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Brain scientists identify a kind of hunger that makes us overeat

Imagine sitting down to a massive dinner spread: a huge pot roast, perhaps, complete with a smorgasbord of side dishes and, for good measure, a pie for dessert. After eating such a meal—let’s call it a 1,200-calorie dinner—you’re stuffed…right?
At least, you’re supposed to be stuffed. But some people experience a nagging urge to keep grazing, even after overindulging. For these people, the next move is to head to the couch and pop open a bag of chips. And then, they go back to the fridge for a second slice of pie.
From a logical perspective, this behavior makes little sense. Most people are well-versed in the dangers of obesity, which causes a slew of health issues and even early death. And yet, some people still hear that voice in the back of their heads, pushing them to keep eating when their stomachs are stretched to the limit.
Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson, professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and author of the New York Times best-selling book, Bright Line Eating, coins the term “insatiable hunger” for this phenomenon. Insatiable hunger is characterized by two main attributes: it’s not satisfied by eating, and it’s often associated with a desire to stay sedentary.
This is at odds with how humans are biologically programmed. Back in the hunter-gatherer days, people experienced hunger differently. When the berry bushes were heavy with fruit, or there had been a successful hunt, the whole village would gorge on calories with the expectation that it might be days until the next meal. This massive caloric intake was accompanied by an urge to get active—to go find a mate, build a hut, or head out in search of the next source of protein. In other words, we were cued to put those calories to use for activities linked to survival.
Humans were also programmed for something called “compensation,” which is the brain’s regulatory mechanism for preventing the accumulation of excess weight. With compensation on board, if you eat one large meal in the morning, you’re naturally inclined to eat less for the rest of the day. Parents of young children may recognize this phenomenon in their kids who, after eating a big lunch, will respond by marginally picking at dinner.

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