are the ones that trigger the pleasure response to the greatest amount. Watch out for these.

What you can do

Look for foods that keep your stomach feeling full for longer. Foods with bulk – such as vegetables – stretch your stomach. Protein takes time to digest and so stays longer in your stomach. A modest amount of fat helps too.

Try not to eat large amounts of sugar, or starchy foods that release their glucose quickly. You may find that eating less bread or potatoes at lunchtime leaves you feeling less hungry mid-afternoon (and less tired).

Be cautious with foods that are sweet. Remember that it is easier to refuse the first chocolate or biscuit than the second (and third!).

Be careful with foods that contain sugar, fat or oil and salt. This combination can have a powerful effect on the chemicals in your brain. It’s easier than you might imagine to end up eating them out of habit, or compulsion, or because you are feeling low or bored.

Try to get enough sleep.

What the book covers

Hunger and the desire to eat are important to understand if you want to stay healthy and slim, or are trying to lose fat. Our book explains them in much greater depth than the outline given here. It also


Selected references for the book




How to Live to 110: Longevity, living longer and the steps to take for a healthy old age