Hunger is good to experience on a daily basis. Hunger is important to aid in our enjoyment of food and get the precise signals from our body to know the amount of calories we need to maintain our lean body mass. When we eat when we are hungry food tastes much better and we are physiologically primed for proper digestion. Hunger, in the true sense of the word, indicates to us that it is time to eat again.
Consider that real hunger is not often experienced in our modern, overfed population. Most people no longer even remember or are aware what hunger even feels like. Most people are surprised to find that true hunger is felt in the throat and not in the head or stomach.
Instead of true hunger, people get detoxification or withdrawal symptoms that they mistakenly consider hunger. They feel shaky, head-achy, weak, fatigue, get abdominal cramps or spasms and other symptoms which they consider manifestations of hunger symptoms because they are relieved by eating. I call this “toxic hunger.” Toxic hunger is the symptoms a person experiences that are due to toxic wastes being mobilized for elimination. It occurs after a meal is digested and the digestive track is empty, and it could make us feel very uncomfortable.
Generally, we eat to get rid of these withdrawal symptoms and it works. In fact, this is one of the most important contributors to our population’s overweight condition. We eat the wrong foods and just a few hours later we feel ill, stressed out, shaky, weak, mentally dull, and we are driven to eat again to relieve the discomfort. Did you ever hear someone saying they needed to eat because they feel so shaky? The question is, are these symptoms “true hunger,” “hypoglycemia” or something else? I claim that these symptoms occur simultaneous to our blood sugar decreasing but they are not caused by “hypoglycemia.” Rather, they result from sensitivity to mobilization of waste products which is enhanced when most active digestion is finished.
When we eat a nutrient-dense diet, rich with lots of colorful vegetables, we will better meet the nutrient needs of our body and reduce free radicals and other toxins that build up in our tissues from a diet of poor quality. When we have a lower level of waste on our tissues as a result of micronutrient adequacy people no longer feel those (withdrawal) symptoms of “toxic hunger” leading to overeating behavior.
When our diet is low in nutrients, we build up intra-cellular waste products. So when digestion stops, our body goes through a period catabolism or breakdown and this results in, and is accompanied by, the release of toxic substances into circulation for removal. Our cells harbor toxic products that build up in the body when our diet is relatively nutrient-poor. Phytonutrients enable cellular detoxification machinery. When we don’t eat sufficient phytochemical-rich-vegetation and consume excess animal proteins (creating excess nitrogenous wastes) we often exacerbate the build up of metabolic waste products in our body.
The confusion is compounded because when we eat the same heavy foods that are causing the problem to begin with, we feel so much better. This makes becoming overweight inevitable, because if we stop digesting food, even for a short time, our bodies will begin to experience symptoms of detoxification or withdrawal from our unhealthful diet. To counter this we eat heavy meals, eat too often and keep our digestive track overfed to lessen the discomfort from our stressful diet-style.
When our bodies have acclimated to noxious agents it is called addiction. Try to stop taking the heroin and we will feel ill. In fact, we must have it or we will become terribly sick. This is called withdrawal. When we stop doing something harmful to ourselves we feel ill as the body mobilizes cellular wastes and attempts to repair the damage caused by the exposure.
If we drank 3 cups of coffee or caffeinated soda a day, we would get a withdrawal headache when our caffeine level dipped too low. We could take more caffeine again (or other drugs) or we could eat food more frequently which can make us feel a little better as it retards detoxification or withdrawal. In other words, the caffeine withdrawal symptoms can contribute to our drinking more caffeine products or eating more frequently as a means of managing the symptoms from caffeine withdrawal.
Likewise, a few hours after eating the standard low-nutrient diet most people begin to feel “hungry”. They feel weak, headachy, tired, mentally dull, and have stomach spasms. I call it “toxic hunger” because these symptoms only occur in those who have been eating a toxic diet. True hunger would not have occurred so early after the meal.
True hunger signals when our body needs calories to maintain our lean body mass. If we ate food demanded by true hunger and true hunger only, people would not become overweight to begin with. In our present toxic food environment, we have lost the ability to connect with the body signals that tell us how much food we actually need. We have become slaves to withdrawal symptoms and eat all day long, even when there is no biological need for calories.
Fortunately, this cycle of eating, and then avoiding the symptoms of detoxification by eating again, does not have to continue. There is a way out. When you restore the nutritional integrity and relative cleanliness to your tissues, you simply will not have the desire to eat. You will naturally desire less calories.
In an environment of healthy food choices, we would not feel any symptoms after a meal until the hormonal and neurological messengers indicated the glycogen reserves in the liver were running low. Nature has made it so that our body has the beautifully orchestrated ability to give us the precise signals to tell us exactly how much to eat to maintain an ideal weight for our long term health. This signal I call “true hunger” to differentiate it from the “toxic hunger” everyone else calls hunger.
Feeding ourselves to satisfy true hunger does not cause weight gain and if people were better connected with these normal signals it would be almost impossible for anyone to become overweight. True hunger is felt in the throat, neck and mouth, not in the stomach or head. It is a drawing sensation. It is not very uncomfortable to feel real hunger, it makes food taste much better when you eat, and it makes eating an intense pleasure.
We do not have to carry around a calculator and a scale to figure out how much to eat. A healthy body will give us the correct signals. So in order to achieve superior health, maximize our longevity potential, and achieve our ideal weight, we have to eat healthy enough to get back in touch with true hunger and rid ourselves of this “toxic hunger”.
Every cell is like a little factory, it makes products, produces waste and then must compact, detoxify and remove waste. If we don’t ingest sufficient antioxidants and phytonutrients from our food choices, our cells are unable to effectively remove self-produced waste. If we let waste metabolites build up, the body will attempt to mobilize them (discomfort) when it can; but it only can do that effectively if not actively digesting food. Eating makes one feel better because it halts or delays the detoxification process.
My books, Eat to Live and Eat For Health explain how eating for health is the most effective way to reach our ideal weight and stay there permanently when you get there. There are lots of ways to lose weight, but only by eating lots of nutrient-rich foods as a method of choice for weight loss will we not have to fight off cravings and ill feelings.
In a portion controlled (calorie counting) diet it is likely that the body will not get adequate fiber or nutrients. The body will have a compounded sensation of hunger and craving which for most is simply overwhelming. It invariably results in people losing weight then gaining back their weight. Calorie counting simply doesn’t work in the long run. Diets based on portion control and calorie counting generally permits the eating of highly toxic, low nutrient foods and then requires us to fight our addictive drives and attempt to eat less. This combination undernourishes the body resulting in uncontrollable and frequent food cravings.
Without an adequate education in superior nutrition and solid principles to stick to; these individuals are forced to flounder and fail bouncing from one diet to another, always losing a little and regaining. Frequently regaining more than they lost. With the right knowledge base, we can get more pleasure from eating and protect our precious health. So for superior health and our ideal weight, don’t diet, Eat For Health.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D is a board certified family physician specializing in nutritional medicine. He is the author of the acclaimed books Eat To Live and Eat For Health. Visit his website at: drfuhrman.com and his blog at: diseaseproof.com.