Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

In Eat to Live, there was a section that talked about "True Hunger".

Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
Once your body gets to a certain level of better health, you begin to feel the difference between true hunger and just eating due to desire, appetite, or withdrawal symptoms. Your body is healthier at this stage and you won't experience the withdrawal symptoms such as weakness, headaches, lightheadedness, etc., that most people associate with hunger.
(You can read more of the section here.)

Words like "true" scare me so I wanted to wait a bit before I shared my thoughts on this.

Today is the first day of the third week of this diet, so while I am by no means an authority, my experience is becoming a bit more stable.

One thing that happened, even after the first week, was that everything tasted very different. My eyes and brain told me that "that fish looks good" or "that lettuce looks bland" or "that apple's probably sour"... However, when some fish broth ended up in my soup, it tasted oily and weird. When I ate the lettuce, it tasted sweet and rich. When I ate the apple, I felt like I was eating some sort of magic fruit. Now, I've grown accustomed to the wonderful taste of vegetables and fruits and would never have believed that I would be enjoying them so much.

In addition to the change in the way things taste, my cravings and hunger have changed a lot. First of all, I don't feel hungry very much. I feel hungry when my body starts to run out of energy. Exercising accelerates my hunger. The hunger isn't so much a craving as a sort of "running out of batteries" feeling. It actually feels good because I feel like I'm cleansing my system... sort of like when you empty a glass of water. Although this may be my imagination, when I sit down to a meal after this sort of hunger, I can feel the point (about half-way through the meal) where the energy starts to flow into my system and I become more alert and energetic.

This is a complete contrast to my former "hunger". It was often between meals (probably a drop in blood sugar) or when I saw something that looked or smelled oily or sweet. I could feel my blood sugar swinging around all day and cravings for quick calories chased it around. Also, around 5 PM every night, I would get an urge to have a drink to unwind and satisfy some other sort of craving. While I still get the "mmm... yummy smell" feeling when I smell something good, I don't get the craving pang I used to get.

I am tracking my food intake and tracking various things like my calories, my protein/carbohydrate/fat intake ratio and nutrients. Interestingly, I've noticed that even though I eat until I'm full every meal, I'm coming in slightly under my daily calorie target and my ratio is relatively balanced. When I'm eating a meal, I can feel myself getting "full" on carbohydrates, wanting more protein, etc. This may be a total hallucination, but it almost feels like I can taste the protein in that piece of broccoli or spoon of beans and my body balances my ratio through my hunger.

I realize that staring at my stats and being aware of all of this doesn't make this a very controlled experiment, but the basic notion here is rather interesting and something I'd like to explore. Is it possible to "clean your mind and pallet" to the point where your body tells you what nutrients it needs and allow you to follow your instinct instead of keeping track of everything? People who are on the ETL diet all tell me, don't worry about it, just eat what you need. At first I thought it was a way to get your mind off of the fact that you were on a diet. Now, I'm considering the possibility that your body is doing the calculations for you.

I realize that it's unlikely that your body will tell you that you need B12 and make you forage for B12 bearing bacteria or your Omega-3 deficiency will send you running for Flax Oil, but the idea that healthy bodies self-regulate is an extremely novel and obvious idea and I'm very excited to test it some more.


Joi - I hate to break it to you, but your heightened state of awareness and perception IS one of the side effects of your diet being slightly lower in nutrients than you think [carbs and fat in particular].

You'll also have to adjust to the fact that a lot of the nutrients your body is accustomed to are animal in origin - and your body won't be able to process vegetable proteins as efficiently as it should, at least for the first several days of your diet.

Don't give up meat and fish entirely - eat sensibly (broth, lean cuts of meat, fish that's higher in omega3 .. switch to olive oil and small quantities of olive oil at that .. healthier ways to cook things - braise / poach / grill instead of fry, plus the usual portions of vegetables, greens etc).

"Joi - I hate to break it to you, but your heightened state of awareness and perception IS one of the side effects of your diet being slightly lower in nutrients than you think [carbs and fat in particular]."

Sorry but that is absolute rubbish. The only side effects are from withdrawal from your former poor diet. ETL is the most high nutrient eating plan out there; its foundation even follows the now widely accepted formula Health = Calories / Nutrients.

ETL doesn't actually make you cut anything out although you need to severely limit your intake on animal products and processed foods, including foods people erroneously believe are health foods (pasta, oil, bread).

Because people on ETL either eat no fish or very little of it Dr Fuhrman says you must consume a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds a day to get your Omega 3.

Like all other animal products dairy consumption is synonymous with cancer and heart disease. The notion of drinking milk to get calcium is ridiculous, particularly as a large amounts of it is excreted back out in your urine. There are plenty of ways to get calcium from plant foods.

Back to the subject, it is very impressive that your toxic hunger began to noticeably subside after just a week. I've been doing ETL on and off for a while but have yet to experience hunger in the mouth and throat. I'm just too keen on steaks. :)

For those that want an overview of ETL a good starting point is Dr Fuhrman's pyramid.

Suresh. Thanks for the sober note. I definitely am consuming less calories than I used to be, but I was overeating before by any measure.

Also, I definitely noticed my digestive system going into shock the first few days, but now that I'm on my 15th day, it seems quite stable and happy.

The program I'm doing has me eating no meat or fish for the first six weeks and then eating them, as you say, in moderation after the six weeks if I choose. I'm already 2 weeks through the diet and I feel fine so I think I'll stick it out for another four weeks and see how I feel.

I'm taking an omega-3 supplement and a multi-vitamin that has sufficient B12.

The plan is to take 90% of my calories from vegetables and fruit and limit things like alcohol, oil, dairy, meats and fish to 10% or so.

Also, this isn't going to be a religion for me. I will make exceptions for special occasions and things, but I am considering making vegetables my staple.

Fair enough - but please dont go pure vegan. Dairy products are just fine, and so are (say) eggs and fish. Far healthier than meat - and ovo-lacto-veg is far easier to maintain [without supplements and such] than 100% vegan. At least half a liter of milk a day (two glasses of milk, maybe partly substituted by cheese) won't hurt you at all.

Cut down on caffeine if you want. Supposedly healthy, I'm told... though I'm damned if I'll give up on coffee .. if there's one thing I bring back from every trip abroad, it is gourmet coffee :)

Take my advice with a pinch of salt by the way - I'm overweight for 30, and can't resist a juicy steak [though as my family at home is vegetarian, that's the way I stay when I'm home]

I'm actually not taking salt... ;-)

Actually Joi is correct-- avoiding dairy and meat is the best way to prevent cancer. If you read Dr. Fuhrman's work you will see he has referenced over 1500 peer reviewed scientific studies on this.

Good work Joi! you're doing great. :)

I found that after dropping dairy for a while, I simply had no desire to eat it and it tasted horrible and gave me nausea. (So be warned, you may find the same.)

I used have similar awareness of what I want to eat, having dropped meat and dairy. I got strong intuitive urges, when I particularly wanted an apple, or I really didn't want to have a banana. They've gone a bit now that I've stopped eating quite as healthily, but they were fascinating.

Good luck man. I've done a similar diet before and I felt great. These things tend to get derailed though by illness and I fall back to eating nasty food to get well then never go back on it. You are just a little more obsessive than I am though so I have a feeling you'll bear it up well :-) Except for the drinking thing. That's just a drag... Good luck!

Kudos on your diet -- but what were you doing in a Burger King on Alexanderplatz in Berlin? = )

Haha. "Someone" (from America) needed a burger.

I've experienced the same sensations (and I've found that I feel them even for B12 and Omega-3's; when I haven't had enough for a while, I actually do crave flax oil and b12-fortified cereal.)

I've been vegan for over 5 years; I became vegetarian in the first place due to meat gradually seeming less appealing. I also second what Andrew said - milk became entirely unappealing after a while without it, and the sense of what my body needs fades when I eat unhealthily (ie, too much sugary chocolate and processed grains, and few fresh fruits/vegetables).

Good luck with your diet.

Hey, Joi! You know, there's precious little hard info on what this diet consists of online. The ETL site is very stingy -- feels like he wants you to buy the book to get any hard info. All the online info is about the benefits, like "This will make you feel healthy" and almost nothing about the mechanics. There's no Wikipedia entry, either. Can you post something about what ETL's precepts and mechanisms are?

Hey Cory. I am going to do a proper post after the 6 weeks, but in summary...

We need a lots of nutrients that are complex and difficult to nail down as supplements. Fresh vegetables and fruits contain lots and lots of things (some that we probably don't know about yet) which help repair DNA and support a healthy body. One of the basic arguments is that the empty calories we get from refined starches, sugars and even the "efficient calories" from meats, fish and oils all reduce the amount of plants we eat. There are two effects, we are fatter and we have less nutrients. He cites various studies as well as a book called The China Report, which I'm reading now.

These studies try to show that vegans have a much lower rate of heart disease, cancer and other major diseases. The idea is to get 90% of your calories from vegetables and fruit.

The problem with health information is that you either have to sell books or supplements to make money. In this case, they're trying to sell the book as a "lose weight fast" diet. In fact, it's a more basic get healthy plan which involves just eating tons of vegetables.

I'm hoping that if this is as successful as I think it's going to be for me, that I can help start a movement that is more open source and try to provide links, facts and references on a wiki or something. I think that buying an authoritative book is less convincing than having tons of people who you trust swear by it.

So far, I've already gotten off of my daily dose of Prilosec and am hoping that I will be able to stop worrying about my uric acid that's been increasing. I also have a y-GTP level that is way above what it should be and hope that it is back down after this. My blood pressure wasn't too high to start with, but it's waaay down to a very healthy level already.

I've also lost 6.5 kg so far.

And the 6 week plan, which is a hardcore version of the diet to get you going is basically this:

Best of luck with your vegetable diet, Joi.

To stay in my optimal weight range I only eat one full meal a day with maybe a small snack in-between, and do a bit of walking, on average a mile or two a day.

No strenuous exercise regimens or restricted food items involved. With full meals I eat whatever I want, but only what can be consumed in one sitting.

I can't help but wonder how much of the feel good is just a variation of "deal fever" - working incredibly hard after a goal, getting positive feedback along the way (losing weight) and congratulating your self for following your discipline.
Certainly a lot of the effects you describe can come from the exercise alone, although the right fuel certainly helps sustain that.

I can tell you have your on thoughts about where all the good vibes are coming, and are not going to claim too much until you have made it to the end and then some. But it is fun to watch you chronicle your thoughts and progress - one of the joys of blogging, both writing and reading.
Good luck

I agree that there is probably a lot of "deal fever". This is not a controlled experiment. ;-) It's hard to say what the various contributions of the different things I am doing are. I think not drinking, (I used to drink rather heavily) is also huge. I will say that I feel better every day and I feel better than I've ever felt that I can remember. I feel smarter, more fit and and am enjoying EVERYTHING more.

Tomorrow is the end of week 5. I will post an update then.

i talk about this on my blog... one of my favorite sayings is "nothing tastes as good as healthy feels". it's so true, especially in this write up