The first step to building trust with your body is to start feeding it when it is hungry. You feel hungry in response to certain needs of the body: calories and/or nutrients. Essentially, your body sends signals to the brain that it needs calories and/or nutrients, and your brain tells your stomach to get ready for digestion and cues you to begin looking for food. Unfortunately, your hunger is not food-specific; your body hasn’t really told you whether it needs nutrients – or which nutrients – calories, or both. However, when you feel hunger, it is a clear signal that you should eat.
Of course, there are times when you want to eat but do not feel hunger, as well as times when your body is misled to believe it is hungry but is not actually hungry, like when you get the munchies as a result of smoking or ingesting cannabis. (It is possible this is, however, a real hunger response to the body’s increased need for magnesium to process cannabis, but I certainly cannot say one way or the other.) Some cues related to food are more emotionally motivated, like a desire for comfort; however, this is not the hunger we are talking about here.
In addition, what you eat often factors into your experience of cravings. Let’s start with the obvious: food manufacturers have a vested interest in making you consume more of their product. These are the primary offenders in the department of causing food addictions and cravings, as well as causing an epidemic of obesity in this country. They offer primarily calorie-dense, nutrient-deficient food that is designed, formulated one might say, to encourage you to eat more. Fast-food chains add sugar to nearly everything, including their meat, in an attempt to induce you to eat more. Look at the labels on nearly all processed supermarket food, from soup to crackers, and you will see sugar in some form has been added. And, that is to say nothing regarding how these empty foods are advertised.
What you won’t find is that the food contains a balance of nutrients to calories. By this I mean, the crackers that supply 10% of your caloric requirement do not contain anywhere near 10% of your nutrient requirements. When the bulk of the food you eat is deficient in nutrients relative to calories, it just makes sense that your body will not feel nourished; your body will continue to send signals to your brain that you need to seek food.
I would further point out that many of the less desirable foods we eat require the body to use more of its nutrient reserves, frequently in the form of minerals required to achieve an alkaline state in the body – specifically calcium and magnesium. With respect to calcium, some have indicated that protein inhibits the absorption of calcium; this is not entirely accurate. The truth of the matter is that protein requires a large amount of acid to be produced in the process of digestion, which in turn requires a large amount of alkalinity to neutralize.
Magnesium and calcium are two minerals the body frequently sources to neutralize acid; as such, the calcium in protein-rich foods, being readily available, is frequently used for this purpose. This is one reason that milk products are not actually a good source of calcium. In fact, the calcium in broccoli and other greens, sesame seeds, and figs is much better absorbed by the body, as very little mineral contents is required in the metabolism of these foods. Magnesium is a very important mineral found abundantly in whole grains, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and legumes. It can generally be said to cause relaxation and softening in the body: muscle relaxation, mental relaxation, softening of arteries, lower blood pressure, and softer stools, specifically. Most people are deficient in magnesium, partly because it has been stripped from whole grains, but also partly because metabolism of the standard diet requires the body to use so much of it.
As you can see, choosing what to eat in response to hunger is very important in determining your health, as well as your weight, but that does not mean you should not feed your body when it indicates hunger. Starving your body is an act of betrayal and ultimately leads to disaster. Your body is not your enemy; it is your greatest ally in ensuring your survival. When you feel your body is not performing or looking its best, your body is, in a sense, sick and needs to be fed higher-quality food. Your body is not trying to trick you into being sick and overweight; it is doing its best to communicate its need for nourishment to you, and it is time for you to listen and treat your sick friend to some nutrient-dense food, so that your body can heal itself.
The good news is that vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes contain bountiful supplies of vitamins and minerals. For instance, one medium carrot supplies more than 200% of the daily Vitamin A recommendation, and one cup of raw spinach supplies 56% of Vitamin A and 14% of the daily Vitamin C recommendation (1). Another example is the RDA for Vitamin D, which is 200 IU up to age 50, 400 IU up to age 70, and 600 IU over age 70 (2). Consider the fact that a fair-skinned person produces 10,000 IU of Vitamin D after 10 minutes of sun (wearing shorts and tank top without sunscreen) during midday, doubtless due to the fact that those of of us north of Atlanta, GA, have to store so much Vitamin D to maintain supply in the winter months, when sun exposure does not create Vitamin D due the angle of the sun’s UVB rays being insufficient to penetrate the atmosphere.
Therefore, in conclusion, if in response to hunger we begin consuming the bulk of our calories in the realm of whole, nutrient-dense foods, we will find that we are better nourished. Our cells will report to the brain that we have adequate nutrient reserves to complete metabolic tasks and cell repair and renewal, and all that will be left is to determine whether more energy reserves are needed, in the form of calories. Once our bodies report that they are fully stocked, we will only be cued (by actual hunger) to eat the number of calories we need, as our nutrition needs will have been met.