From Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.

©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow

Understanding Hunger*

For most people, hunger is the greatest obstacle to eating healthfully. What is hunger, and how can you stop being controlled by it?

True Hunger

Ideally, hunger is the way we experience the body’s physiological need for energy and essential nutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, etc.). Unfortunately, many people experience the sensation of hunger for foods rich in energy even though they have ample reserves of energy-containing fat. Some people are always “hungry.” In order not to be ruled by false hunger (hunger for unnecessary or harmful substances), it is necessary to do two things: (1) learn to recognize the basis of your sensation of hunger and (2) educate your body not to send the wrong messages. False hunger falls into nine basic categories: (1) low blood sugar; (2) an irritation of the lining of the stomach; (3) addictions; (4) the discomfort of the body in utilizing reserves; (5) a desire for stimulation; (6) a genuine need for essential nutrients, expressed by a craving for food dilute in those nutrients; (7) tiredness experienced as a need for food; (8) thinking about, seeing, or smelling food; and (9) habituation to regularity. Hunger for energy-rich, low-nutrition foods when there are excess energy stores in the body is pathological. Arresting and reversing such a condition requires an understanding of its causes. By understanding and then recognizing the following causes of false hunger, you can re-educate yourself to naturally crave only what is needed and nothing else.

False Hunger

1. Low Blood Sugar. Even though numerous books have been written on low blood sugar, most people either do not understand the concept behind it or fail to recognize the extent to which it affects their emotional and physical states. Because low blood sugar is such a vast and complex subject, we will only make reference to it here. (My article on sugar) includes the basics of sugar metabolism and how to re-educate it.

The level of sugar (glucose) in the blood determines to a great extent whether or not we feel physically energetic or lethargic, mentally clear or muddled, and hungry or satiated. The key to physical and mental well-being and optimal weight lies in understanding all of the factors involved in a sustained stabilization of blood sugar. Without this understanding, successful weight loss requires heroic will power. Hunger resulting from low blood sugar is usually characterized by an urgent craving for sugar or starch rather than protein or fat. This hunger usually abates after abstaining from eating or thinking about food for about fifteen minutes or so.

2. An Irritation of the Lining of the Stomach. Many people mistake an irritation of the stomach for true hunger. This type of false hunger is characterized by a generalized, non-specific craving for food whenever the stomach is empty regardless of any true need for food. A stomach that has been habitually subjected to abuses (such as overeating, improper chewing, eating indigestible combinations of foods (read about food combining for optimal digestion)), or drinking liquids during or after meals) becomes uncomfortable or even painful when it is empty. This gnawing discomfort, termed hunger pangs, results from the irritated walls of the empty stomach coming into contact with one another. Of course, hunger pangs are not true hunger, which is the way we experience a physiological requirement of the cells for nutrients. True hunger is not painful but pleasant. Because the pangs are relieved by eating, they are experienced as a craving for food and are erroneously thought to be hunger. Continually eating to relieve an irritation of the stomach ultimately irritates it further. The best remedy for such an irritation is rest of the digestive organs and observance of digestive limitations. It should also be noted that taking vitamin E orally in fairly large amounts is very useful in healing the stomach. A healthy stomach should be totally comfortable when empty, and true hunger has nothing to do with an empty stomach. Factors contributing to an irritated stomach will be discussed in Chapter 6.

3. Addictions. Many substances are literally poisonous to the body or, while not generally poisonous, cause allergic reactions. When these substances are metabolized or eliminated, a false hunger for them arises. Such a false hunger is characterized by cravings for highly specific substances. For example, those with an allergy to wheat tend to have a hunger for food primarily containing wheat, and that hunger does not seem to be satisfied by eating other similarly starchy foods such as potatoes or rice. Another example is the addiction to salt that many people have. When excess salt is eliminated by the body, a craving occurs, not necessarily for salt per se, but for foods high in salt, and there are many such foods. A similar craving can initially occur when dietary salt is reduced. There is no question that sugar is addictive, and both the underlying mechanism and elimination of this addiction will be discussed later. Discussions of addictions in general and of sugar and salt are contained in Chapters 7, 8, and 9, respectively. Read more about: addictions and cravings / salt and condiments / sugar.

4. The Discomfort of the Body in Utilizing Reserves. When there is a deficit in caloric intake, the reserves of the body must be utilized to supply energy. This utilization can cause discomfort for the following reasons: (a) The body is not practiced in accessing its own fat. (b) The fat contains stored toxins, the release of which places a burden on the eliminative system. Here, exercise is extremely important in cleaning out toxins and teaching your body to burn primarily fat instead of sugar. The mechanisms involved will be discussed throughout this book. As you understand and apply that knowledge, your body will gradually learn to burn fat comfortably.

5. A Desire for Stimulation. As previously mentioned, our mental states are affected by blood-sugar levels; when the blood-sugar level becomes low, depression tends to set in, and when the blood-sugar level is high, there is a feeling of well-being. Thus, there is a Pavlovian association with eating and well-being even though the type of eating that results is antithetical to true well-being. When we eat to provide stimulation, we disrupt the delicately balanced mechanisms that would otherwise lead us to eat exactly the right foods in the right amounts.

For every emotional high that is created by eating for stimulation, there is a correspondingly greater low that soon follows. Then emotional ups and downs escalate, resulting in a vicious cycle.

6. A Genuine Need for Essential Nutrients, Expressed by a Perverted Craving for Foods Dilute in Those Nutrients. Habitually eating foods with a low-nutrient and high-calorie content creates a deficiency of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals—especially trace minerals. The result is the need to eat proportionately larger amounts of such foods to obtain the needed nutrients and, consequently, never feeling satisfied.

7. Tiredness Experienced as a Need for Food. For some people, the genuine need for physiological rest is often incorrectly experienced as hunger. It might seem counterproductive to eat when rest or sleep is really needed because digesting and assimilating food initially requires energy. However, much "food" is (a) laced with stimulating ingredients such as sugar, spices, and vinegar and (b) frequently consumed along with coffee or tea. Thus there is an unconscious association between food and a burst of energy. For example, even when sugar is combined with other food elements, it is absorbed into the blood stream almost immediately, causing a momentary high. Momentary because soon thereafter, the pancreas secrets a copious amount of insulin, dropping the blood-sugar level and causing an even greater low. The up-and-down effect is greatly increased when the sugar-rich food is accompanied by coffee. However, the effect of coffee is so powerful that the down is delayed by hours. Therefore, only the up and not the down is noticed. Next time you have a craving for coffee and a Danish pastry, be honest with yourself. What you probably need is rest or sleep!

8. Thinking About, Seeing, or Smelling Food. Pavlov (does the name Pavlov ring a bell?) showed that eating a particular food has the effect of producing a secretion of the enzymes required for the assimilation of that food. He also showed that it is possible to condition dogs to salivate when they hear sounds associated with food. Thus, it is not far fetched that imagining eating a cookie, for example, will cause insulin to be secreted by the pancreas in preparation for the anticipated assault of sugar that would occur if you actually ate cookies. Then, if no carbohydrate is eaten, the insulin secreted lowers the blood sugar to a very low level, causing an increased craving for cookies. Merely contemplating eating sweets or starches can be a critical factor that sabotages your otherwise strong resolve to avoid such foods. Food establishments know that the odor of food is stimulating to the appetite and use exhaust fans to arouse interest in food in passersby who would otherwise not even think of eating. Just think of what happens when you are accompanying friends who are eating; you may not be hungry, but soon the odor and sight of food will change that. Seeing a magazine or television ad for food can also tip the balance. On the other hand, you will become even stronger if you can go to a restaurant with your friends, order nothing because you are not really hungry, and not be adversely affected.

9. Habituation to Regularity. How often have you been told of the importance of eating a particular meal at the same time every day? Is it reasonable to assume that a human body, which is never the same from day to day, would always have the same needs at the same time every day? Is the concept of regularity of meals based on physiological needs or on the dictates of the industrialized, assembly-line workplace? If workers were permitted to leave the assembly-line for lunch whenever they wanted to, the effect on production efficiency would be detrimental. Therefore, such workers are required to eat, drink coffee, etc., at the same time. When meals are always at the same time each day, the digestive organs become habituated to begin the digestive process whether or not food is needed or available. Then, if food is not forthcoming, distress, experienced as hunger, ensues. What if your job necessitates eating at the same time every day—hungry or not? Then don’t eat if you are not hungry. If hunger later arrives at an inconvenient time, use that opportunity to do without food until the next scheduled meal. You will find that you will lose weight, give your digestive organs a rest, and simultaneously train yourself not to have to eat at the instant you experience hunger.

10. A Desire for Distraction from a Distasteful Task or Chore. As a student for many years, I am quite familiar with the desire to put off tackling a difficult homework problem. “Now would be a good time to have a bite, and I think that I’m starting to get hungry.” Once at the table or peering into the refrigerator, the awareness of the distasteful problem is displaced by the of anticipation of an enjoyable experience. That is how food can be used to avoid a distasteful task. After sufficient repetitions of this avoidance modality, its concomitant thought process bypasses any conscious awareness, and the desire to avoid the distasteful task or chore is simply experienced as hunger, albeit false.

Dealing With False Hunger

The best way to deal with inappropriate cravings is first to experience them. Then attempt to objectively identify them. If, for example, you realize that your sensation of hunger is from an irritated stomach, that knowledge will be very helpful both in dealing with that problem and in quelling your craving. First cultivate the awareness that the hunger is false. Next, develop the tools and resolve to deal with it over the long term. Thus armed, it will be easier to dismiss any thought of eating the wrong food. Just think of how good you feel when you eat properly and are at the correct weight. Think of any health condition with which you may suffer or any excess weight you may be constantly carrying around. Analogously, if your house were always cluttered with unwanted junk, you would want to remedy this condition as soon as possible. Look at the food and ask, “Do I want that to become part of me?”

See also:

Hunger Pangs—What They are and How to Alleviate Them

Factors Affecting Digestion

Flatulence and Halitosis

Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and Antacids

Combining Foods for Optimal Digestion

Therapeutic Fasting

*From Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.

©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow

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