Background: People overeat because their hunger directs them to consume more calories than they require. The purpose of this study was to analyze the changes in experience and perception of hunger before and after participants shifted from their previous usual diet to a high nutrient density diet.
Methods: This was a descriptive study conducted with 768 participants primarily living in the United States who had changed their dietary habits from a low micronutrient to a high micronutrient diet. Participants completed a survey rating various dimensions of hunger (physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, and location) when on their previous usual diet versus the high micronutrient density diet. Statistical analysis was conducted using non-parametric tests.
Results: Highly significant differences were found between the two diets in relation to all physical and emotional symptoms as well as the location of hunger. Hunger was not an unpleasant experience while on the high nutrient density diet, was well tolerated and occurred with less frequency even when meals were skipped. Nearly 80% of respondents reported that their experience of hunger had changed since starting the high nutrient density diet, with 51% reporting a dramatic or complete change in their experience of hunger.
Conclusions: A high micronutrient density diet mitigates the unpleasant aspects of the experience of hunger even though it is lower in calories. Hunger is one of the major impediments to successful weight loss. Our findings suggest that it is not simply the caloric content, but more importantly, the micronutrient density of a diet that influences the experience of hunger. It appears that a high nutrient density diet, after an initial phase of adjustment during which a person experiences "toxic hunger" due to withdrawal from pro-inflammatory foods, can result in a sustainable eating pattern that leads to weight loss and improved health. A high nutrient density diet provides benefits for long-term health as well as weight loss. Because our findings have important implications in the global effort to control rates of obesity and related chronic diseases, further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results.