Embrace Your Hunger

Free Drinking, Refreshing Water

We have mentioned Oprah Winfrey‘s chagrin when she had been told by her doctor that she would need to “embrace hunger.” Many of us would be better off learning to feel pleasant anticipation of a good meal rather than a craving for junk food. We could experience for ourselves the truth in the old saying, “Hunger is the best sauce.” Instead, we’re like babies, needing to be fed every couple of hours. The only thing we should be imbibing frequently is plain water, for a number of positive reasons.

Here is a very comprehensive article by Bill Hendrick about the benefits of water in any weight-control endeavor. Hendrick interviewed a Virginia Tech faculty member Brenda Davy about a study that seems to indicate that drinking two eight-ounce glasses of water before each meal can really help reduce the awareness of hunger. Davy talks about the results:

We found in earlier studies that middle aged and older people who drank two cups of water right before eating a meal ate between 75 and 90 fewer calories during the meal.

And, do we ever need to learn to listen to our bodies. Constant eating is not what our species have done for most of its existence. Our remote ancestors didn’t get three meals a day. Sometimes, they got no meals for three days. But, guess what, we’re still here. Maybe there’s a message in that fact.

When humans were in the wild, they were able to interpret these things — like animals do — and seek out the foodstuff that contained what they needed. But now our senses and intuitions are dulled and scrambled. We eat constantly, everywhere, and anywhere. That used to be considered very ill-mannered. And maybe it is. It certainly is a very inconsiderate way to treat ourselves.

The body may be telling us a very subtle thing like, “I need folic acid, I need magnesium…,” but we are not tuned in to those nuances. We eat and eat, but our organisms know they have not received much nourishment. The body sends out various distress signals, all of which we interpret as: “Eat more junk.” No matter what message the internal mechanism tries to send, we read it as “I need salt,” or “I need sugar,” or “I need fat.”

In Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow names the strategies used by kids who are successful in controlling their weight, such as:

They become aware of what they feel when they seek a food. They learn to recognize true hunger (grumbling, empty stomach) versus emotional hunger (seeking comfort from food when upset, nervous, or bored).

It’s sad that many kids never have a chance to know hunger. Instead, they become familiar with the bizarre sensation of feeling bloated and voracious at the same time. Way back in 1987, Dr. Douglas Hunt, in his book No More Cravings, wrote about why we are so addicted to junk food:

The body has built-in hunger symptoms for the intake of all components it needs… Experiments with cattle who were known to be phosphorus deficient showed they had a specific appetite for bird feces or newly ground bone. This appetite disappeared when phosphate was injected. In other words, as soon as the animals in this experiment got what their bodies needed, they stopped eating bird feces.

A lot of what we eat is equivalent to bird feces. Honestly, people will eat anything. Take a look at the ingredient list on the box some time. Dr. Hunt said the body can be fooled by counterfeit substances that are able to relieve the symptoms of a deficiency, while not actually supplying the missing nutrients. Plus, ersatz food creates more symptoms.

Here’s how to tell the difference. While the pseudo-food might temporarily make you feel better, it actually creates an even larger deficiency. In other words, it tricks you into wanting more of it, but, every time, you get less bang for the buck. It’s called tolerance, one of the classic signs of addiction. Dr. Hunt believes that when the body gets what it needs in legitimate form, unhealthy cravings drop away.

We’re still mulling over the many interesting comments left by readers about the last Friday’s post, “When There Is Nothing to Do but Eat.” A reader known as “berettaluvz26” says,

Overstimulation has become a huge problem with kids today — there’s so much to do, so many things to play with inside, why go outside and use your imagination?

This is another kind of tolerance, and it leads to another strange paradox. The endless allure of bright colors, loud noise, and ceaseless motion seems to cause a kind of media overload, to the point where no amount of stimulation gives any satisfaction. The pleasure receptors become dull and sluggish. Along with being both full and hungry at the same time, a child can be both overstimulated and bored.

Childhood Obesity News reader “joyrox” commented,

Food is mass produced and filled with harmful additives so it is nutritionally deficient. This leaves them feeling hungrier than they would have been if they were eating good food.

A meal that satisfies, on an organic level, is far different from a feast of hyper-palatable, hedonic foods. I once enjoyed a dish that consisted of onions, carrots and kale, sautéed in olive oil, with — this is going to sound weird, but trust me — soy sauce and oregano for additional flavor. Served on top of rice. I told the cook how good it was, and she said, “It lets you know that you’ve been fed.” Exactly! Every cell in my body was saying “Thank you.” I knew I’d been fed.

This is a sensation that some kids have never had, no matter how lavish their family’s food budget. So we’ve got a generation of young people who don’t know how it feels to be hungry, and how it feels to be fed. They only know how it feels to be stuffed, yet malnourished.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Water May Be Secret Weapon in Weight Loss,” WebMD.com, 08/23/10
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,” Amazon.com
Source: “When There Is Nothing to Do but Eat,” Childhood Obesity News, 10/15/10
Image by Pink Sherbet Photography (D. Sharon Pruitt), used under its Creative Commons license.

3 Responses

  1. I’ve got news for you: The reason why people can’t lose weight is due to the fact that when they go on “diets” they:

    1. Feel Deprived
    2. Use Willpower

    That’s a deadly duo for long-term weight-loss.

    I advise people to never go hungry. If you are hungry, eat. No, not Snickers, Snackwells, and Skittles. However, here are some incredible snacks that will not pack the pounds. And, they will give you the feeling of satiety.

    Check it out here: http://bit.ly/czLBjt

    1. Childhood Obesity News doesn’t endorse any particular “brand” of weight-loss diet.

      A person’s diet is whatever the person happens to eat, “the usual food and drink consumed by an organism.” If somebody doesn’t eat anything but junk food, that’s their diet. Anyway, the word doesn’t even appear in the post.

      The point here is that some parents are way too concerned that a child should, never, under any circumstances, God forbid, ever have a feeling of hunger for even one minute!

      One of the finest things a human can experience is the realization that she or he has been so absorbed in a rewarding activity, they didn’t even notice they were hungry until the rewarding activity was over.

      Hunger is not bad, in and of itself. What can be bad is how we choose to respond to hunger. I think we’re in agreement on that.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources