The three hungers

February 25, 2012

Food, Nutrition and Diet

Appropriate hunger emanates from accurate signals — not a clock — that tell us when and what to eat.

by Dr. Murray Susser — 

How do you know when you are hungry and, for that matter, what hunger really is? There are at least three major pathways of hunger:

Pavlovian hunger is when, like Pavlov’s dog, we become conditioned to a reflex. Pavlov conditioned his lab dogs by simultaneously ringing a bell and spraying food into their mouths. The dogs became conditioned to salivate at just the sound of the bell, even when there was no food present. So every time we eat poorly from the fridge or pantry to satiate our hunger, we may be conditioning ourselves to inappropriate hunger.

Modern malnutrition conditions us to overeat to satisfy our poor nutrition and Pavlovian tendencies. Virtually all good nutritional therapists (not dieticians) agree that our agribusiness and supermarket food supply begets empty calories, making us bloated and fat from the processed, nutrient-depleted food. We then develop a high-tech, surreptitious malnutrition.

Appropriate hunger emanates from accurate signals — not a clock — that tell us when and what to eat. When our food energy is low, our blood sugar drops and we feel discomfort, ranging from hunger pangs and headaches to sleepiness, nervousness, grumpiness, etc.

People who think that hunger pangs are the only sign of hunger do not recognize the importance of the many other signs. We are hungry when a biochemical shift such as low blood sugar triggers a set of reactions that make us uncomfortable. Our blood sugar needs a full supply of nutrients to maintain equilibrium and keep us comfortable and well.

Wild animals — and primitive humans — do not overeat except when getting ready to hibernate, migrate or perform some other instinctive deprivation. Only domesticated animals and humans overeat.

We know from our natural instinct, beginning at birth, and our aberrational Pavlovian conditioning stemming from our frenzied malnutrition, that it can be tricky to appropriately identify hunger. It is vital, however, that we learn to recognize and respond appropriately to the several kinds of hunger. Without proper nutrients, we may suffer obesity, fatigue, pain and many other disorders.


Murray Susser, M.D.(H), specializes in persistent chronic diseases, bio-identical hormones and the role of diet in health management in Scottsdale, Ariz. 480-240-2600.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 6, Dec 2010/Jan 2011.

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