“Hunger is a Necessary Nutrient” (Ancestral Health Symposium 2013)

Nassim Taleb said this or something close to it on the first day of the Ancestral Health Symposium in Atlanta, which was yesterday. Danielle Fong told me something similar last week: We should use all of our metabolic pathways. Of course it is hard to know what metabolic pathways you are using. In contrast, Taleb’s point — not original with him, but a new way (at least to me) of summarizing research — is easily applied.

What I know overwhelmingly supports Taleb’s point. 1. When I did the Shangri-La Diet the first time, I was stunned how little hunger I felt. This wasn’t bad — presumably my set point had been too high, lack of hunger reflected the dropping set point, it was good to know how to lower the set point — but it was dreary, not feeling hunger. It was as if life had gone from color to black and white. Something was missing. 2. Data supporting the health benefits of intermittent fasting, which produces more hunger than the control condition. 3. The experience of my friend who had great benefits from alternate-day fasting. He told me he had never felt hunger before, at least of that magnitude. A great increase in hunger, in other words, happened at exactly the same time as a great improvement in health.

Obviously Taleb is talking about hunger caused by lack of food, rather than hunger caused by learned association (if you eat at noon every day you will become hungry at noon, if you eat every time you enter Store X, you will be come hungry when you enter Store X, the existence of this effect is why they are called appetizers). The Shangri-La Diet reduces your set point but only if your set point controls when/how much you eat is this going to make a difference. So to lose weight you need to do two things: 1. Lower your set point. 2. Lower your weight to your set point. While SLD certainly does #1, it does not do #2. You can make sure your weight is near your set point if you feel strong hunger if you don’t eat for a while.

Taleb’s comment suggests focussing on the outcome of fasting, rather than on its duration or frequency. Instead of fasting every other day (or whatever), fast until you feel strong hunger. How often you need to do this, how strong the hunger should be, are questions to answer via trial and error.



9 Replies to ““Hunger is a Necessary Nutrient” (Ancestral Health Symposium 2013)”

  1. “Hunger is a necessary nutrient.”

    “…fast until you feel strong hunger.”

    Life is simple…so many try to make it complicated. Complication is profitable to those who create the complication. KISS (keep it simple stupid) was quite popular for a while…no profit there…so it has been discarded.

    Thanks Seth…


  2. I get the point of this post, but at least for me at this time, things are a little different.

    Under SLD I have no problem feeling no hunger at all. As a matter of fact, it’s liberating. I spent to too many years being slave to never ending hunger, that SLD is breathing room.

    I stopped having oil about 2 months ago, but appetite suppression is still very strong.

    I’m in control of what I eat and much more mindful of the times I HAVE to eat to keep going. This allows me room to focus on other things in life.

    I have been experimenting with intermittent fasting these past weeks and it’s really nice not to be hungry like hell while doing it.

  3. Seth, could you explain how a changing set point works when dieting? I am also doing the alternate day diet and have experienced some fasting days with little or no hunger and then some fasting days with extreme hunger. I have also found that weight loss is not linear, rather, at least lately, it comes in sudden several pound drops along with multiple days of no weight loss at all, or rarely mild gains, despite following the same daily alternating fast/eat pattern. I assumed it was water weight, weight of food eaten the previous day etc, but I don’t think that can fully explain it. What causes set point to lower and how long does that process take? Thanks.

    Seth: Your set point will go down when you reduce the strength of smell-calorie associations in what you eat — that is my short and possibly incomprehensible explanation. For a longer explanation, please see The Shangri-La Diet. Your setpoint is always changing, at least according to my theory, sometimes going up, sometimes going down. When the downs outweigh the ups, the overall trend is down. I don’t worry about the day to day stuff, I cannot explain it. It is the week by week trends that matter.

  4. Ironically, NNT also said that you can provide confirmatory quotes from authorities supporting both sides of any position, which makes the proposition of quoting him as an authority on something quite “meta”.

    That doesn’t mean that his quote is wrong, only that just because he said it doesn’t make it true. Fortunately, you provide some data points from which to draw some inferences, rather than just relying on his quote.

    The joys of NNT! He makes thinking about most things more interesting.

    Seth: There’s a lot of data supporting what he said, he is far from the first person to say it. He just said it the best.

  5. So many Americans today don’t know what hunger actually is. The processed food supply is designed to raise the set point and create hunger rather than to satiate. It’s like we’re all drinking salt water to quench our thirst.

    From my experience fasting when you are above your set point feels good. Your body is trying to get your weight down to the set point weight. When I break a fast with the lower set point I become extremely satisfied from a healthy meal that might be only 300-400 calories. That’s after going most of the day on very little calories. It’s like your body forgets what food is.

  6. I’ve found a hard weightlifting workout in the evening will make me ravenously hungry the next morning. Since I only lift every other day, I tend to eat breakfast every other day as well.

  7. NNT talks about the importance of variability within a certain range (ala his comment about being exposed to differing temperatures). he left out a key point which is corollary to this: knowing what your range of variability is, is not always obvious, and you can hurt yourself seriously by going over your range. for example, I believe that NNT suffered significant injuries from over-exercising. on the de vany site, there was discussion over my head about ‘signal to noise’ ratio and how going over a certain range created to much ‘noise’. also, de vany himself has exercised over his range as now at around 75 he had to get a knee and hip replacement.

    I have had problems finding a proper range of carbs. I did not know I was glucose intolerant until recently, as my weight, A1c, and fasting glucose were all within normal levels. it was only when my husband bought a glucose meter and I started testing my post prandial blood sugar for fun that I realized my blood sugar rises to diabetic levels eating a bagel or a bowl or oatmeal or lots of blueberries. testing using 23andme revealed my beta cells do not produce enough insulin early on (phase 1 response). I may already have some damage as I have intermittent tingling on the soles of my feet, gum recession, etc, all of which are associated (not exclusively) with high blood sugar. both my parents have diabetes. at this point I control by blood sugar by eating a stricter form of paleo which involves no fruit (except when temptation overcomes me), and I stop eating at least 5 hours before bed whereas I used to snack a lot before bed time.

    so range of variability is an important topic that I hope we can address in more detail.

  8. I forgot to mention that I have been paleo since 2009, but was eating an looser version (basically fruit whenever I wanted). after 3 months of paleo, I had lost 15% of my body weight, which I have maintained until now. however, after the first year, my A1c went from 5.9 to 5.6. I expected a bigger drop having cut out milk, grains, legumes, and all junk food. I have recently become stricter with my carb intake, and my A1c is 5.3, although my weight is basically the same. so weigh loss does not track directly with improvements in blood sugar levels. I wonder how many others eating paleo may have undiscovered glucose intolerance. my heuristic is if someone in your family has diabetes, buy a cheap meter from Wal-Mart and start testing you 1 and 2 hour post prandial blood sugar levels. at I hour, blood sugar must be below 140 at a bare minimum. I believe the national group of American endocrinologists (I forget the official name) says post prandial blood sugar should be below 140 at all times, as being at 140 and above for extended periods leads to organ damage. i think fasting blood sugar needs to be under 100 at a bare minimum.

Comments are closed.