Study: The Hungrier You Are, the More Certain Foods Appeal to You

By , SparkPeople Blogger
One thing I don’t have patience for is being hungry.   I’ve never been one of those people who can go all day without remembering to eat.  My body is like an alarm clock, and when the buzzer goes off that it’s time to eat, it just keeps getting louder until I do something about it.  When I get really hungry, the first thing I grab for is usually a granola bar or something else that’s high in carbohydrates.  I always figured that’s because it’s quick and easy, but new research shows that my growling stomach could be causing me to gravitate toward these types of foods.
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, put 128 college students into one of two groups:  those who fasted for 18 hours before lunch, and those who did not (the control group.)  Then both groups were presented with a lunch buffet containing 2 starches, 2 vegetables, 2 proteins and a drink.  The study was conducted over a 12-day period, and the order of the foods on the table was randomly rotated. 
“Those in the group that had fasted, it turned out, were more likely to begin their meals with starches, eating the bread or French fries before anything else about a third of the time, compared with just over 10 percent of the time with the control group. Those who fasted were also less likely to eat vegetables first. Only a quarter of them did so, compared with about half of the people in the control group.”  Researchers also found that participants ate almost 50% more calories of whatever food they started their meal with, compared with the other foods that were offered.  What you choose to eat first is strongly correlated with how much you end up consuming.     
So what does this mean for you?  A few small changes in your eating routine could add up to big results when you step on the scale:
  • Try not to go too long in between meals.  If you’re starving, you’re more likely to make worse food choices and/or overeat.  As the study concludes, you’re more likely to choose the higher carbohydrate foods versus low-calorie fruits and vegetables. 
  • Start your meal with a big glass of water and perhaps, a salad.  Those foods will fill you up a little bit; making it less likely that you’ll overindulge on the higher-calorie main course (and dessert.)
  • Have healthy snacks on hand for the times when you are hungry and need to grab something quick.  I’d be less likely to grab a granola bar if I had some fruits and vegetables already chopped up and waiting for me.
For more tips, check out how to Overcome Overeating and  85 Strategies for Dining Out.
What do you think?  When you’re hungry, do you tend to gravitate toward higher carbohydrate foods? 

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


This is so true. Report
I absolutely believe this. Report
"If you’re starving, you’re more likely to make worse food choices and/or overeat."

I was "starving" (aka: super hungry) last night and binged like crazy on fries. This article speaks volumes of truth to me. Report
Comments about carbs and insulin are true. I am hypo-glycemic. My husband says I'm am crazy because I am less hungry later if I skip half the bun on my sandwich. At one point I had fresh fruit on the kitchen counter ready to eat. That was great until I wanted more variety. Berries don't do well when left out for a couple of days. I rarely look in the refrigerator for 'quick' snacks. That has to stop. Report
I love this article........I have lost 50 lbs cutting out high sugar foods & complex carbs. I know it is best that I stay away from them, but it is like something takes over when I eat them. For me it has to be all or nothing. There are so many alternatives, yougurt, string cheese, berries. There is something to be said about eating 5 small meals. What helped me is always eat a protien with a simple carb (ie apple& cheese stick, salad & tuna, egg with veggies) to stay full & not spike my insulin. This is the good fight KEEP IT UP!!! Report
I could eat any and everything, when I'm hungry, but I stop and make something healthy, most of the time. I'm not a big sugar freak, but could eat chips, etc. I don't keep them in the house. Report
ROFL. I had to read this twice, because the first time I read it was from the Archives of Infernal Medicine!
Interesting article, and I'm thrilled to hear I'm not the only one with a stomach alarm! :) Report
I skipped breakfast today and ate 6 doughnuts later..... Funny I should run up on this blog. Thanks for posting. Report
Yes, I certainly reach for carbohydrates when very hungry. Good blog! Report
I am one of those people who forget to eat so, when I get to the "must eat NOW" point I usually go for what ever I can grab and shovel in fast - pretzels, tortilla chips, chunks of cheese, left over whole wheat pasta... All things that in moderation are fine, but in the panicked eating frenzy - I certainly gravitate towards the starchy carbs! Report
Hehe, one of my favorite grab and munch snacks when I get home from the gym hungry and am making my fruit protein smoothie? Half a cucumber. It is super fast, super easy, tasty, and appeases the hunger while I go through regular food prep. Similarly, if I'm in a snacking hunger mood while making a meal, I'll typically munch on the veggies - carrots or celery or green pepper - while I chop and prepare. Report
I crave carbs big time if I starve myself. And yes, I do go for carbs first if I am very hungry. Now I know why! This is what I love about SparkPeople they tell me why I do the things I do! Report
When I feel hungry I eat something, because I know that if hunger continues I will make poor foods choices. In addition I will not remember the 20-minutes time frame that it takes for the stomach to notify brain that I am full, and I will keep eating and end up overeating.

Therefore in my weight loss effort there is no room for hunger. I use healthy eating plan that allowed me to lose weight without feeling hungry at all. I lost 91 pounds.
If I get too hungry, I not only go for the carbohydrates, I also eat much faster and can easily eat until I'm over-full. Much better for me to snack regularly than to get frantically hungry. Best snacks for me are fruit or veggies and protein, like cheese or nuts, in moderation, of course. Report
I need to start carrying granola bars with me. Report
That does make sense! I always want a cookie or Nutella out of the jar when I've gone too long between meals. Report
This makse SO much sense!! In fact, I am going top get up right now and take a break from work with a yogurt instead of staying on the computer through what should be a break! If I don't, I'll get up when I am feeling hungry and eat something carby as described above! Report
Carbs are the quickest source of energy - makes sense! Report
How InSightFul. Great Blog.
I tend to crave carbs when hungry. Usually eat a slice of whole wheat bread, 1 tbsp of Peanut butter and a banana. Report
Sugar/starches spike INSULIN, which then has the stomach pump out GHERLIN the "hunger hormone", so I tend to eat low carb. Gary Taubes' book "WHY WE GET FAT AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT" is well worth reading. Report
hmmm interesting...something to think about. Report
I crave protein. So I go for that first. Then, my veggies and fruit. I try to keep fruit and veggie snacks around. Report
The only fruit I can eat when I am hungry is a banana. When I get too hungry, I must have protien and fat. Also when I get too hungry, I don't want a salad. Report
Positively! It seemed so much easier to grab that granola bar or bag of chips (my lifelong downfall) I too, have started putting some fruit on the counter early in the day, making it so much handier to grab it then the high carb foods!
I always would reach for carbs when I got really hungry. Now, when I'm home, I try to leave a bowl of fresh blueberries, or cut up watermelon, easily accessible so I will reach for that first. At work, I keep protein bars on hand. Report
I graze when I get too hungry which leads to less nutritious choices. I try to eat every few hours so I don inhale too many calories. A piece of fruit, a cup of yogurt will calm the beast better than chips, cookies or even granola. Report
I try to eat smaller meals and snacks during the day, but first thing in the morning, after fasting/sleeping for 8 hours, I usually 'want' some carbs. Now, I know why! Thanks for this information. Report
I do believe that when you go a long time in between meals, your body is going to crave whatever it has in front of it. So instead of having foods around that contain lots of sugar or are high in carbohydrates, I carry around apples instead. I eat one every afternoon at work. Also, I find if you fill up on foods that are high in protein, you will stay full longer. Report
I do tend to eat the carbs on my plate first - I've always noticed I start there. I figured it was just because they are often the "most flavourful". Maybe I'm waiting a bit too long...and with the correlation to total calories I'm going to start correcting that habit. Report
So true! I DO tend to go for something with more carbs when I first get hungry. I am trying to break away from that and opt for more vegetables when that happens. My new favorite is snap peas. They tend to fill me up and the sweetness hits the spot. Report
Great blog, thanks! Report
I also gravitate towards carbohydrate foods when I am extremely hungry. Since I know this, I try to never let myself get to that point. When I'm at work and a meeting or some task is going to make me go past the normal time I eat, I have several healthy options at my desk for that occasion. Report
I have the same issue. Starches and sugars are what I crave.

If I eat them I want more. But if I eat some protein, it usually makes the feeling stop.

Fruit is just fibery sugar, so that doesn't do it for me.

:-) Report
For sure I like the idea of having a fruit ready to eat when that hunger starts. Report
"When you’re hungry, do you tend to gravitate toward higher carbohydrate foods?"

Absolutely. It's also why I started leaving my favourite fruit on the counter earlier in the day, so that when I feel a bit of hunger, and I want sugar (and I always seem to want sugar), I can grab the fruit instead of the refined sugar I'll eat in a granola bar or any other starchy treat. Report