This section is from the book "The Hygienic System: Fasting And Sun Bathing", by Herbert M. Shelton. Also available from Amazon: The Hygienic System Vol III Fasting and Sun Bathing.
Hunger is the great safeguard of all life. It impels the organism in need of food to search for and procure food. It may be safely inferred that if there is no hunger, there is no need for nourishment. Hunger is a normal expression of a physiological need and when it is absent, we may take it for granted that the physiological need that gives rise to it is also absent. In proportion to the need of the body for food will hunger be present, and precisely in proportion to its lack of need for food or to its inability to digest and assimilate food will there be an absence of hunger. When hunger is absent, therefore, no food should be taken. It seems vital, therefore, that we learn to distinguish between hunger and other common sensations--that we learn to properly interpret the language of our senses.
The sense of hunger is little understood, perhaps because it has never really been studied. What little attempt has been made by physiologists to study hunger has been made on sick and ailing men and women, with the result that all kinds of morbid sensations have been and continue to be mistaken for hunger, not merely by the layman, but by the expert, who is presumed to know. Science, at present, teaches that hunger is expressed in the stomach, registered especially in the upper part of the stomach, and is manifested by various discomforts. That this is a fallacy will become readily apparent when, and if, they make their investigations upon really healthy subjects.
Physiologists have accepted the theory advanced by Cannon that the contractions of the stomach that are concomitant with what they call hunger pangs are the immediate cause of the sensation of hunger. They say that these contractions of he stomach are definitely associated with the sensation of hunger and are more marked, the more intense the sensation.
"The sensation of hunger is difficult to describe, but almost everyone from childhood has felt at times that dull ache or gnawing pain referred to the lower mid-chest and the epigastrium, which may take imperious control of human action. As Sternberg has pointed out, hunger may be sufficiently insistent to force the taking of food which is so distasteful that it not only fails to arouse appetite, but may even produce nausea.
"The hungry being gulps his food with a rush. The pleasures of appetite are not for him--he wants quantity rather than quality, and he wants it at once.
"Hunger may be described as having a central core and certain more or less variable accessories. The peculiar dull ache of hungriness, referred to the epigastrium, is usually the organism's first strong demand for food; and when the initial order is not obeyed, the sensation is likely to grow into a highly uncomfortable pang or gnawing, less definitely localized as it becomes more intense. This may be regarded as the essential feature of hunger. Besides the dull ache, however, lassitude and drowsiness may appear, or faintness, or violent headache, or irritability and restlessness such that continuous effort in ordinary affairs becomes increasingly difficult. That these states differ much with individuals--headache in one and faintness in another, for example--indicates that they do not constitute the central fact of hunger, but are more or less inconstant accompaniments. The 'feeling of emptiness' which has been mentioned as an important element of the experience, is an inference rather than a distinct datum of consciousness, and can likewise be eliminated from further consideration. The dull pressing sensation is left, therefore, as the constant characteristic, the central fact, to be examined in detail."
Any man of experience, reading the foregoing will recognize at once that Professor Cannon has never seen a hungry man and has mistaken the morbid sensations of a food-drunkard for the normal expressions of life. Real hunger, rather than producing "lassitude and drowsiness," or "faintness," produces alertness and activity in the search for food.
Dull ache in the epigastrium, violent headache, irritability, restlessness, lassitude, drowsiness, faintness and a decreasing capacity for continuous effort--how like the effects that follow the missing of the accustomed cigar, pipe, cup of coffee, or tea, glass of whiskey, or dose of morphine are these symptoms! How did Prof. Cannon miss their true significance?
The "feeling of emptiness," and the gnawing that he describes, are not accompaniments of hunger. Neither is the "dull pressing sensation" which he has left as the "central fact" of hunger, any part of the physiological demand for food, which we call hunger. These are both morbid sensations.
It will be well, before going deeper into our study of hunger, to view briefly what the physiologists have to say about the sensation of hunger and its cause. I quote: "it is well known that during hunger certain general subjective symptoms are likely to be experienced, such as a feeling of weakness and a sense of emptiness, with a tendency to headache and sometimes even nausea in persons who are prone to headache as a result of toxemic conditions. Headache is likely to be more pronounced or perhaps only present in the morning before there is any food in the stomach." He speaks of "hunger pangs" and of their "greatest intensity."--Macleod's Physiology in Modern Medicine.
In this same standard text, the author discusses what he calls "hunger during starvation," by which he means hunger during a period of four days of abstinence from food undergone by Carlson and Luckhardt, "who voluntarily subjected themselves to complete starvation, except for the taking of water, for four days." He says "during enforced starvation for long periods of time, it is known that healthy individuals at first experience intense sensations of hunger and appetite, which last, however, only for a few days, then become less pronounced and finally almost disappear."
Of Carlson's and Luckhardt's four days of self-imposed "starvation" he says "sensations of hunger were present more or less throughout the period * * * on the last day of starvation a burning sensation referred to the epigastrium was added to that of hunger."
Carlson and Luckhardt found that their sensations of hunger and appetite both became perceptibly diminished on the last day of "starvation" (their fourth day without food) the diminution being most marked in the sensation of appetite. They found that instead of an eagerness for food developing, there developed on the last day a distinct repugnance, or indifference to food. They also describe a distinct depression and a feeling of weakness which accompanied appetite during the later part of their "starvation" period.
Carlson and Luckhardt found that after partaking of food, after their prolonged period of four days of "starvation" their "hunger" and appetite" sensations rapidly disappeared. Also, practically all of their mental depression and a great part of their weakness disappeared. Complete recovery of strength did not occur until the second or third day after resumption of eating. From that time on, both men felt unusually well; indeed, they state that their sense of well-being and clearness of mind and their sense of good health and vigor were as greatly improved as they would have been by a month's vacation in the mountains.