Toxic Hunger: The Link Between Cravings, Food Addiction, and Weight Gain
Imagine, for a moment, living a life completely free of food cravings. What would this mean for you? Maybe you even consider yourself a food addict. Or maybe you just know, in some ways, that the food you eat is causing you problems, such as weight gain, health problems, or acne. Whatever your relationship with food may be, most people experience intense food cravings from time to time, but what are they trying to tell you?
Some nutritional experts interpret cravings as our body’s way of telling us what we need. In other words, they are a sign of nutrient deficiency. For example, meat cravings, especially beef, are a sign of iron deficiency. Well, now it makes sense why that guy in the booth next to me at Applebee’s had his very own rib throwdown! He must’ve really needed that iron, right?
Toxic Habits = Toxic Hunger
Well, here’s a concept to chew on that may change the way you think about the food you crave. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a physician and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through natural foods, cravings are not the result of hunger; they are the result of toxic habits.
Through his research on the relationship between processed, low-nutrient foods and addiction, Fuhrman has discovered a concept he refers to as “toxic hunger.”
Toxic hunger occurs when regardless of how many calories we consumer, we do not meet our body’s nutritional needs, specifically micronutrients - the naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals found in the food we eat. With high calorie/low nutrient diets, even when we take in far more calroies than we need, our body is starving for nutrients and sends out hunger signals in hopes we'll finally give it the nutrients it really wants and needs.
When our diet is void of these micronutrients, our toxic hunger takes over, which creates intense cravings and our tendency to consume nutrient-poor, calorie-rich choices, such as processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugar. Just like a coffee addict who experiences withdrawal-induced headaches, toxic hunger involves uncomfortable symptoms that trigger us to seek out unhealthy food.
Symptoms of Toxic Hunger:
- Abdominal cramping and/or spasm
- Esophageal spasm
In an effort to avoid the uncomfortable feelings associated with detoxification or withdrawal from the unhealthy foods we regularly consume, our toxic hunger is triggered and we, again, experience intense food cravings. This repetitive and dangerous cycle of toxic hunger, cravings, and over-eating inevitably leads to food addiction.
Toxic Hunger Rehab = True Hunger
The only way to put an end to toxic hunger is to begin consuming micronutrient-rich foods, such as leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and beans. After eating this way for 2-4 months, our body is able to rebuild its micronutrient reserves. Through this process, toxic hunger is replaced with true hunger, which signals us to eat only the calories needed to achieve and maintain our ideal weight. Not only that, our intense cravings disappear and we are no longer controlled by food.
According to Fuhrman, true hunger is felt in the throat, neck, and mouth. It is not uncomfortable like toxic hunger, and no pain should be felt in the stomach. True hunger does not involve food cravings. After eating a micronutrient-rich diet and detoxifying your body, you will no longer experience the addictive drives of intense cravings. A health-promoting diet leads to a healthy body, which appropriately signals us to eat only when we experience true hunger.
Signs of True Hunger:
- Enhanced taste sensation
- Increased salivation
- Gnawing throat sensation
Unlike many health and nutrition experts who claim eating small meals and snacks throughout the day is the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, Dr. Fuhrman believes in eating only when truly hungry. To maximize health, our body should not constantly be digesting food. Rather, once digestion is complete, our body can focus on detoxification and cellular repair.
Achieving True Hunger
In addition to eating a micronutrient-dense diet for at least 8 weeks, true hunger can also be achieved with the following considerations:
- Do not eat when not hungry.
- No snacking, unless you know you are experiencing true hunger.
- Don’t overeat. Do not eat until you feel "full" or rather, stuffed.
- Do not eat a large dinner. Lunch should be largest meal of the day.
- Don’t eat anything after dinner.
- Discontinue addicting foods and substances, including refined sugar, white, refined grains, refined oil (even "healthy" refined oils like olive oil and coconut oil), caffeine, salt, alcohol, sweets, dairy, processed foods, soda, smoking, recreational drugs, and prescription drugs (if determined safe to do so by your physician).
When beginning the process of detoxification and kicking toxic hunger to the curb, it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not going to feel great at first. Just like a bad break-up after a long, toxic relationship, it takes some time to repair the damage caused by the longstanding exposure to the garbage you’ve been putting up with! As your body works diligently to repair itself, you may experience symptoms such as a low-grade fever, emotional instability, fatigue, and headaches.
It really does sound like a bad break-up, but don’t despair. Once you kiss toxic hunger goodbye, you will be in control of your cravings, your food choices, your weight, and, most importantly, your health.
Fuhrman, J. (2003). Eat to Live: The amazing nutrient-rich program for fast and sustained weight loss. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, Inc.