Hunger Is A Habit: Why Familiar Food Is Healthier Food

Hunger is a tricky phenomenon. One would think it’s merely a reflection of the volume of food in your stomach, but it turns out its causes are subtle and diverse. The flora of your gut, caloric density of your food, and lifestyle habits all play a role in determining how hungry you are.

Research increasingly suggests that hunger is a pattern of the mind just as much as it is a by-product of the contents in our stomach. How you eat, the way you think about your food, and your expectations about your meal deeply influence how much hunger you feel throughout the day….and how much you crave foods to begin with.

More and more, it’s becoming an accepted fact that hunger is a learned behavior molded by our daily routines. Chief among these routines is our expectations about our meal before we eat. Expected satiety has a strong influence on portion sizes, even more than how much we think we’ll enjoy our meal. And there seems to be only one foolproof method to mold our hunger expectations: trial and error. Our estimates about how much we’ll be satisfied by a food are not very good at first, but slowly improve over time.

A study published in the Journal Appetite in 2008 found that people estimated 200 calories worth of pasta would deliver the same amount of nourishment as 900 calories worth of cashews. That’s pretty bad. However, other studies have suggested that these estimates get better over time when you have repeated exposure to the same food. For example, a study published in the November 2011 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that children reduced portion sizes and had greater expectations of satiety when they ate the same food day after day. Similar results have been found in other studies.

Eating the same food routinely has other benefits. A study published in Science found that merely thinking about food makes us eat less of it. The repeated exposure in our brains caused participants to desire it less, and eventually reduce their portion sizes. According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, this effect explains why a sandwich made by your mother tastes better than a sandwich made by yourself.

When it comes to food, it turns out that we’re naturally suspicious of the unknown. We assume new foods won’t have any effect on us and over-estimate how much we’ll need to keep us full, which in turn increases our portion sizes and caloric intake. Over time we become more trusting of what we put in our mouths and become happier with less. These expectations become embedded in our consciousness, and allow us to form positive affiliations with familiar food that cause to become less hungry and more satisfied.

[box type=”note”]So in the ever-expanding lexicon of diet axioms, maybe the terms “eat fresh” “eat local” or “eat organic” should be replaced with “eat familiar.”[/box]


  1. Hardaman, CA, et. al. “Childrens Familiarity With Snack Foods Changes Expectations About Fullness.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nov. 2011
  2. Sorenson, LB et. al. “Effect of Sensory Perception of Foods on Appetites and Food Intake: A Review of Studies on Humans” International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolical Disorders, Oct. 2003
  3. Brunstrom, JM et. al. “How Many Calories Are On Our Plate? Expected Fullness, Not Liking, Determines Meal Size Selection” Obesity, Oct. 2009.
  4. Morewedge, CK, et. al “Thought For Food: Imagined Consumption Reduces Actual Consumption.” Science, Dec. 2010.
  5. Brunstrom, JM, et. al “Measuing ‘Expected Satiety’ in a Range of Common Foods Using a Method of Constant Stimuli” Obesity, Nov. 2008.

Jonathan Bechtel

Jonathan Bechtel is the founder of Health Kismet, a green superfood powder that condenses 35 types of raw produce into a powder that can be mixed with water, juice, smoothies, or into a meal. He blogs at

2 thoughts on “Hunger Is A Habit: Why Familiar Food Is Healthier Food

  • November 17, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    What an interesting correlation! I always thought it was the food’s fault if I didn’t feel full. Now I know part of the problem lies with my stomach.

    • November 18, 2011 at 4:29 am

      @richardstevens2 Glad you liked it! I found the correlations surprising as well. I doubt the food itself has *nothing* to do with it…..almost certainly not.


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