Hungry As A Bear

by Sage Reddy

best time to eat dinner part 2 image

Wait, there’s more here!

This post is excerpted from my book Oh, Shut Up And Eat: the 4 healthy eating habits of lean ‘n happy people. It’s part 2 of a series on hunger vs appetite. Part 1: I Could Eat A Horse.

The eating habits of our sped-up, tech-seduced, overmedicated culture are mostly Cartesian in nature: they’re mechanistic and cold. Food, for us, is mostly a fuel. Pull up, fill up, go! Eating in our neurotic culture has little or nothing to do with hunger.

Between ready-to-eat packaged foods and fast food, food here is available around the clock. As Jeff Mander says, “We live in an age when pizza gets to your home before the police.” We already know that your mind’s fine—thank you very much—with its “fill ‘er up and go” attitude. But what does your body think of it?

Frankly, not much. Food is not always welcome in the body, you know. What?! Yes, let me repeat: your body does not always welcome food. This simple fact of nature boggles our civilized minds. So when is food most welcome?

When you’re hungry!

“Our toaster has two settings: too soon or too late.” ~ Sam Levenson

Hunger vs Appetite

That said, there’s hunger and then there’s appetite. A healthy appetite is a good thing, be it for food or for life. You wanna eat means you wanna live. Then what’s the problem?

The problem is, we mistake appetite for hunger.

Just because you have the appetite doesn’t mean you’re hungry. Appetite represents a want, not a need: you want food but you don’t need it. Hunger, on the other hand, is a need, not a want. It’s a need that must be satisfied— or else.

Food is best when you have the hunger and the appetite; it’s sort of O.K. when you have the appetite but not the hunger; it’s totally unwelcome when you have neither. Put another way, food is best when your body needs it, sort of O.K. when you want it (but don’t need it), and horrible when you neither need it nor want it.

Even if you don’t need the food you’re mowing through, you should at the very least want it. Otherwise, you put your mind/body system into what I call the “zombie zone”—prone to extreme mindlessness. Unwanted food is like sex with people you’re not into: harmless on occasion, but destructive in the long haul.

That said, let me clarify. I didn’t say, “never ever eat unless you’re hungry.” Nor am I suggesting that you should be famished before you think about food. What I am saying is “It’s better to eat when you’re hungry.” Your body is forgiving. Just don’t push your luck.

Mind & Body Doing A Tango

Your mind may find unnecessary food gratifying; your body doesn’t. Your body looks forward to unwanted food as much as you do to a telemarketing call, to email spam, or to unsolicited advice. The food, the unsolicited advice or product may all be good, but that’s not the point. The point is the timing is off.

Which makes it unwelcome.

Both food (thanks to packaged food) and sex (thanks to porn) are available 24/7 in our culture. Your mind’s ready to seize the thrill; your body, not so much. Hunger is to eating what arousal is to sex: the body’s not up for it just because the mind is. For it to work, your mind must plug into the socket of your body. (The sexual pun was unintended, but it’s rather convenient.)

Or as the Wisefool would say…

“Both food and sex come with the same basic instructions: find a socket that works, plug in, enjoy! With food, the socket’s called ‘hunger.’” ~ the Wisefool

Fine! But how do you know when your body is ready to, you know, plug in?

Simple, listen to your body; it’ll tell you. With food, the body speaks to you via a sensation called hunger. When you’re hungry, eat. Otherwise, don’t. Which is what Gramma would have told you. And you thought life was complicated.

Eating only when hungry amounts to thinking with your belly—instead of with your head as you’ve been taught to do. We do a good job of thinking with our heads, but in the process we also disconnect from our bodies. The head’s good for analysis and problem solving, but not so good for helping you connect with life as we know it. So when it comes to food, it’s much better to think with your belly.

You take all this in, then point your finger at the man with a protruding belly and exclaim, “But isn’t that what he does? He thinks with his belly. Look at it!”

If only. Looks can be deceptive, and often are. The reality is that the man with the large belly has disconnected from his body. His brain and his belly have their own separate agenda. His mind is not plugged into his body.

This post was excerpted from my book Oh, Shut Up And Eat: the 4 healthy eating habits of lean ‘n happy people. It’s part 2 of a series on hunger vs appetite. Part 1: I Could Eat A Horse.

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has written 23 posts on Ask Sage.

Writer, philosopher, Life Coach, author, wisefool, blogger, foodie, musician, tinkerer and husband to a beautiful wife. Founder of Aikya Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to human happiness.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurel Avery May 25, 2013 at 12:35 am

When you control how you eat, you can continue to eat the foods you love. You will simply adjust how you eat them. This helps you advance your health in a way that doesn’t strain your willpower. In fact, by eating slowly, you get to enjoy your food more! Remember, your taste buds are in your mouth, not your stomach! So make the most out of the food you eat while it’s still in your mouth.
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Mabel H. Stafford May 14, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Feeling the body as a sign post to food choices is a simple step in assisting with emotional eating. Sounds simple…but not so fast. The mind consumes most of our day and lifestyle. How can we turn it off…to listen to the body? Experimenting with slowing down before you eat, developing a sensual eating pattern rather than rushed ones, breathing, enjoy each bite all help in bringing attention to the body.
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Leonardo L. Graves April 25, 2013 at 6:05 pm

When you cram food into your mouth, you get the natural high but you don’t stop eating because your body needs time to signal you when to stop. By the time it tells you, you’ve overeaten. Then guilt settles in and the whole process is repeated again and again.
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Lee March 13, 2013 at 11:21 am

I think a big problem with our eating habits now is simply that most people don’t sit down for a family evening meal anymore which consisted of a more wholesome meal. Rather than the fast food we all seem to eat now.

Great stuff lee
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Velma April 8, 2012 at 10:08 am

I guess there are warning signs to say what your body needs or what you need to do to take care of your body just like feeling hunger pains when you need to eat, or feeling sleepy when your body needs sleep.


Stacy March 20, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Hi Sage,

That is a very important distinction that you make about appetite versus hunger. It took me a long time to figure out the difference between the two. I’ve also found that sometimes I need something other than what I think I need. A glass of water could be exactly what my body needs when I think that I want food.

Take care,
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Rosemary O'Shaughnessy March 2, 2012 at 11:12 am

Hi Sage,

You have given lots of valuable advice. I have to agree with you the modern lifestyle is not good for our health. It is a lot healthier to eat earlier in the day when our body has the time to burn up the food etc. But most people just eat a big meal and then watch the TV in the evening . I really find it very interesting to see how natural spices can help digestion as well. Thanks for the tip. take care Rosemary
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Sage Reddy March 3, 2012 at 10:13 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rosemary. And well said. I agree, our biggest meal ought to be when the sun’s right above the head, dinner ought to one’s lightest meat of the day. Most of us have it the exact backwards, which wrecks our metabolism.


Shelley Alexander March 2, 2012 at 4:29 am

Hi Sage, You made some really valid points in this article about the differences between appetite and hunger. I liked when you said-we mistake appetite for hunger. Many people eat mindlessly and for many reasons that have nothing to do with actual hunger. When you realize the difference it will really help you to give your body exactly what it needs. Thanks!
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Sage Reddy March 3, 2012 at 10:06 am

Well said, Shelley! As someone who promotes healing and holistic health, I’m not surprised that you’d see great value in knowing the difference between appetite and hunger. Thank you!


Tosin February 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Hi Sage,

It’s funny that while alot of people suffer from malnutrition in the third world countries, those in the west are suffering from too much food. What irony!

The key to all this is self-control

Thanks for sharing :)
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Sage Reddy March 3, 2012 at 9:52 am

Well said, Tosin. Abundance is a great thing; it beats being poor. The downside, of course, is that prolonged abundance (which the West suffers from) breeds apathy. When apathy sets in, we take everything for granted, most certainly food. We consume excess of it. And you know what that’s doing to us. Cheers!


Rebecca Reddy February 29, 2012 at 7:35 am

 It is pretty difficult for me to not know when the right time to eat is- a blessing and a curse I suppose. We both know all to well when the dragon in my belly wakes up:) Luckily it’s a regular intervals so we can feed the bear before the dragon wakes up!
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Sage Reddy March 3, 2012 at 9:40 am

Oh yeah, I know all about your hunger cycles. You’re blessed to have such a healthy metabolism, my love. Wonder what you did to achieve that? Oh I know, you married a food coach. :)


Jayne Kopp February 28, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Hi Sage, if my mother had a pump ad a wedge to keep everybodies mouthes open, she would just be in heaven.

My mom thinks you should just eat. (not necessarily ‘anything’ or ‘everything’) but she is of the old school where all she thinks about is feeding her family.

I can remember when I was younger, I was a thin kid (still am)… but she would literally chase me out of the door with a milkshake with fruit and yogurt and force me to drink it. Didn’t matter that I had already eaten breakfast… 10 mins ago.

Now she’ll phone to see what we all ate. (picture eyes rolling back in head).

Since I’m a big girl now… I eat when I’m hungry… not cause my mom says I should. I am also very selective and eat quite healthy… and when I’m actually ‘connected’.

Great post Sage. I couldn’t help laugh at some of your analogies.


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Sage Reddy March 3, 2012 at 9:37 am

Thanks for sharing that, Jayne. I love your input anytime I can get it! You always leave me with a chuckle or two. I’m visiting my folks here in India and guess what? That’s exactly what my mom does. She still runs after me with food. I’ve put my put down, however, and she’s learned to back off. But she’s convinced that I’ll just dry up and blow away any day now. Hasn’t happened yet, but it’d be good away to travel through space, me thinks. :)


Catarina February 28, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Am exceptionally healthy and am frequently amazed when I notice what people have in their trolleys at the supermarket.

An interesting thing is that the better people’s lives became the more they started using wheat flour insted of rye. The fact that wheat is unhealthy and rye isn’t didn’t count since it looked good for them to afford wheat.

If people could just cut down on sugar, wheat and dairy products it would have a fantastic impact on their health. But that seems to be difficult since they find happiness eating what’s not good for them.


Sage Reddy March 3, 2012 at 9:30 am

What you say is very true, Catarina. As we get richer we eat more processed foods full of refined sugar, flour and trans fats. In the west we suffer from diseases of excess. That said, I need correct your judgement of “wheat.”

First, the problem is not with wheat per se, it’s with refined wheat flour. Second, not everyone needs to avoid whole wheat. Some will thrive, others won’t. It all depends on your mind-body type. For instance, I do fine on wheat while my wife’s better off without it, especially the processed kind.

Ditto with dairy. Problem is not with milk; it’s what we have done to milk. Milk is not a beverage; it’s “food.” Our industrial dairies have turned milk into poison. That said, it’s true that not every does well on milk. Again, it depends on your body type.


Emily February 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I have also heard that drinking a glass of water helps you take way the hunger in case you are not so hungry (between your main melas), but it just does not work for me…every single time I drink water, I get hungrier! How can this be? :) Great article, Sage, I enjoyed it a lot!
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Sage Reddy March 3, 2012 at 9:22 am

Good to see you here, Emily! The experience of hunger is pretty unique to one’s mind/body type. Some folks experience ravenous hunger when they get hungry, others experience little more than a dull sense of hunger and can keep trucking without food. I’m the first kind and I bet you are too. Here’s a good test to see if you’re really hungry: sip a small amount of water with a squirt of lemon juice. If you’re still hungry after a few minutes, then you NEED food.


Julieanne van Zyl February 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

Very good article Sage, and thanks for the reminder:-) Unfortunately, my dear Grandma told me otherwise. She wanted me to eat because she made very yummy food, whether I was hungry or not.

Most of the time, I wait until I’m hungry before eating, and it depends on what I’m doing. If I’m doing a boring job, I go off to get something to nibble on, at least it’s healthy, like fruit or dry biscuits with avocado and tomato.

I understand what you mean by someone who’s put in weight being “disconnected” from their bodies. I’ve noticed that a couple of my relatives have put on a lot of extra weight recently, and they speak of food a lot! It’s like they can’t get it off their minds, maybe it’s a sign of boredom, do you think Sage?

bye for now, Julieanne
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Sage Reddy February 28, 2012 at 11:19 am

Good to hear from you again, Julieanne. Our lives have gotten so busy, food’s is our de-facto comfort boob. Food feeds our emotions as much, if not more than, our bodies. So it’s normal that we’d turn to it anytime our emotions need soothing. But in the process, some of us disconnect from our bodies. And the cycle of abuse begins. Your relatives, as do many folks who obsess with food, are addicted to food. This is typically what happens when one does not have a creative outlet in life.


Beth Hewitt February 27, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Hey Sage,

I have a funny ole relationship with food. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, sometimes I can be bothered some times I can’t. Sometimes I eat lots, sometime I eat hardly anything.

I think I will take some advice though and start to listen to my body a little more. It is growning at me!

Thanks for the advice,
Beth :)
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Sage Reddy February 28, 2012 at 11:10 am

Hello Beth! Good to see you here. What you say is true for most of us. We all have a rather quirky relationship with food. Even so, as you say, it wouldn’t hurt to listen to our bodies.


Lilach Bullock February 27, 2012 at 9:28 am

Thanks Sage:) Is it bad to say that I don’t often hear my tummy rumble? :(

I’ve recently started my health kick… I finally got focused and I’m sure it’s helped by reading your blog regularly – so thank you:)

I’m trying to eat little and often and am drinking lots of water.
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Donna Merrill February 27, 2012 at 6:22 am

As always, I enjoyed this post. Sometimes when I “think” I am hungry, I drink a glass of water and that feeling goes away. It is funny how the typical American diet is to eat to fill the belly. But when you get used to eating for energy, that fill the belly sensation goes away. I have been eating for energy for a long time now. Don’t get me wrong, I do have those nasty cravings and sometimes I give in to a bag of chips! To me that is like going to a bar and getting drunk he he he!
Basically, when you eat a macrobiotic diet (which we do 80 % of the time) you get used to linking your mind and body.
This was such a great post and I am sure many that read it will benefit from it.
thanks again,
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Sage Reddy February 28, 2012 at 10:59 am

Thanks Donna! Since you’ve functioned as a psychic, I see you as a very intuitive soul. I’d be surprised if you weren’t in touch with your body. Nothing like getting drunk once in a while, however, be it potato chips or beer. :)


Jamella Biegel February 27, 2012 at 4:10 am

Hi Sage,

Next week I am starting a program called Am I Hungry. The program aims to teach us how to eat mindfully. I know that at times, I eat because I’m bored, or just because the food is there. I hope to break this cycle and learn to eat when I am truly hungry. Your post speaks to this cycle. Thanks for sharing.
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Sage Reddy February 28, 2012 at 10:55 am

You’re on the right track, Jamella. Thanks for sharing your journey to wholeness. I wish you all the best!


Lou Barba February 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Hi Sage,

Around my house, it’s not exactly eat whenever you feel like it. Meals are prepared and served, and that’s when you eat. My doctor says to eat what you want at mealtime until you’re full. But, no snacks. Not so much as an apple in between meals. It seems to me that if you faithfully do this, gradually you eat less and less.

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Sage Reddy February 28, 2012 at 10:42 am

The kind of discipline your family has will go a long away in preventing mindless snacking and other abusive eating behaviors. And your doctor is wise, my friend.


Kostas February 26, 2012 at 9:01 am

Hi Sage,
I though that it’s better to eat in standard times every day and not when you are hungry, I might need to reconsider, thanks for sharing…
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Sage Reddy February 28, 2012 at 10:03 am

You make an excellent point, Kostas. While it’s good to eat when you’re hungry, it’s not quite practical in urban cultures where lives are hectic. Even so, this post is about paying attention to the body instead of disconnecting from it. Paying attention to hunger is how we can reconnect with our bodies. Once you do, you’ll see that your body has a predictable hunger cycle. Then it becomes possible to have meals at predictable times, during which you’re actually hungry.


Sarah Arrow February 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm

This post spoke to me more than usual – I struggle with my weight and I have times where I fill my body with food that it doesn’t want or need.

I love the quotes that you have shared in this thought provoking post. This has to be my favourite – “We live in an age when pizza gets to your home before the police.” It’s scary to know that’s true!
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Sage Reddy February 28, 2012 at 9:54 am

Hello Sarah! What we have in the West is a culture of excess. So we suffer from diseases of excess food. I wish you great success in transforming your personal daily relationship with food into one of JOY.


Patricia Gozlan February 25, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Very interesting and nice metaphors here.
I was once told that if there is no fire in my stomach I rather not eat, otherwise the food transforms in fat.
our digestive system is like a fireplace, you put wood when the fire burns it you do not put wood just for the sake if putting it there.
This is what happens when we numb our body with too much food, the fire is turned off, no cumbustion no heat.
Ayurveda is a rich and holistic philosophy that teaches us how to live in the most balanced way and your article reminds me of it.
Best wishes!
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Sage Reddy February 28, 2012 at 9:51 am

Well said, Patricia! Thanks for that perfect metaphor. I live and practice Ayurved and I honor you for recognizing it’s timeless wisdom. As you probably already know, the digestive fire in Ayurved is called Agni.


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