The second step is the same as the first: feed your body when it’s hungry. However, here, we focus on the second part of the instruction – “when it’s hungry.” For many of us, the craving for food continues after our bellies are distended, and/or the impetus to eat is based on external stimuli and schedules.
Adding food to a belly still working on a partially digested meal is just as much of an insult to the body as starving it. The late addition of an office donut to a stomach still digesting eggs or cereal creates an impossible situation for the digestive system: your body must either allow the donut to pass through only partially digested or it must allow the partially digested meal to partially ferment in the stomach. It’s the digestive equivalent of adding several dirty socks to the laundry during the final rinse cycle.
When partially digested, fermented, or rancid food passes through the stomach, it is not usable by the body for parts or energy, and the body will do its utmost to eliminate it from the body. However, what cannot be passed part and parcel through the lungs, skin, kidneys, or colon, either due to its form or the volume of items scheduled for elimination, has to be stored by the body, whether in the liver or in fat, which the body uses for long-term storage of both excess energy (calories) and other items the body seeks to keep away from vital organs: incompletely metabolized food particles, toxins that cannot be immediately processed, and other “junk.” In its effort to protect itself, the body will even create more fat in which to store these undesirable elements.
In addition, eating when you are not hungry, even if your stomach has completed digestion of your previous food consumption, while less of an affront, is still distressing to the body and prevents the body from attending to other matters, like assimilating nutrients, cleaning up the detritus generated by metabolism in general, and creating new tissues. Digestion takes energy. At a minimum, approximately 10 percent of all calories consumed are burned just in digesting and assimilating nutrients (1), and some foods take more. (Generally, the heavier foods use require more energy to digest, fruits and vegetables requiring the least, followed by starches, then proteins, and finally fats.) However, this number is in relation to your overall daily metabolism. The percentage of your body’s resources used in those hours just after you eat a meal is another matter altogether. Imagine, your body is dutifully detoxifying, renewing, and delivering supplies to cells when, all of a sudden, the call sounds: “All hands report to the stomach. Incoming!” Projects are left half done, energy meant for other things is used to digest food and convert it for storage or use, and you are left feeling drained and lethargic.
When you feel hunger, that is when your body is primed to digest food. The liver secretes bile, enzymes flood the stomach, and the salivary juices begin flowing. In addition, food will taste better to you, and you will be more attuned to what type of food the body requires. Come to know your hunger, where you feel it and how.
Contrary to popular belief, the rumble of a tummy is not necessarily a cue to eat; it may simply indicate that various processes are underway. True hunger is felt in the throat. (2) The headaches and stomachaches many people associate with hunger are, in fact, usually symptoms of withdrawal and detoxification, symptoms that are arrested, but not cured, by ingesting food, thus diverting energies from cleanup to digestion. In addition, shakiness between meals may be the result of low blood sugar; however, it may also be a reaction to the mobilization of waste products into the bloodstream for elimination, a process that frequently coincides with the completion of digestive processes. (You should speak to your doctor if you feel hypoglycemia is a real concern and be properly tested and diagnosed via timed blood tests. (3) A “probably” diagnosis is not sufficient when it comes to your health.)
As an experiment, I encourage you to try to following exercise: when you feel hunger (and only when you feel real hunger, not just a craving), begin to consider what you’d like to eat, paying particular attention to which food ideas cause you to salivate or otherwise seem to resonate. Perhaps, all foods seem to provoke salivation, and, maybe, all your body really needs is more fuel (calories). However, if certain foods seem particularly attractive to your palate or your mind, I encourage you to take heed. Despite the fact that recent studies have shown that cravings are not typically related to deficiencies in specific nutrients (4), we cannot attune ourselves to the needs of the body unless we begin by listening to it.