Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
23 Mar

Dear Mark: Hunger Pangs a Thing of the Past?

Dear Mark,

Since eating more fat and protein (while cutting down on the carbs), I seem to get fuller faster. Sometimes I won’t even finish my plate, which basically never happened before! I’m guessing it has something to do with eating more primal foods, and it makes sense from an anthropological standpoint (getting full on less food is advantageous in a survival sense)… but are there any science or lab studies that have actually examined this phenomenon?


Does a diet rich in fat and protein actually sate hunger more effectively? Funny you should ask, Paul. Your experience is more common than you might think.

In addition to receiving numerous reader comments just like yours that corroborate the fat-protein-satiety idea, I also have my own personal experience. As some of you may know, I used to be a professional long-distance (marathon-long) runner. I was “fit,” but I was fueling my activities with massive amounts of carbohydrates. To put it into perspective, a typical evening snack was a half gallon of ice cream. How typical? Every night. Despite the amount of food I was taking in, I was always hungry… even when I wasn’t training. Eventually, the joint pain, respiratory infections, and general unhappiness with the toll my lifestyle was taking on my body prompted me to shed the carbs and rethink my entire food/fitness/life philosophy. The path was long and winding, but I eventually began upping my fat and protein until I arrived at the Primal Blueprint. The first thing I noticed upon dropping carbs and upping fats/protein was the immediate change in appetite. Simply put, I didn’t have much of one anymore.

Now, I look around at what other people my age and size are eating, and I feel like I eat like a bird. Sure, there are times where I eat a massive meal, like after a workout-fast session or a grueling day, but most of the time I’m just not that hungry. Comments like yours, my own experiences, and a recent study all support the notion that the fat and protein content of the Primal Blueprint diet is the driving satiating force.

We already knew how protein worked to satisfy the appetite. Proteins are digested much more slowly than carbohydrates; theirs is a steady breakdown into absorbable nutrients, whereas the ingested carbohydrate causes an immediate and potent spike in blood sugar that leaves you wanting more. You’re not going to binge on steaks and lamb chops like you would with potato chips.

As for fat, Dr. Reza Norouzy, from King’s College of London, provides an explanation. He knew that low GI diets are “known to cause reduced appetite,” but the mechanisms as to how had (heretofore) never been established. His team gave either a high GI diet or a low GI diet to twelve healthy volunteers and examined two markers in each participant: insulin and GLP-1, a gut hormone known to increase “fullness and suppression of appetite.”

Those who ate a lower GI meal had 20% higher levels of GLP-1 and 38% lower levels of insulin, suggesting an actual physiological mechanism behind the idea that fat and protein increase satiety. Though the specifics of the diet weren’t available, we can surmise that a lower GI means relatively fewer carbohydrates and more fat and protein.

You’ve probably gathered that calories are definitely not king around here; that we tend to focus more on the source of calories, rather than the quantity. Still, some people do worry about calorie counts. For that crowd, take heart: eating more fat and protein while avoiding carbs with a high GI increases appetite-curbing GLP-1. The more GLP-1 you have coursing through your veins, the less you are likely to eat.

Sounds easy enough to me.

Further Reading:

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm… Fat.

Dear Mark: Sugar Cravings

Pass the Protein, Please!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m just starting to focus on how protein affects diet & weight loss, so this is right on time. I’m Queen of Carbs (my childhood nickname was Bread). And yes, I’m always hungry.

    “I will eat more protein…I will eat more protein…”

    Yum Yucky wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  2. I have totally experienced this too. As my body has gotten more atuned to primal eating, I can now also notice a direct correlation between carbs and hunger. If I eat a little more fruit than usual, I notice that I am also a little more hungry than usual. Pretty cool stuff.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  3. I can’t say I’m as in tune with my body as SoG is 😉 , but i can say that i have definitely gotten less hungry as i continue further and further with the primal blueprint. (but since the foods are so good, its totally satisfying!)

    Holly wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  4. Our experience is very similar to SoG’s. My wife and I have noticed a significant difference in satiety after eating a higher than normal carb content meal.

    Simply put, we’re quite hungry within a couple of hours after eating a carb-laden meal.

    Bill wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  5. Another great anecdotal way to test this is through fasting. Start a fast after a meal relatively high in carbohydrates, and then your next fast after a day of relatively few carbohydrates. Most times you’ll find that you are way more hungry during the fasts following a high-carb day. This leads me to think that the metabolic environment, as it relates to hunger, that is set up by carbs is much longer lived than the postprandial period. I tend to think the ease of fasts after a low carb day somehow has more to do with the absence of carbs than the presence of protein/fat.


    Adam Steer - Better Is Better wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  6. My experience pretty much echo’s SoG’s as well. Im loving how this lifestyle makes me feel – no longer caught up in the vicious cycle that consuming way too many carbs would put me through. I would never feel fully full, had constant energy crashes, and basically was a mess!
    Now I’m so much more content with so many aspects of my life…all through modifying my diet (cutting out wheat and sugar). Its amazing!

    RT wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  7. What is described here is not necessarily a good thing. I’m already skinny and looking to gain some (muscle) weight. Since going primal my appetite has decreased to the point where I almost have to force feed myself. I’ve lost 10 pounds and am not happy about it.

    Any people with similar experiences out there?

    DC wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  8. What if this *doesn’t* happen to you, though? High fat, low carb, and still feel hungry dang near all the time…it’s annoying.

    Sarah wrote on March 23rd, 2009
    • Make sure you are also eating around 40g of protein at each meal (you can fiddle with the amount, but this works well), and try to keep your saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat ratio around 1:2:1 while eating between 67-130g of fat daily. Keep your high fiber, whole plant food net carbs between 70-120g (50 is too low – ketosis cannot make up enough glucose for your brain when ingested carbs are too low). Make sure you eat protein, fat, and carbs at each meal. This works great!!

      Havolas wrote on February 27th, 2016
  9. I definitely have to agree with SoG and everyone else. I have recently been tinkering with the number of carbs I eat in a day and the lower the number has gone the more and more satisfied I am with my meals. Although I have noticed that after say a 2 hour soccer practice or game my hunger seems to linger regardless of my nutrition.

    C wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  10. @DC: Actually, yes!

    During my first month or so of eating more primal I actually lost 6-8 pounds, too and I’m also quite skinny. I was pretty shocked when I found that out, because I don’t step on the scale that often and then I stepped on it after a few weeks and suddenly I was weighing much less.
    Fortunately I think I haven’t lost that much muscle mass even though I dodn’t have much body fat to begin with. But right now things are starting to balance out (at least I hope, about tme to find out whethe I lost even more weight or not) and I’m actually a little more hungry again.

    As you can guess, I’m still experimenting around a bit, but my two main tips at the moment are these:
    1. Make sure you eat enough protein. I think I was a little low on protein, when I began changing my eating habits. Especially if you consider that, as far as I’m concerned, you even need a little more protein when living a primal lifestyle since a lot of functions that formerly worked with carbs now use protein for that.
    2. Make sure to eat a little more on days you’re doing exercises that take about an hour or longer. Like running or whatever.

    madMUHHH wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  11. I’m new to the Primal Blueprint and have been transitioning my diet and lifestyle for the past three months. I have, so far, dropped 26 pounds of fat and gained 7 pounds of lean mass. I feel better and have more energy.

    I discovered Mark’s Daily Apple after my wife referred it to me. She has always been very conscious of nutrition and exercise and now she has me hooked too. We’re both following the BP (as closely as we can).

    I too have noted that my appetite has changed. I no longer crave food in the late evening, after dinner – which was normally the case previously. I feel satisfied, even though I seem to be eating substantially less than during my old life habits.

    The primary benefits that I have noticed from going Primal are:

    1) Much much better sleep. Fall asleep rapidly and stay asleep.
    2) Appetite different – no longer suffer hunger pangs.
    3) Dramatically improved energy levels.
    4) I’ve had to buy new pants – as my old ones were falling off.

    The logic of Primal “just makes sense” to me, so it’s really easy to follow (after getting through the carb withdrawl thing in the first month.)

    As an aside – we’re eagerly looking forward to Mark’s PB Book!

    ReachWest wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  12. DC, madMUHHH – check these out:

    ReachWest and everyone else – Congratulations on your success. I’m so happy to hear your stories.

    The book is on the way! I’m doing my best to wrap it up. We are in the final stages. It looks like we may offer it on a pre-order basis pretty soon and begin shipping a few weeks after that. Hold tight! I promise it will be worth it.

    Mark Sisson wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  13. madMUHHH:

    Thanks. I’m eating about 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and have cut the cardio to very little, focusing instead on long walks, short sprints, and weight lifting.

    DC wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  14. @DC: Hmmm. If it’s really a big deal, you could always try to drink more smoothies, milk or whatever drinks are relatively high in calories, but still primal. That way you could get some extra calories without even really noticing it.

    Oh and Mark, thanks for the links! I set up my twitter account now, maybe you could do a little post or something, to really get the network started.

    madMUHHH wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  15. madMUHHH – Good thinking. If I can get to it I’ll publish it next week.

    Thanks for joining!

    Mark Sisson wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  16. DC – So you’ve lost muscle mass?

    Mark Sisson wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  17. I am tall and lanky as well and lose to much muscle without some daily sweet potatoes or even rice!I can only eat so much protein and/or fat before indigestion sets in.
    YEah I like rice but I am naughty like that and have single digit bodyfat.

    Chris wrote on March 23rd, 2009
  18. Mark:

    I think I’ve lost muscle mass, but it’s hard to say for sure. I have very little body fat, so there isn’t much else for me to lose. Like Chris, I just can’t stomach all the fat and protein without feeling bloated and full. I don’t want to force feed myself, but I don’t want to get any skinnier either.

    DC wrote on March 24th, 2009
  19. My partner and I are going on a diet to shed too much weight but one thing concerns me about the increase in fat. My partner had his gal bladder removed so he can’t tolerate too much fat. How can he get the benefits of this diet with that condition? Also what about the issue of cholesterol(sp?)? Thanks for your help.


    Tim wrote on March 24th, 2009
  20. Tim – Read this for more info on cholesterol:

    I’m going to have to refer your partner to his doctor for info relating to his particular condition.

    DC – Interesting… people usually experience a bloated feeling with grain or carb consumption, not fat and protein. Are you consuming dairy? What are your activity levels like?

    Mark Sisson wrote on March 24th, 2009
  21. It’s so true, eating Primal DOES keep you on the full side, eating grains just seems to keep you hungry. For breakfast i really enjoy a cooked egg topped with nut butter, i stay full for hours. Long time ago when i used to eat some kind of grain for breakfast it didn’t hold me up well.

    Donna wrote on March 24th, 2009
  22. Tim,
    Not a doctor here either… but have a RL reference… a good friend of mine (Roger de Rok) had his gall bladder removed and primal is going awesome for him. has lost over 50#s so far without any gall bladder related dificulty.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on March 24th, 2009
  23. Mark:

    Last summer while training for the ironman I could eat 1000 calories of sugar (e.g., a whole box of organic toaster pastries) and then go out and run – no GI distress at all. A similar amount (or less) of calories from fat and protein gives me indigestion and a big bloated stomach. My activity levels are intentionally way down from IM levels, but I still get out for an hour or so most days (weights, long walks, some moderate- or high-intensity biking or running). I don’t do any dairy except for some occasional plain yogurt.

    DC wrote on March 24th, 2009
  24. Yep…my experience is about the same as DC
    I don’t do dairy and have tweaked every angle of Paleo/Primal style eating for nearly 2 years with same results.It doesn’t matter if its high fruit/lean protein,low carb high fat or any variation in between. I do OK for a month or two and then lose to much muscle,6’3@160lbs isn’t good for me.Then when I try to compensate with more protein and/or fat,fruit or veg I get bloated and constipated.
    I ad back carbs and GI distress is gone and muscle comes back. Some people can just handle carbs better than most.I am 34 yrs old by the way and still as lean as ever despite claims from my family that I would “fill out” in my 30s.

    Chris wrote on March 24th, 2009
  25. Speaking of feeling hungry, I ran into a conversation with a co-worker today that all I could do was nod my head quietly though I was gritting my teeth. I really wanted to point out the fallacies in her thinking, but I just couldn’t do it. From past experience I know she just wouldn’t listen.

    She was super happy about a Special K snack bar that she had found. She made a statement along the lines of, “I’m so glad I found these bars, because I’m eating healthy AND it tastes like candy!”

    No wonder. I took a look at the ingredients and it might as well been classified as candy (and this was the plain bar, not the ones covered with chocolate). All I can think is that she looked at the total calories and the low-fat sticker and decided that’s all that was necessary for it to be healthy. Did I ever really think like that?!? I honestly don’t know. My generation has been brainwashed.

    (For interests sake, the ingredients were cereal (of which the 2nd ingredient was sugar), then 3 other kinds of sugar, then vegetable oil and hydrogenated oil, then a list of artificial items I don’t care to list here!)

    So depressing! Real food! Real food!!!

    Arlo wrote on March 24th, 2009
  26. Paul,

    The primary explanation for reduced hunger with less carb goes to the heart of society’s current weight problems. Carbs, basically sugar, has been proportional to fat and protein in every meal in nature (animals and plants) for millions of years and is part of our DNA. Sugar and starches (grains, potatoes) have been relatively recent introductions in the millions of years of humans have been around. The rise of sugar in your blood after a meal (glycemic index) signals how much you ate. So when you eat a 1,000 calorie meal with carbs/sugars way out of proportion to what nature intended, the body thinks you ate a 10,000 calorie meal by the massive rise in the sugar level, and the body responds by trying to absorb every calorie you ate, store any excess as fat and by pouring in insulin to digest a much bigger meal than you ate. Result is that you are very soon super hungry again and your body is thoroughly confused. And you eat and you gain weight. So if you want to get really hungry you should eat some fries, a loaf of white bread, 3-4 donuts or perhaps some mashed potatoes. Scary stuff. The diet that has carbs, fat and proteins in proportion to how nature created humans makes sense, in other words a diet low in carbs/sugars.


    Jan wrote on March 25th, 2009
  27. Hi

    Tim: I’ve had my gallbladder out and I can eat plenty of fats (nb. coconut oil is especially good for those without gallbladders). Tell your partner to build up the fats slowly. If still having problems, swedish bitters and/or ox bile supplements can be taken to help digest the fats. Without plenty of fats, your partner is in danger of nutritional deficiencies as many vitamins are fat soluble.

    Mark (& others): how many times a day should a primal person eat? I used to eat 6 smaller meals a day, but have since read that that line of thought came from the bodybuilding industry and that it actually makes metabolism, insulin resistance and blood sugar problems worse (and not more stable as previously thought). Seems that 3 meals a day with no snacks is the way to go? Keen to hear what others do…


    Jason wrote on March 27th, 2009
  28. Have those of you who are experiencing digestive problems thought of trying digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements?

    Sherri wrote on March 30th, 2009
  29. David Mendosa has a good take on the Satiety Index

    also the Glycemic Index

    Works for me too (skinny Type 2 with reactive hypoglycemia) without the carbs I don’t get the carb cravings, just “normal” hunger. It seems to have improved over time also, I used to need to manually adjust my BG with carb/fat snacks while doing stuff but I’m finding much less need to do that and fewer liver dump highs and near hypos on a primal-type balance of protein fats and low carb veggies, my BG has become so even that I seldom bother to test it nowadays.

    Doesn’t always work though. Some days I can put away more carbs than I expected. The other day I definitely didn’t get away with a pub lunch despite some tramping up and downhill. Yet another day my liver went off on one for no apparent reason, my fasting BG was up (which seldom happens) and after my usual high protein moderate fat low carb breakfast I had a nasty BG spike but after that was over I stayed below 110 the rest of the day.

    Most of the time though, keeping the carbs down and the insulin on a tight leash works wonders on both energy levels and hunger.

    Trinkwasser wrote on March 31st, 2009
  30. Reduced carbs but upped fat and protein and can honestly say after 4 days I’m starving.

    Today I’ve regulated carbs to 120g and I’m so hungry

    I don’t feel foggy or ill just hungry

    Liam McKarry wrote on June 30th, 2010
  31. I just recently have begun the transition to Primal. I’ve gone quite low-carb but I haven’t added the other Primal elements as much as I’d like.

    Nonetheless, I already feel better than ever. My appetite is WAY down and I don’t feel as though I’m a slave to food anymore. I’m snacking less and eating less at meals as well.

    Graeme wrote on October 26th, 2011
  32. My experience has been different to this. Since going almost completely paleo about 3.5 weeks ago, my appetite is uncontrollable! I want to eat EVERYTHING all the time.

    I’m eating a lot of fat, protein, and veges. No sugar (except a couple of squares of 85% dark chocolate), and no grains.

    I am hoping this stage will pass soon, because it is getting ridiculous! I’m going to try fasting this week and see if that helps.

    Has anyone else experienced an _increase_ in appetite since going primal?

    june wrote on February 21st, 2012
    • Yes…..I have and I put it down to the fact that the bacterial overgrowth has realised I am starving it so it is not that I am hungry, it is, and I fall off the wagon and have to start all over again… a reformed drinker….just one WILL hurt….fasting seems to help……pump in the pro and pre-biotics while you fast….good luck.

      Jo-Anne wrote on April 15th, 2012

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