BY Markham Heid
“Hunger is not as simple as needing food to meet physical needs,” says Aner Tal, a research associate at Cornell University’s Food & Brand Lab. “There are many different psychological and biological and environmental factors that affect hunger.”
Not least of which are your eating habits, Tal says. “If you’re used to eating lunch every day at 2 o’clock, you’ll feel the need to eat at 2 o’clock even if you don’t have a biological requirement for food at that time,” he says. Eat all the time, and your body will slowly learn to expect food—and crave it—all day every day.
But what causes you to eat all the time in the first place? Your food choices play a big part in that, says Dr. Belinda Lennerz, an endocrinologist and researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
“The fundamental role of hunger is to drive us to seek and consume food in order to keep the amount of available energy in our blood stable,” says Lennerz, who has conducted researchinto the dietary drivers of hunger and cravings. “This occurs more effectively when we consume a meal higher in fat, protein and fiber, which are digested slowly.”
While these foods help our bodies achieve and maintain a satisfyingly balanced state for hours between meals, others foods trigger metabolic shifts that send us back to the kitchen or snack room much sooner after we’ve eaten, Lennerz says. You can probably guess what foods she’s talking about: highly processed carbs.
Dr. David Ludwig—Lennerz’s colleague and co-researcher at Harvard and Boston Children’s and author of the recent book Always Hungry?—calls out many of the most popular processed carbs by name: white bread, white rice, potato products, sugar-sweetened beverages, prepared breakfast cereals, cookies and chips. “These foods confuse your body’s natural hunger-control systems, which usually work really well when you’re eating slowly digesting foods,” he says.