The food we eat can work against us in more ways than we may realise, causing toxic hunger to keep us making poor choices and struggling to reach our health goals.
Have you heard the term toxic hunger?
This term was coined by Dr. Joel Fuhrman , the author of many books on nutrition and disease prevention, most famously the Eat to Live book.
And to sum it up, toxic hunger is made up of unpleasant symptoms that present when we withdraw from unhealthy foods.
These symptoms can be:
Butterflies in the stomach
Stomach gurgling and growling
And craving foods like sugar, salt, and high fat high oil products
What true hunger feels like
At first thought these symptoms all sound like normal sensations and how you feel when you need something to eat.
But true hunger doesn’t actually cause you any feelings of discomfort.
True hunger is only felt by an increase in saliva production and a sensation in the throat that tells you it’s time to eat.
Toxic hunger controls your decisions
As a recovering hangry food addict (guilty as charged) It still amazes me how I am no longer afraid of feeling hungry.
Have you ever felt that way before?
Where you’re going out of the house for a while and you’re wondering when to eat because you don’t want to get hungry while you’re out.
Or you’ve already been out for a bit and you know that you only have about an hour left before you’re going to start tot get “hungry” (really just symptoms of toxic hunger) and you start to plan your day around when you’re going to eat.
This happens because the symptoms I described above are not fun to deal with.
They really can ruin your day and make you feel quite unwell.
And so what I’m going to share with you today is how you can rid yourself of toxic hunger so you are not slave to your body anymore.
If you’d like some help getting over toxic hunger, you can click this link to get a free downloadable resource that will walk you through how to do a 5-day Toxic Hunger detox so you can get help getting over the hump.
Where toxic hunger comes from
This might be a good time to grab a notebook or open your notes app on your phone or if you don’t have either then go ahead and comment your big takeaways or questions so we can all learn at the same time.
Toxic hunger happens for 2 reasons:
Our body is withdrawing from the dopamine high caused by high sugar, high oil, high salt foods
Foods that are not health promoting produce metabolites that our body flushes out once the catabolic phase of digestion begins. They flow through our system on the way out and cause symptoms
Let me explain this in more detail and you can tell me if it’s making sense in the comments.
Dopamine is addictive
Our body is incredible.
It’s built to adapt to our surroundings and to take every last bit of useful molecules from our food so we have it for a rainy day.
We are rewarded by good feelings in our brain when we find a high source of sugar, fat and calories to encourage us to keep looking for those same foods.’
This system works beautifully when we are not exposed to fake foods created by the food industry that are way more sugar, salt and oil than we would ever have access to in nature.
But when we eat the foods that are manufactured to give us a high we run into 2 problems:
We no longer want to eat natural foods because the payoff isn’t as great as eating processed high sugar/salt/oil foods
We get addicted to the dopamine high from processed foods so when we eat regular foods we physically can not enjoy them as much as natural whole foods
Think about sugar like this
I want to ask you a serious question now.
Are you a drug user?
Do you use cocaine, cannabis, or alcohol to feel good?
What about sugar?
Sugar is a celebrated drug in our culture. It’s present at every birthday party, celebration, and gathering.
And while packages of cigarettes contain graphic warnings of the harm they can cause to our bodies, and drugs in general are typically looked down on as a bad coping mechanism, sugar is widely accepted.
And it goes even further because if you say to your social circle that you are trying to avoid eating sugar you’re almost guaranteed to come up against some resistance from people in your life.
And usually even the most supportive people will test you at some point and see if you want to indulge with them.
Sugar is just as harmful to your health as many of the other drugs I mentioned.
It leads to so many health complications and our society doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.
Does that make sense to you?
Is natural sugar addicting?
And to be clear, I’m not talking about sugar from whole natural foods like dates or bananas which is how I make desserts and treats now.
I’m not saying you need to give up celebrating with a sweet treat.
What I am saying is that processed sugar will use your reward system against you and take your power and control over what you crave away.
Processed foods essentially hijack our reward pathways and make it almost impossible to want to eat the foods our body really needs to thrive.
The good news is that we can get our dopamine response in check and enjoy whole natural foods again.
Natural foods taste better
In fact we can get even more enjoyment from the taste of natural foods than we ever got from processed foods.
The trick is that we need to go through all of the symptoms of toxic hunger in order to make it to the other side.
So that’s the first part of why toxic hunger affects us but now lets talk about the harmful substances in all processed foods.
How processed foods create toxic hunger
As I mentioned, processed foods contain substances that our body would never come into contact with in the natural world.
These metabolites cause symptoms that we often associate with hunger but really its our body’s natural response to flush these toxic substances from our system during the catabolic phase of digestion.
I want you to go ahead and read that post once you’re finished this one because it goes into more detail about the phases of digestion and how your body heals.
Essentially once the main part of digestion finishes, our body goes through a healing cycle and this is when the toxic hunger symptoms will start.
And usually you’ll start to feel this anywhere from 3-5 hours after you ate.
What to avoid to stop toxic hunger
To stop feeling these symptoms we need to clean up our diet so we are not putting processed foods into our system. That means avoiding foods with sugar, oil and salt.
Salt creates toxic hunger
Salt will lead to cravings and poor health outcomes and it doesn’t allow your body to flush the metabolites as well when you are consuming more than an added 200mg or so per day.
Natural foods already have anywhere from 500-800mg so by not adding more than 200mg you’re staying within a safe limit.
Sugar leads to toxic hunger
Sugars from whole plant foods are fine but when we use syrups, coconut sugar, refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup (which is found in most processed foods) our body reacts poorly.
We will get an increased load of dopamine which makes us feel great when we eat it, but crappy when we come down.
Toxic hunger is cause by oils
In addition to avoiding salt and sugar we also need to avoid oils.
Even healthier oils like flax, coconut and olive still will trigger that addictive response in your system because you’re getting the calories way to fast.
When the fat is bound by fiber like it is in it’s whole food form the absorption is slowed down and the body has time to allocate it where it’s needed instead of being stored right away.
If you’re getting too much fat too fast like through oil your body will “reward you” with dopamine as well so this is another thing to be conscious about.
Processed foods and toxic hunger
Processed foods are the number one thing you need to avoid.
I think most of us know that processed foods are loaded with sugar, salt and oil. But on top of that, they also contain dangerous substances like preservatives, and substances that are formed during deep frying like in chips and French fries which are toxic to the body.
Even vegan processed foods will contribute to exasperating toxic hunger symptoms.
What to eat instead to stop toxic hunger
What you need to eat in order to move past the cycle of toxic hunger is natural whole plant foods.
The closer the food is to its natural state the better it is for your health.
And to take it even a step further, make the base of your diet vegetables instead of starch.
Many vegans will follow a starch-based diet made popular by Dr. John McDougal.
This is far and wide the cheapest way to eat a healthy vegan diet, but when you’re getting the majority of your calories from starch instead of green vegetables, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to get the number of antioxidants, anticancer, and phytochemicals found in vegetables and fruit.
The more antioxidants you flood your body with the faster you will recover from the symptoms of toxic hunger because they are going to work for you to help flush your system.
And we are talking about learning to say no even when almost everyone you know is pushing it on you.
Be prepared to have a few crappy days.
It took me about 10 days to fully get over my symptoms, but I think that was because at first, I didn’t fully commit to completely eliminating all processed foods, sugar, oil and salt all at once.
This definitely prolonged the detox symptoms and made it harder than it could have been if I just went all in from the start.
How long does a toxic hunger detox last?
If you are ready to do it cold turkey you can get over that hump in about 5 days, depending on what you have been eating and what type of diet your coming from.
The people who have very poor diets tend to experience more symptoms.
I walk my clients through a detox period where you are 100% compliant to eating only whole natural foods. I always start the program this way because that’s when you’re super motivated in the beginning to push past the discomfort.
This is the time when people need the most support and encouragement so I’m in contact with you daily during the first 2 weeks.
It’s not easy, but it is doable and the weight loss you see is an added bonus that keeps the momentum going and helps you focus on your end goal of better health.
Download your free 5-day detox guide to help you get over the 5-day hump if you’d like to try this on your own.
Megan Kerry is a Vegan Lifestyle Educator and Licensed Practical Nurse. Her content focuses on vegan recipes and ethical living. She is a mom of four children, a long time vegan, and an even longer time foodie. She loves veganizing any and all dishes and sharing her recipes and lifestyle tips with all of you!