Eating in the absence of hunger

Good idea? Bad idea? … a bit of a rant

Some gurus swear by the “only eat when hungry” mantra.  I’m neutral on the issue.  In my opinion, it can work for people who are good planners because if you wait until you’re hungry and haven’t planned or prepared a meal yet, then it might be a while until you finally get to eat.  Maybe you’re an hour from home: unlucky => by the time you start cooking, you’re famished and end up overeating.  So you try to repent by skipping breakfast the following morning but fall into the same trap.  Of course, however, it’s not gonna be like this for everyone.



On the other hand, I used to advocate a small meal before you go to a buffet or food party so you’re not famished and thus are less likely to overeat.  This also applies to the 3-square-meals-a-day people: sometimes they’re hungry when they eat; other times they’re not but eat anyway.  I don’t think it’s a big deal either way.  Ymmv.




Not to make this all about calories, but it relates to IF/CICO: intermittent fasting has an automatic built-in refeed.

Theoretical scenario: if maintenance calories are 2k and you don’t eat for 2 days, best case scenario, the next four days are going to be 3k cals.  Worst case scenario, the next day is a six thousand calorie day.  Or maybe it’s the other way around; in either case, it’s a lot of food and calories.  Fasting 2 days is stressful, and now you’re gonna top it off with metabolic mayhem? = more stress.  If you believe intermittent fasting is healthy, does the binge refeed cancel out the benefits?  Or make it worse because it’s a stressor followed by another stressor.



I have a lot of problems with the breakfast skipping dinner only meal pattern, but besides the intrinsic circadian arrhythmia, this is the IF/refeed on a smaller scale.  2000 kcals in one sitting is a lot of food and calories.  This can’t be good for your organs.  Nutrient overload.  ER stress.  I’m not pro-grazing either.  “Give your organs a break” which is part of why I tend to think the ‘3-squares-a-day’ paradigm is a good one.  Also, because it’s good for protein frequency — the more frequently you eat protein, the lower your protein requirements — easier to maintain lean mass.

Some [moderately eating disordered] people say breakfast in the morning sets them on a feeding frenzy all day.  How do you have access to so much food all day?  What is your profession?  Do you have any hobbies?  Or do you just carry a large container of nuts (or something) around with you everywhere?  I don’t mean to be condescending, honestly curious about this.  Also, basically think skipping breakfast is strictly a CICO thing, not a “biohack.”



Lastly, LC is not the same thing as fasting.  A shitty processed food-rich diet isn’t the opposite of fasting.  LCHF is not the same as LCHP.


In a recent twitter discussion, someone made a comment about physical performance in starved vs. fed state and someone else came back with “NO, you don’t need carbs to perform!” and cited FASTER and the [ketogenic] elite artistic gymnasts.  This is goalpost shifting: 1) neither of these studies refute the original statement; 2) the control groups were fed in both studies; 3) gymnasts were LCHP not LCHF; and 4) LC is not the same as fasting!



We didn’t evolve to intermittently fast; we evolved to not die during brief periods of famine.  “Not dying” is far from optimal!


:::end rant:::

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  • Wab Mester

    OK, now I’m intrigued. Any sports performance data for fed vs fasted states? Personally, I prefer an empty stomach during exercise, but I’m not competing.

  • BoogerSanchez

    Energy is NOT a thing, nor stuff, nor any kind of constituent that comprises the universe. Energy is only a number, nothing more-a property, a characteristic of other actual stuff. It’s ONLY a some NUMBER. Energy is not, itself, stuff at all. Atoms, photons, protons-those are ACTUAL THINGS that comprise the universe.

    Energy is abstract. Energy is purely mathematical fiction….It is a useful , purely mathematical fiction. Calories , joules, BTU ‘s -all fictitious.

    Matter and energy are as DIFFERENT as can be-like giraffes and heaven. Energy does N-O-T morph, transform or convert to matter and vice versa. Characteristics CANNOT turn into matter-atoms. NO calorie EVER turned into fat tissue, muscle tissue bodily tissue of any sort-matter -atoms!

    Nuclear reaction do NOT transform matter into energy. That is not possible. Can Shaq be transformed into “huge”? NO! ONLY PARTICLES are ever transformed into one another! Photons , while not matter, are definitely STUFF-PARTICLES. Energy is not at all stuff, energy is not itself anything but a NUMBER we assign to things.

    The calorie model is not any kind of explanation whatsoever for obesity and it’s wrong. Neither energy, nor its units are stuff at all-purely mathematical FICTION.

  • Marielle

    “We didn’t evolve to intermittently fast; we evolved to not die during brief periods of famine. “Not dying” is far from optimal!”
    Thank you. IF sucks. Skipping breakfast especially sucks. I read your blog because it makes so much sense to me.

  • James Wainwright

    For what it’s worth, my N=1 experience has been quite the opposite. Eating only dinner has been one of the most important changes I’ve made to my training / bodyweight regulation. I’ve been doing this for over 6 years and will never go back to breakfast / lunch. I should point out that I lift significant weights (I hold some local powerlifting records) almost every day, and I also low-carb (typically 20g carbs/day from salad / green veg). I’ve also recently added a once-a-week carb load (still only 200g) in an effort to further reduce body fat levels. I’ve never been leaner or stronger and my sleep is great! (I eat my main meal at about 19:30, after training, followed by a casein-based protein shake around 21:30 and then bed at 22:30). Training is fasted @ 17:00 except for BCAAs / whey protein to ensure circulating AAs.

  • Though I eat breakfast, it does tend to have the “feeding frenzy” effect in me if the meal is anything other than basically carb-free. And I know because I am one that people with the “profession” of primary caregiver to kids are in a bad position here. They often need to lose some weight but are mostly at home during the day (around all the food), with children who themselves need to eat every couple hours (constantly carrying food around), and children’s activities often feature unhealthy snacks. So anything you do that makes you hungrier is a disaster in the making.

  • Martin

    The primary motivation behind skipping breakfast is not reduction of calories during that day! It is extension of the time window when the insulin is naturally lowered due to not having eaten for 12+ hours. For obese people with chronically elevated insulin levels it makes a huge difference. Such people can get their insulin elevated even after a low carb meal.

    • Martin

      The reason some people prefer not to eat anything for fear of overeating later is the following: after an overnight fast of 12+ hours their insulin levels are low, they feel OK, not hungry. They eat breakfast, even LCHF and their insulin goes up (the more carbs the larger the insulin response). They get lethargic and hungry again (many reasons for that, lowered blood glucose, blocked fat release from fat cells, ??), they need to eat again. A viscous circle starts. If you have never been obese and experienced this paradoxical situation you will never understand it!

      • you’re best able to dispose of glucose in the morning; least able at night… so if you want to extend the overnight fast, it’d be better to start it sooner

        also, food in the morning is important to co-entrain peripheral & central circadian clocks

        also, better for blood glucose control

        • Dungaree

          Except we’re not eating glucose anyway, nice red herring. I love not being hungry in the morning, having lots of energy and not losing muscle mass by being moderately active.

          The idea that humans can’t successfully deal with some circadian arrhythmia is a bit over stated IMO. We have been at least partially successful to adapting to all kinds of things.

          • Eve

            For many, the arrhythmia is the rule, not the exception. I can’t think of a single person who rises at dawn, makes breakfast or lunch their main meal, eats minimally in the evening, and escapes artificial light at night.

          • Emmie


          • Me!

        • Emmie

          This is what works for me. Throughout my c.180 lb weight loss and 8 years of maintenance, breakfast has always been my biggest meal of the day, and I eat very lightly (if at all) after 2 pm.

          I’ve always thought this is because of my natural biorhythms (I’m a ‘morning person’), but I’m sure it’s also due to the glucose control issue you mention.

      • “If you have never been obese and experienced this paradoxical situation you will never understand it!”


        • Yossi Mandel

          How can you disagree? It’s always a viscous circle unless in a state of exsanguination.

        • Martin

          So how does it feel, Bill? 🙂

  • Emmie

    Thanks for this. With all the current enthusiasms for fasting and IF, I feel like a misfit because I’ve lost significant weight and have maintained that loss for the past 8 years–by eating regularly throughout the day. Obviously, I don’t overeat, but when I’m hungry, I eat, and I am never concerned with how many hours I can go without food.

    • Eve

      I did IF/”fasting” for years for a host of reasons, but never lost weight or noticed body comp changes from it. I can easily eat a days worth of food over a few hours in the evening, and don’t see how people naturally lose weight eating this way. This WOE becomes a pattern that’s tough to break, with overeating at night, and minimal appetite in the morning.

  • Sam gooz

    What do you do if you have no appetite in the morning? Do you force yourself to eat or just fast until 11:30-12pm which is when I would have lunch?