Want to be hungry? Eat carbs

Science by Dr. Ben Bikman

‘Tis the season! Not just for holidays, but for goals and wanting to improve ourselves with the New Year coming. And many of us will focus on weight control. I think that’s a laudable goal. Unfortunately, so often, one of the reasons we get it wrong is that our weight loss journey starts with hunger. We don’t intend for it to start with hunger, but it does, because we decide to adopt a low-calorie paradigm. I’m not saying calories don’t matter; they do, of course. Energy must be accounted for. Unfortunately, though, if your dietary paradigm or your strategy for weight loss is to eat less and exercise more, or to count your calories and try to cut them, hunger is likely going to win, at least if you’re not accounting for hormones.

Let’s look at a couple of studies. The first is a study published [1]in 2014 in the journal Appetite, entitled: “Return to hunger following a relatively high carbohydrate breakfast is associated with earlier recorded glucose peak and nadir.”. They found that they gave two groups of subjects two different meals that were isocaloric, so the same number of calories, but they  differed not in the protein, but rather the amount of fat to carbohydrate. The meal that had the higher carbohydrate in it, of course, had a much higher glucose and insulin peak. And, very importantly, they were hungrier much sooner in the morning than the other group, which got the same amount of calories but was lower in carbohydrates. To make this clear, I’ll state it again: They ate thesame amount of calories but were satisfied much longer. This explains why someone eats a breakfast, they eat a meal, they eat a lunch, they’re perfectly full, and yet two hours later, they’re getting snacky. That shouldn’t happen. We have plenty of energy stored. We shouldn’t need to eat every two hours. But the person is starting to feel hungry. In the diet, what they ate is what led to their defeat. 

The second paper [2] I want to highlight was published in 2020 entitled  “Effects of Dietary Carbohydrate Content on Circulating Metabolic Fuel Availability in the Postprandial State.” This one is important because it sheds some light on the other paper that I showed you. And once again, in this study, there are two diets that are isocaloric, no difference in calories. They measured the overall amount of caloric energy available in the blood following meals, and they found that the meal that had the biggest glucose load or the most starches, although same amount of calories, and had the biggest insulin effect, ended up reducing the overall amount of energy that was available in the blood. 

And that is very likely why the brain starts to promote a sense of hunger: because the brain isn’t like the muscle or the liver or the fat cells. All of those tissues are able to store a reserve of energy that they can use later. The muscle has, for example, a lot of glucose that it stores: glycogen. The muscle has fat that it stores, as well. Fat cells, of course, are loaded with energy. The liver is loaded with energy. So, if there was a deficit of energy in the blood, they can just start relying on their own. The brain doesn’t have that kind of capacity. It needs real-time energy coming to it all the time. And the brain also has a very high metabolic rate. And so, if it starts to sense that nutrients are getting down in the blood,, which is what that paper found, then the brain would start to stimulate hunger. It’s essentially calling out to the body, “Hey, I’m sensing that energy is getting low. If I get too low, then it’s lights out.” And so, the way to resolve that issue is to promote or prompt eating. In other words, hunger. Hunger is the brain’s signal to the body to eat.

In the end, as we’re looking at the weight loss journey or the weight control journey that we’re all on, or that we’re going to be on in the New Year, don’t start your weight loss journey with hunger. And even if it’s looking at calories, and there could be some value there, don’t focus on lower calorie. Consider what this is doing to your blood glucose levels and your insulin. And as I showed you in these studies, meals that are spiking your glucose more will increase your hunger more, and you’re going to want to eat again. And hunger always wins.



  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4204795/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32666008/