Face it. During periods of fasting you will experience what may be a new feeling in your body. This is a feeling that we in the modern western world seldom feel. It’s called: h-u-n-g-e-r. Yes. Did I really say that? I will say it again: HUNGER. There. I just said it again. When talking about food and diets, it seems as if hunger is the ultimate villain. Does the idea of hunger frighten you? It shouldn’t!
For most of human existence, periodic hunger was a simple fact of life and people didn’t go crazy from it or fear it any more than we today may fear getting sleepy or tired. It is simply a human biological response to a condition in our body.
What is different today is that most people in the western world are eating a highly refined, toxic diet based on manufactured foods made of processed grains, sugar and oils. When eating such a diet, the body no longer has the natural feedback and sensory mechanisms that it was designed to have with a PURE and healthy diet.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Breakthrough Research
In 2010, Dr. Joel Fuhrman and a team of researchers published the results of a fascinating study called “Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet.” In it, they compared in detail the changes in hunger feelings before and after adopting a high nutrient density diet.
The “before” diet was a standard American/western diet (primarily a commercially processed food diet) with the majority of calories from sugars, white flour, refined oils, dairy and meat. The “after”diet was a high nutrient density combination of unrefined, unprocessed plant food with little added sugar and oils and a small amount of animal products. This diet was very high in micronutrients such as phytochemicals and antioxidants.
The results of this study have fascinating and crucial implications for successful intermittent fasting. They found that the frequency of “hunger pains” went from 80% often or more on the standard American/western diet to only 10% on the high nutrient density diet. If a meal was skipped, only 10% of the participants on the high nutrient density diet often or constantly felt discomfort. On the standard diet, over 70% of the participants, often or constantly felt discomfort after skipping a meal.
The study measured and compared the perceptions of hunger in many different ways, and the difference between the standard diet and the high nutrient density diet is dramatic in all comparisons. In addition to just feeling less hunger while eating a high nutrient density diet, the way that hunger actually impacted the participants was altered. When hungry, the participants eating a high nutrient density diet were actually less irritable and their moods were less affected. Hunger was no longer unpleasant.
A Eureka Moment!
When I first read this study, I thought, Eureka! This is indeed the Holy Grail of dieting! What good is a super healthy diet plan that has wonderful effects if you have to endure very unpleasant hunger all the time? We need a proven strategy to control the hunger and to prevent mood changes.
Eating a high nutrient density diet will mitigate the experience of hunger and will allow you to endure fasting with a feeling of control and pleasantness. Sensations such as fatigue, weakness, stomach cramps, irritability and headaches—which are commonly defined as hunger when eating the standard diet—are replaced by a new, less unpleasant feeling of hunger when eating a high nutrient density diet. This is truly the key to making intermittent fasting feasible over the long term.
Why is there a difference in perceived hunger for the two different diets? When eating a standard American/western diet that is low in antioxidant and phytochemical micronutrients, there is a buildup of toxins and inflammatory by-products. When digestion ceases between meals, there are actually the physical symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms Fuhrman calls “toxic hunger.” He also notes that these withdrawal symptoms drive overeating and are a major factor leading to obesity.
In the attempt to avoid these withdrawal/hunger symptoms that result from the standard diet, people often become trapped in an endless cycle of continuous digestion, frequent eating and excessive caloric intake. People eating the typical western diet often only feel “normal” when eating too frequently.
This study shows that by eating a diet of toxic industrial food, we have lost our ability to feel our body telling us how much food we actually need. Consequently, there is an increased tendency to eat all the time, even when there is no real need for calories.
What are the implications for intermittent fasting? If you want to be successful at intermittent fasting, then one of the primary real life concerns is controlling your feelings of hunger, especially during the fasting periods. Research clearly shows that the best way to do this is to eat a high nutrient density diet including fruits and vegetables that contain plenty of water and the micronutrients needed to detoxify the body. Also key is food with healthy fats that digests slowly so as to avoid blood sugar spikes and drops. Especially good are walnuts, avocados and coconut oil.