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!

Nine Signs You Need to Eat More Fat

How Ancestry Might Inform Your Fat Choices

The Definitive Guide to Healthy Oils

Pick up your bottle of Primal Kitchen Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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46 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Hunger Pangs a Thing of the Past?”

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  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…”

  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

  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!)

  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.

  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.


  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!

  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?

  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.

    1. 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!!

  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.

  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.

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.


  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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’[email protected] 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.

  23. 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!!!

  24. 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.


  25. 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…


  26. Have those of you who are experiencing digestive problems thought of trying digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements?

  27. 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.

  28. 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

  29. 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.

  30. 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?

    1. 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.

  31. I find this article interesting. While I am on my last day of Spring Break before the regular weekend,I decided to try to eat a Primal breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I already knocked out breakfast with a chocolate “milkshake” (I posted the recipe on the 10 reasons to become Primal article). I highly suggest that for breakfast, or a snack. My dad loved it too, drinking more of it than I did. It was indescribably delicious! 🙂

  32. Hey. Not a frequent visitor or commentor, but I found several of your articles while doing searches concerning diet and nutrition.

    I’m curious if its the FAT that is the primary curber of hunger here. I’ve been attempting medically supervised diets for some time… specifically the Medifast Diet.

    The MD works on a low-carb idea, but they are also very anti-fat. Even healthy fats are tightly regulated – olive oil, almonds, avocado. They are high in protein and high fiber/low GI foods/supplements and very low calorie. I struggled a lot with the diet, even while eating 1500 calories/day as a nursing mother. I wasn’t losing weight, because I was constantly fighting hunger and cravings.

    Being a nursing mother with a hungry baby who was having eating problems, I had to do some research on breast milk production and baby diet physiology. Essentially, my daughter was gassy, hungry quickly (in spite a heavy milk supply), and had improper stools. Apparently, at the beginning of a feeding session, breast milk is composed primarily of carbs. The end of the feeding (hind milk) is chock ful of FAT. The fat triggers a hormone that lets the baby know she’s full. My baby was lacking that part, filling up on carbs that were used quickly, leaving her hungry an 30 minutes later.

    In this, it highlighted fat as the primary trigger for satiation.

    I am now on the Atkin’s diet, where I have a lot more freedom in what I eat – including plenty of fat. After 3-4 days, my blood sugar evened out and I’m eating less than 1500 calories/day without any issues in cravings or hunger.

    I think the thing to get here is that fat really needs to be in the diet and that protein alone isn’t going to satiate the same way fat will.

  33. My eating routine is totally different. I eat a plant based diet with is a low protein, low fat, high carb diet. It is high in good carbs from fruits and vegetables (sugars, complex carbs, high fiber) I eat throughout the day day, small meals. I don’t get hungry but my body knows when it needs energy, so I eat good all day through. I maintain very very high energy levels for a 46 year old man.

  34. I’ve been eating high fat low carb paleo on/off this year. I get to two weeks and give in with something small which escalates the next day, so now I’m all or nothing. Anyway, I’m getting bloated from high up in my abdomen if I eat too much coconut oil or too much bacon fat. I’m also reeeeally lethargic and feel heavy – these are new conditions in the last two years. I’m eating twice a day, adding salt to everything, green teas in afternoon and lots of water. Multivitamin, potassium, vitamin d/b, cla, carnitine supps. 8 hours sleep. Coffee now and then. What am I doing wrong? Other than the yoyo which I’ve stopped. I’m eating minimal veg so considering a greens supp. Too much veg and I feel stuffed. I think I’m insulin resistant, face and belly puffs in days of eating bad stuff but settles within days of eating good :p

  35. Oh, have I found the place which supports my own discoveries: this site. YES! to all of it. Like that comment from Mark that his diet appears to be eating like a bird compared to that of others similar in cohort. That describes my amazement now…. I’m not automatically a greedy eaterof a vegetarian diet… but one who was in a way a victim of it and my own ignorance. What I thought was comfort food, while holding jobs with heavy responsibilities and also very physically active amounted only to in a way stuffing myself. Yes, so much happier with very small amounts of protein and lots of fat, basically following your suggestions on what to eat… and it turns out so satisfying. It’s so little food compared to what I thought had to have to be happy, thought I had to take in and ‘enjoy’ to enjoy eating. Not true! Enjoy my mini meals, principled, targeted, just so much more satisfying than volume. What a revelation and personal revolution has been going on and is being accomplished.

  36. Yes. I wasn’t a marathon runner but had and have a lot of physical exercise. After much modification after seeing effects in myself once I recognized the problem of decades of vegetarianism (without a lot of protein in favor of tastes I liked before I learned/knew better)…. which produces a weak older person. I discovered on mn, with drastic reduction in fiber as I grew more attuned to actual effects on my body… that adding protein and adding fats GIVES ME exactly the tastes I now seem to ‘crave.’ Amazing. For me: utter change and I can already see improvement. Caught just in time; weakening is progressive in older people. Now: I see by experience that I am not designed as a greedy eater (though always super slender)… but that once I put 2 and 2 together and add correctly, changing my life becomes clear cut. I appreciate this site as do many others who may be taking up keto not having experienced the effects of actually needing to because they aren’t old enough to realize what ‘need’ is in an older person? Anyway, bravo Mark.