psychology of hunger

Learning How To Be Full

psychology of hunger

Is Hunger A Mental Habit?

I wrote before about how you perceive food differently when you’ve had previous exposure to it. At the end of the post I posed an open question:

Thinking out loud, I wonder if this phenomenon contributes to the finding that people who spend more time eating their food and/or eat the same foods day after day tend to consume less than people that don’t. 

I think I was on the wrong track. After reading about it a little more, it turns out there’s a more intuitive answer: satiety is a learned behavior.

In the absence of prior experience, we make judgements about how full something will make us based on easily observable characteristics: a food’s shape, smell, and volume, etc.

If we don’t know anything about the food we assume the worst and figure it won’t do anything at all. However, over time you grow more accustomed to a meal’s characteristics and incorporate them into your expectations about your satiety, which affects your chosen meal sizes. Kids are particularly sensitive to this effect.

Familiar Food Is Healthier Food

This tidbit is important for two reasons.

1). Physically observable characteristics are very deceptive, and your intuitions about an unfamiliar food are likely to be wrong. For example, it was found that people estimated 200 calories of pasta would have the same affect on satiety as 900 calories of nuts when people had no exposure to either.

2). Expected satiety is a very strong predictor of how you’ll plan your meals and your portion sizes. Even stronger than how much you think you’ll enjoy your meal.

It’d also explain my diet results over the last three months. I’ve been in the balkans the entire time, and the food is slightly decadent, but the choices are consistent in every country: grilled meats, tomato and cucumber salads, gyro stands, and bakeries. I’m skeptical of the type of food I eat, but my weight has stayed the same. I don’t think of myself as restraining, but whenever I talk about my eating habits with others they remark about how little food I’m getting. Mystery solved.

3 thoughts on “Learning How To Be Full”

  1. Interesting enough, but I wonder how consistent this effect is for different foods. My guess is that it’s not consistent at all, and it might disappear entirely once you go lower on down the food chain.


  2. Well Jonathan, congratulations on not getting fat. However, from my own experience, this effect does not seem to be true for me, unfortunately…..


  3. @Axelrod – you’re probably right to some degree but my food choice has been far from optimal. However, I also eat a lot of meat which might be where most of the affect is coming from.


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