Mom, I’m Hungry

Are you really? C’mon. You’re not really hungry. Or so pediatrician Meg Meeker suggests:

[We] can determine whether or not our kids are really hungry. All kids get the sensation they are hungry all day long, so take a hard look at your child’s weight.[Via Motherlode]

She says we are “illiterate when it comes to handling the feeling of hunger:”

Here’s the tricky part for us parents: what is real hunger? I suggest that the majority of time our kids tell us they’re hungry; they really aren’t in need of nutrition. They feel hunger but don’t know how to suppress it.

I do agree that when kids tell us they’re hungry, they often aren’t in need of nutrition. I don’t think the answer, however, is just to ignore it or act like it’s some psychological issue. I think my kids express hunger when their blood sugar is low–it’s often physiological hunger; they really are hungry. Telling them to “wait until dinner” is not a bad idea but I think we might help them more by using the latest nutritional science to decrease the sense of physiological hunger.

This feeling of being hungry all day likely derives from eating too many carbohydrates. A good, though dense, reference for this is Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. There’s also this study that’s soon to appear in Obesity Review:

Foods with high GI are rapidly digested, absorbed and transformed into glucose. These processes cause accelerated and transient surges in blood glucose and insulin, earlier return of hunger sensation and excessive caloric intake. Conversely, low-GI diet decreases blood glucose and insulin excursion, promotes greater fat oxidation, decreases lipogenesis and increases satiety.

Some kids are more susceptible to all-day hunger than others. My third child is one of those kids. My father, a retired internist, spent the day with my two younger children one day a couple years ago. Afterward, he said, “I’m concerned about Laura. She seems to feel hungry all the time. I wonder if she has some blood sugar issues.”

If she does, she probably got them from me. My mother tells the story that when I was two, I was never satisfied with whatever food I had eaten. I always wanted more, and specifically, I wanted more bread. “Bread!… bread!…” I cried out piteously. She obliged, and sometimes even made “sugar balls”–white bread spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar, torn into pieces, and rolled into balls. In those days mothers didn’t worry so much about what they fed us!

As an adult I still struggle with the blood sugar roller coaster unless I eat low-carb. Rick and I laugh now over the “cherry blossom death march” we took one beautiful spring day in D.C. with friends. We didn’t bring snacks with us (a point of contention, because I had suggested we bring sandwiches and Rick thought we didn’t need them). After a couple hours of walking around the tidal basin, I could not walk any longer. I had no energy and I was terribly cranky, as was my then-three-year-old Henry.

I am doing what I can to help Laura and her brother and sister feel satisfied with healthy food and moderate portions, but I feel up against a culture that says that carbs should be the basis of your diet. What if carbs, in whatever form, just make you hungrier? In my experience, the only thing that has taken away my blood sugar swings has been eating high fat, moderate protein, and low carb, along with limiting the frequency of eating. The conventional wisdom that complex carbs and many meals throughout the day will result in even energy and weight control just doesn’t work for me. I don’t think it necessarily will work for my children, especially my third, who just wants to eat all day long.

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