I'm an actress and I really like to eat.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Growly Stomach or Toxic Hunger?

I learned a new concept last night. I thought I knew a lot about nutrition but this one really clicked in for me. I attended a lecture by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, the nutrition-based MD who wrote Eat to Live and is behind the comprehensive nutrition plan Eat Right America. The epiphany: there is a difference between true hunger and the detox symptoms most of us experience a few hours after eating. It all comes down to 2 phases of digestion: anabolic and catabolic. Anabolic for building (anabolic steroids, anyone?) and catabolic for breaking down.

Dr. Fuhrman

As a self-proclaimed hungry lady, I can eat a lot for my size and I like to keep snacks on hand at all times. Like most Americans, I am addicted to the anabolic phase of digestion. I like being full and sated. I don't like feeling shaky, weak, or headache-y. I actually always thought I was mildly hypoglycemic and I've tried to balance my need for constant food intake with healthy choices. Dr. Fuhrman explained that the catabolic phase is when your body goes into detox and repair mode. It's important to fully go through catabolism so your body can repair and heal before you experience "true hunger" which Dr. Fuhrman described as a feeling in the mouth and throat and a heightening of the senses. Catabolism is experienced at night when we sleep - part of what makes sleeping a time of healing is the lack of food for eight hours.

Catabolism isn't supposed to be painful. It's only when we eat toxic (processed, refined, overcooked, sugary, etc.) food that we have more dramatic detoxification symptoms upon entering catabolism. We feel bad and weak and we think it's because we need to eat more. Or worse, we need candy or coffee to give us a quick pick up. But according to Fuhrman, if we eat whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, this important catabolic phase need not be unpleasant.

Nutrient density is another cornerstone of Eat Right America that I love. The idea is you want to eat as many foods as possible that are rich in nutrients and low in calories. As in vegetables. He has a nutrient density scoring index called "ANDI" (aggregate nutrient density index) that places kale at the top of the heap at 1000 points. Broccoli scores 376, chicken breast a measly 27, and Coca Cola barely squeaks in at .6 (I would have thought it to have negative nutrient value).

So I'm starting a little fall cleansing. I've done more radical cleanses like the Master Cleanse in the past, but this time I'm just going to take a few weeks to eat more kale, drink less alcohol, and accept the catabolism that is life.


  1. Hi Maryssa, I recently discovered Dr Fuhrman and am about half-way through "Eat to Live". I'm fascinated as well that it might not be healthy to snack all day, even on healthy foods like carrots and such. I remember hearing all my life that it's healthiest to eat many small meals throughout the day rather than a few large ones. But it seems like that may be wrong, if your body is never entering a catabolic state except while you sleep. Have you ever experienced what Dr Fuhrman describes as true hunger? I'm not sure that I have.

  2. Hi Kerry - just saw your comment, thanks for stopping in! I know, I remember also the adage of eating small snacks throughout the day, and indeed that is how I prefer to eat. I know that I have definitely experienced true hunger when cleansing (especially during the Master Cleanse). The more I experiment with food the more I can tell when I'm having cravings for a non-nutritious food and when I'm actually hungry. Cravings are more like obsessive thoughts about a particular (and often not that nutritious) food, while hunger is more like an all-over physiological sensation. For me, being somewhat hypoglycemic, it's more like light-headedness or weakness, and a desire for any food, even lettuce will sound good! What are your thoughts about this?