Hunger and Appetite


   Hunger is the great safeguard of all life. It impels the organism in need of food to search for and procure food. It may be safely inferred that if there is no hunger, there is no need for nourishment. Hunger is a normal expression of a physiological need and when it is absent, we may take it for granted that the physiological need that gives rise to it is also absent. In proportion to the need of the body for food will hunger be present, and precisely in proportion to its lack of need for food or to its inability to digest and assimilate food will there be an absence of hunger. When hunger is absent, therefore, no food should be taken. It seems vital, therefore, that we learn to distinguish between hunger and other common sensations--that we learn to properly interpret the language of our senses.

   The sense of hunger is little understood, perhaps because it has never really been studied. What little attempt has been made by physiologists to study hunger has been made on sick and ailing men and women, with the result that all kinds of morbid sensations have been and continue to be mistaken for hunger, not merely by the layman, but by the expert, who is presumed to know. Science, at present, teaches that hunger is expressed in the stomach, registered especially in the upper part of the stomach, and is manifested by various discomforts. That this is a fallacy will become readily apparent when, and if, they make their investigations upon really healthy subjects.

   Physiologists have accepted the theory advanced by Cannon that the contractions of the stomach that are concomitant with what they call hunger pangs are the immediate cause of the sensation of hunger. They say that these contractions of he stomach are definitely associated with the sensation of hunger and are more marked, the more intense the sensation.

   Cannon records the results of his studies of hunger and his conclusions from these studies in his book, Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage. In this excellent book he says:

   "The sensation of hunger is difficult to describe, but almost everyone from childhood has felt at times that dull ache or gnawing pain referred to the lower mid-chest and the epigastrium, which may take imperious control of human action. As Sternberg has pointed out, hunger may be sufficiently insistent to force the taking of food which is so distasteful that it not only fails to arouse appetite, but may even produce nausea.

   "The hungry being gulps his food with a rush. The pleasures of appetite are not for him--he wants quantity rather than quality, and he wants it at once.

   "Hunger may be described as having a central core and certain more or less variable accessories. The peculiar dull ache of hungriness, referred to the epigastrium, is usually the organism's first strong demand for food; and when the initial order is not obeyed, the sensation is likely to grow into a highly uncomfortable pang or gnawing, less definitely localized as it becomes more intense. This may be regarded as the essential feature of hunger. Besides the dull ache, however, lassitude and drowsiness may appear, or faintness, or violent headache, or irritability and restlessness such that continuous effort in ordinary affairs becomes increasingly difficult. That these states differ much with individuals--headache in one and faintness in another, for example--indicates that they do not constitute the central fact of hunger, but are more or less inconstant accompaniments. The 'feeling of emptiness' which has been mentioned as an important element of the experience, is an inference rather than a distinct datum of consciousness, and can likewise be eliminated from further consideration. The dull pressing sensation is left, therefore, as the constant characteristic, the central fact, to be examined in detail."

   Any man of experience, reading the foregoing will recognize at once that Professor Cannon has never seen a hungry man and has mistaken the morbid sensations of a food-drunkard for the normal expressions of life. Real hunger, rather than producing "lassitude and drowsiness," or "faintness," produces alertness and activity in the search for food.

   Dull ache in the epigastrium, violent headache, irritability, restlessness, lassitude, drowsiness, faintness and a decreasing capacity for continuous effort--how like the effects that follow the missing of the accustomed cigar, pipe, cup of coffee, or tea, glass of whiskey, or dose of morphine are these symptoms! How did Prof. Cannon miss their true significance?

   The "feeling of emptiness," and the gnawing that he describes, are not accompaniments of hunger. Neither is the "dull pressing sensation" which he has left as the "central fact" of hunger, any part of the physiological demand for food, which we call hunger. These are both morbid sensations.

   It will be well, before going deeper into our study of hunger, to view briefly what the physiologists have to say about the sensation of hunger and its cause. I quote: "it is well known that during hunger certain general subjective symptoms are likely to be experienced, such as a feeling of weakness and a sense of emptiness, with a tendency to headache and sometimes even nausea in persons who are prone to headache as a result of toxemic conditions. Headache is likely to be more pronounced or perhaps only present in the morning before there is any food in the stomach." He speaks of "hunger pangs" and of their "greatest intensity."--Macleod's Physiology in Modern Medicine.

   In this same standard text, the author discusses what he calls "hunger during starvation," by which he means hunger during a period of four days of abstinence from food undergone by Carlson and Luckhardt, "who voluntarily subjected themselves to complete starvation, except for the taking of water, for four days." He says "during enforced starvation for long periods of time, it is known that healthy individuals at first experience intense sensations of hunger and appetite, which last, however, only for a few days, then become less pronounced and finally almost disappear."

   Of Carlson's and Luckhardt's four days of self-imposed "starvation" he says "sensations of hunger were present more or less throughout the period * * * on the last day of starvation a burning sensation referred to the epigastrium was added to that of hunger."

   Carlson and Luckhardt found that their sensations of hunger and appetite both became perceptibly diminished on the last day of "starvation" (their fourth day without food) the diminution being most marked in the sensation of appetite. They found that instead of an eagerness for food developing, there developed on the last day a distinct repugnance, or indifference to food. They also describe a distinct depression and a feeling of weakness which accompanied appetite during the later part of their "starvation" period.

   Carlson and Luckhardt found that after partaking of food, after their prolonged period of four days of "starvation" their "hunger" and appetite" sensations rapidly disappeared. Also, practically all of their mental depression and a great part of their weakness disappeared. Complete recovery of strength did not occur until the second or third day after resumption of eating. From that time on, both men felt unusually well; indeed, they state that their sense of well-being and clearness of mind and their sense of good health and vigor were as greatly improved as they would have been by a month's vacation in the mountains.

   Carlson and Luckhardt point out that since others who have "starved" for longer periods of time (than four days) unanimously attest the fact that, after the first few days, the sensations of hunger become less pronounced and finally almost disappear, they must have experienced the most distressing period during their four days of "starvation." Although the hunger sensation was strong enough to cause some discomfort, it could by no means be called marked pain or suffering, and was at no time of sufficient intensity to interfere seriously with work. Mere starvation cannot therefore be designated as acute suffering.

   Howell's Textbook of Physiology tells us that the sensations of hunger and thirst are of such a vague character that it is difficult to analyze them by methods of introspection. He adds that the sensation that we commonly designate as appetite or hunger "is referred or projected more or less definitely to the region of the stomach." "When the sensation is not satisfied by the ingestion of food, it increases in intensity and the individual experiences the pangs of hunger." He also refers to "hunger pain." The sensation of hunger is described as "more or less disagreeable."

   Best and Taylor point out (Physiological Basis of Medical Practice, page 495), that in an investigation of hunger and hunger contractions in a human fasting subject, extending over a period of five days, the hunger contractions showed no diminutions. In fact they actually increased in amplitude, yet the "hunger pangs" and the general sensation of "hunger" lessened after the third day.

   Whatever may be the true relationship of these gastric contractions to the sense of hunger, the physiologists from Cannon to Carlson, have blundered in that they have accepted certain pathological symptoms as the sense of hunger. The primary error in all of their reasoning is that of accepting morbid sensations as that of hunger. No genuinely healthy subjects have been used as subjects of experiment.

   Let us try to arrive at an understanding of hunger by seeing what it is not. Headache is not hunger. Pain in the abdomen is not hunger. Gnawing in the stomach is not hunger. Lassitude is not hunger. Drowsiness is not hunger. Weakness is not hunger. Faintness is not hunger. A "dull pressing sensation" is not hunger. Restlessness is not hunger. In thirty years of conducting fasts, during which time I have conducted thousands of fasts that have extended over periods that have ranged from twenty days to sixty-eight days, I have yet to see a single individual in whom pain, headache, drowsiness, a "feeling of emptiness," etc., accompanied the development of genuine hunger. These observations should be worth something. They are certainly more dependable than those that are made on individuals abstaining from food for three to five days.

   Neither the all-gone, faint feeling, nor the sensation of gnawing in the stomach, nor a feeling of emptiness, nor of weakness, nor a headache, nor any other morbid symptom is hunger. These are morbid sensations representing gastric irritation, a neurosis, gastric ulcer, indigestion, gastric catarrh, reaction from withdrawal of stimulation, etc., rather than hunger. That faint sinking feeling at the pit of the stomach, with a morbid "craving" for something to eat, is due to catarrhal inflammation of the lining membrane of the stomach. Such symptoms of gnawing and faintness and all-goneness are seen in their height in cases of acute gastritis as well as in gastric ulcer. Indeed, a bowel movement may induce them in cases of colitis. There is no end to these morbid sensations that are mistaken for hunger, although the surest and speediest means of getting rid of them is to fast.

   How often do we see patients who are always eating and who complain that they are "always hungry." They eat several times a day and three or more times at night, but they never seem to get enough to eat. Of course, these people are never hungry; they are food drunkards who employ food as palliation. Eating temporarily "relieves" their gastric and nervous distress. They are merely extreme cases of what physiologists mistake for hunger.

   There are wasting "diseases" in which there is an insatiable appetite, the craving being constant, no matter how much food the patient eats. These people eat despite the fact that they have no ability to digest and assimilate the food eaten. Indeed, their constant eating helps to perpetuate their functional and structural impairment and aids in keeping them emaciated.

   It is significant in this connection that these abnormal sensations are strongest in those of gross habits, in those who have been accustomed to highly "stimulating" viands, in those of intemperate habits and in the obese. In the neurotic, also, they are likely to be severe. The healthy person, the person of more moderate habits, the vegetarian, etc., is not troubled with such sensations and discomforts.

   If left alone these morbid sensations sooner or later pass away, but if palliated by eating or by taking more condiments, or by drink, they are but temporarily smothered. As soon as the stomach is again empty of food, they are back again, perhaps with renewed intensity.

   Graham says: "This peculiar condition of the stomach (the feeling of abnormal hunger) will pass away much sooner and with less uncomfortableness of feeling in the pure vegetable eater of regular habits, when the ordinary meal is omitted, than in the flesh eater; and he who makes a free use of stimulating condiments with his food, experiences still more inconvenience and distress at the loss of a meal, than he who eats flesh simply and plainly prepared. Hence, the pure vegetable-eater loses a meal with great indifference, fasts twenty-four hours with little inconvenience or diminution of strength, and goes without food several days in succession without suffering anything like intolerable distress from hunger. The flesh-eater always suffers much more from fasting, and experiences a more rapid decline of muscular power; and he who seasons his food with highly stimulating condiments, feels the loss of a single day severely; a fast of twenty-four hours almost unmans him; and three or four days abstinence from food completely prostrates him, if he is cut off from all stimulants as well as aliment."--Science of Human Life, p. 559.

   "No person," says Page, "feels faint upon passing a meal, or has a gnawing stomach, except it be occasioned by an irritated or unduly congested state of that organ. It is a sure proof of dyspepsia (using this term in its popular sense, as implying the condition of that organ). Strictly speaking the term is a synonym of indigestion."--Horses, Their Feed and Their Feet, p. 28.

   Dr. Claunch said " a healthy person will get hungry before he gets weak while a sick person will get weak before he gets hungry." This rule was based on close observation of hundreds of fasting people. As many of these fasts were of considerable duration and were not confined to three or four days of fasting, his conclusion is to be trusted above that of the scientists who arbitrarily restrict themselves to inadequate experiments.

   Carrington referred to these symptoms as "habit hunger," Dewey as "hunger of disease," Oswald as "poison hunger." As they do not represent hunger at all, I see no reason to describe such sensations as hunger of any kind. As they are always abnormal, just as much so as are the alleged cravings of the morphine addict for his customary narcotic, and are most marked in those individuals whose stomach has been habitually subjected to the excitement and irritation occasioned by condiments, spices, etc., they should be recognized for what they are--symptoms of disease. The stomach, suddenly deprived of its regular occasions for excitement, by the fast, manifests the same signs of distress as do the nerves of the tobacco addict when these are deprived of their accustomed narcotic.

   It is true that eating will allay these sensations, just as a shot of morphine will "relieve" the morphine addict, and there is just as much sense in taking food in the first instance as there is in taking the morphine in the last. Page says: "The fact that the meal affords immediate relief argues nothing against this position; it is the seventy-five or eighty per cent of water taken with the meal that relieves the digestion. It forms a poultice, so to say, for the congested mucous membrane of the stomach; but, unfortunately, it cannot, as when applied externally upon a throbbing sore thumb, for example, be removed when it becomes dry."--The Natural Cure, p. 202.

   Why should morbid appetites be indulged? Is there any more reason for indulging a morbid appetite for food than there is for indulging a morbid appetite for clay or filth? If we refuse to indulge the morbid "craving" for glass, stones, bullets, pins, earth, etc., why shall we not restrain the morbid appetite for bread, beef, candy, fruits, etc.? In many of these cases several large meals a day are eaten and still the possessors of such appetites are not satisfied.

   Dr. Susanah W. Dodds says: "The sense of all-goneness in these cases is not from a lack of nutrient material, but owing to the absence of the habitual stimulus."--The Diet Question, p. 87. Dr. Dodds had an extensive experience with fasting and her own observations are worthy of candid consideration. Why have physiologists persistently refused to consider the observations of those who are in the best position to make observations upon the sensation of hunger?

   Dr. Cannon is wrong again in asserting that the hungry person gulps his food, or that he seeks for quantity rather than quality. Evidently he carried out his researches on a group of neurotics, dyspeptics and food drunkards. He never permitted any of them to go without food long enough for full adjustment to follow. The hungry person, at the completion of a long fast, commonly finds that a half a glass of fruit juice is all that he wants. If he is given this quantity of juice every hour during the day, he may find that by about four o'clock in the afternoon, he has had all the food he desires. He is content to wait until the next day to take more. Dr. Oswald wrote: "Only natural (normal) appetites have natural (normal) limits," and nowhere is this more true than in the truly hungry person.

   Think of thirst. Is it pain? Is it a headache? Is it irritability? Is it faintness? Is it drowsiness? Is it any of the sensations described by Prof. Cannon as belonging to hunger? It is none of these things. Thirst is felt in the mouth and throat and there is a distinct and conscious desire for water. One does not mistake headache for thirst. The sensation of thirst is too well-known.

   Genuine hunger, too, is felt in the mouth and throat. In real hunger there is a distinct and conscious desire for food. The condition is one of comfort, not of discomfort and suffering. There is a "watering" of the mouth (flow of saliva) and often a distinct desire for a particular food. Hunger is a localized sensation and is not in the stomach. The healthy person is not conscious of any sensations in or about the stomach when hungry.

   As everyone who has had an extensive experience with fasting knows, true hunger is felt in the mouth and throat and is related to the senses of taste and smell. It is indicated by a watering of the mouth for plain food--even for a crust of dry bread. As almost everybody knows from personal experience the gnawing sensation or other sensation that is commonly thought of as hunger usually comes on at meal time, or when the stomach is empty, and subsides after an hour or two, if no food is taken. As we see in thousands of cases of fasting, these morbid sensations subside and completely cease after two or three days of fasting, not to recur after the fast is broken.

   For over a hundred years Shew, Graham, Trall, Page, Dewey, Oswald, Haskell, Macfadden, Carrington, Eales, Tilden, Weger, Claunch, Shelton and hundreds of others, who have had extensive experience with fasting, have been calling attention to the fact that hunger is a mouth and throat sensation rather than a stomach sensation, but the professional physiologists have persisted in ignoring their work and their testimony and have accepted popular superstitions about the sensation of hunger and have "confirmed" these by limited experiments on sick men and women. Cannon, Pavlov, Carlson, etc., have all based their conclusions on inadequate data and on experiments that are too short to be conclusive.

   Certainly if one is ever hungry, he is so at the conclusion of a long fast. Fasting experts insist that hunger is invariably manifested at the conclusion of a long fast, like thirst, in the mouth and throat. We employ this fact as a complete and satisfactory test of the sensations observed during a fast--it reveals whether it is true hunger or morbid sensations. Never under any circumstances following a fast, is hunger felt in the stomach. Always it is manifested in the mouth and throat and always there is an entire absence of distress or of morbid sensations associated with the stomach.

   As most men and women, including scientists, declare that hunger is always felt in the stomach, therefore, the "stomach hunger" must be normal, it has been argued that to take the view that normal hunger is manifested in the mouth and throat, we must be prepared to take the position that most men and women have never experienced normal hunger since infancy. This is precisely what we contend. Mr. Carrington says: "most persons have never experienced normal hunger in all their lives! Their appetite and taste are perverted by overfeeding in infancy, and have never had a chance to become normal during the whole course of their lives--owing to the overfeeding being continued ever since." Dewey pointed out that with many people the "evil work" of inducing disease began with the very first meal which was forced upon them by the mother or nurse before they were ready for it. As the forcing process was continued, he says "in due time trouble began," and, thereafter, every outcry of nature was interpreted as a signal of hunger." He says that the meals of the infant "all through the first year of life are regulated by the tunes of crying." Happily, the so-frequent feeding of infants is not as common today as when Dr. Dewey wrote these lines, but it is still all too true that gastric impairment and gastric distress are built in infancy by wrong feeding.


   One of the most frequent dietetic errors is that of mistaking appetite for hunger. Appetite is no more hunger than sexual passion is love. Graham made a sharp distinction between an "appetite" which is merely the expression of habit (the habit of eating at certain times) and "that natural and healthy hunger which is a physiological manifestation of the real alimentary wants of the body" and asserted that it "is of the utmost importance that this distinction should ever be kept in view," when considering man's dietary habits. Appetite, which is so much a matter of habit, has sometimes been referred to as "habit-hunger," but I do not think the inclusion of the word hunger in this compound term is correct. As has been previously pointed out, habit may be morbid, true hunger never is. Bulimia, or an ox-like appetite, is seen in a number of states of disease, but it has no more relation to true hunger than a headache has to the appreciation of music.

   Horace Fletcher says that the "mark of distinction" that differentiates real hunger from appetite is the "watering of the mouth for some particular thing." Appetite is indiscriminate and often finicky. "Natural hunger is never in a hurry," declares Carrington. Appetite is often in a big hurry.

   Pavlov showed that appetite for food, which cannot be hunger, may be induced by swallowing a mouthful of wine. He says that at the moment the wine reached the stomach, he "perceived the onset of a very strong appetite." What he mistook for a demand for food was irritation of the stomach. He made the same mistake here that Cannon made in mistaking similar irritation for hunger.