Mealtimes…trained hunger

So Pavlovian (trained) hunger. As a La Leche Leader, I learned that mothers produce milk in quantities that match the baby feeding. So if a mother feeds frequently, she produces milk in that pattern, but a mother who pumps milk before work and stores it to feed her baby during the day soon has a morning production cycle and dry through the daytime.

I believe that hunger is the same – that we entrain a hunger signal to our mealtimes. This enables our organs to efficiently synchronise and change modes between digestion and say activity. I believe we can also change, or retrain, those mealtimes, but only after an uncomfortable time when we get hunger signals around our old mealtimes. For example, if you eat early in the morning, it tells your body a few things:

  • it entrains your circadian rhythm to daytime activity, synchronising your liver and pancreas circadian times with your other circadian times: brain, light, hormonal etc
  • you have food freely available so you are not in a famine, so your body is free to crank up that metabolic fire, burn that fuel for heat, or generally spend  its bounty freely.

So I believe the ‘breakfast eating’ advantage is correct, but not for the simple obvious reasons that are completely wrong. Simple solution people think skipping breakfast means you’re extra hungry and binge out from lunchtime onwards. I’ve never ‘felt like’ eating breakfast, so I believe this is a symptom, not a cause, of disturbed systems that underlie obesity. In entraining circadian rhythm, I went to bed early, but still did not ‘feel like’ breakfast.

So when I switched from many small meals and snacks (NOT recommended, and not the way to keep blood sugar stable) aka ‘hungry all day’, to my abstinent pattern (three definite meals at regular times, and no snacks), for the first week or so I felt huge hunger at odd times of day. After a few weeks, my hunger settled into my new regular pattern; now I can almost set a clock by my hunger pangs. This was a short term pain for long term very great gain in peace of mind. It also reset me to being a ‘breakfast eater’, and I feel hungry shortly after getting up. I go outside and eat breakfast under natural light, to add to the circadian entrainment.

If for some reason my meal is delayed, I have learned to wait out those ‘trained’ hunger pains without panicking (refer the earlier quote “no-one starves to death waiting an extra hour for lunch). The Pavlovian hunger signal subsides quite quickly (a few minutes), and what is left is real hunger, which is oddly not strong, ignorable but persistent. The distinction is that ignoring real hunger feels do-able but mildly wretched, cruel to the body, not natural. It is not what a hungry normal healthy animal would do if food was available.

So that is the real hunger underneath the other ones. A small voice, not overpowering, but deeply felt in the mental health area. At that point, eating feels sane.


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