7: Hunger in your head
When you really want to eat - where do you feel that, hunger with the iron teeth, a huge internal emptiness? I bet that you showed anywhere between your stomach and your navel. But in reality this is where the messengers are sent, while the master resides... in the head. Yup, again.
Hunger is a feeling, it is an indication that we want to eat. Satiety is a feeling that we experience in the absence of hunger (1).
The main physiological mechanism of hunger and satiety is a "swing" between two main hormones. When we eat (or, more precisely - when we have sufficient amount of nutrients), the fat tissue produces hormone leptin. Leptin sends signals to the gland of glands in the middle of the brain - hypothalamus - switch on satiety. Hypothalamus receives the signal and obeys. When all the nutrients are absorbed and put into the places they belong, levels of leptin begin to decrease - then body starts producing another hormone, ghrelin. Ghrelin send another signal to hypothalamus - switch on hunger. And hypothalamus does so. Hunger state lasts until one eats (usually hunger is "switched on" approximately four hours after a meal). this is how leptin and ghrelin take turns to influence brain in order to govern search for food and eating itself.
But that is not the end. Hunger actually is sum of several parts. Hunger (yes, in the head) is caused by these factors:
- low tension in the digestive tract (empty stomach and empty gut), the local nerve endings report that to the brain
- the opinion of the brain on how well the blood is stocked with main building and energy sources - glucose, amino acids and lipids
- the balance of certain hormones (increased levels of insulin and cholecystokinin decrease hunger, increased levels of glucagon, epinephrine and ghrelin increase hunger. Sorry for the slew of terms)
- psychological factors (likes and wishes; memories, thoughts or talking about food; real food view or smell, proximity to the food and it's accessibility; habits of eating at a certain time, advertising and opinions of surrounding people on what happens when you do or do not eat a certain product (remember Coca cola feelings or Snickers divas?)... when advertising is visually attractive, it is very easy to convert it's message to the "truth", because it feels good to remember it, even though it has no more links to the hunger).By the way, the more you eat of a certain product, the less you want it. Some diet tricks (like 12 straight days of plain yogurt) use this mechanism - you do not want to think about the only allowed food - yogurt - but AFTER the diet... all your suffering is paid off (by overeating, of course - and I mean "paid off").
Psychological factors definitely deserve more text - because there are even more of them. Apparently, they are closer to the throne of satiety and hunger that common folks leptin and ghrelin. Regardless of the reasons why you want specifically a bite of Snickers right now, brain is constantly solving complex puzzles of eating motivation, and is not able to make the right and healthy decision every time. This is why mindful and thoughtful eating is of a great importance - not grabbing a quick bite while I swipe during the meeting at work, recognizing a true hunger (not the sadness that disguises itself as hunger) and a tru satiety (and not a failure to digest).
All is in your head.
1. Hunger (motivational state): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunger_(motivational_state)
My name is Monika, I am health and nutrition psychologist. I help to deal with daily and difficult questions about behavior, thinking, emotions. I write, teach and provide psychological counselling. Book my talk to know more about psychology in eating!
Photo: Gerhard G. from Pixabay
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4: So where's psychology in eating?
Short answer is - everywhere. Habits. Choices. "Must have" wishes. Holidays. Gifts. Punishments. Non-verbal feeling expressions. Image (vegans, also). Happiness and serotonin. What tastes good and what is healthy, also what is trendy. Science of nutrition, I suspect, is much more about psychology than about physiology.
What we eat is most often NOT what body requires at the moment (even though we very often state that we have some kind of "energy boost", and this is why we crave for something sweet. "It's what the brain wants!"). Usually it is what we are used to eat. And habits is truly a meadow of psychology. Why do we have habits like we do is shaped by the culture, family traditions, significant events in our lives, significance that we assign to food and eating (compared to other activities), usual environment in which we eat - and the company of people, and a whole lot of other factors. By the way, we do not usually think about the reasons why we eat the way we do.
If we choose from several alternatives (choice, again, is the field of psychology), the final decision is shaped by the opinions and attitudes, environment (fast food stand on the street or Italian white tablecloth restaurant?), time e dedicate for eating ("quick bite"?), your prediction about opinion of other people about your choice (including whether you care at all), knowledge about digestion and nutrition ("if I avoid gluten, my skin will be fabulous"...), automatic thoughts ("I will be very weak if I don't eat right now"), time we spend choosing... Decision not to choose or choose the same thing every time is also a decision!
Food may be an important symbol and sign of well-being (Christmas roast, Sunday pancakes, coffee with friends or birthday cake). It also may be a lifelong punishment (like a crust on warm milk... "you are not going anywhere until you are finished with this!"), or a way to show special attention or enforce image (anything from mom's meatballs to Valentine's chocolates or desserts with diamonds). Childhood food leaves especially strong memories, and it consciously or unconsciously becomes our comfort (or punishment) food during times of distress (1). Even where physiology should rule, psychology still peeks from around the corner. After we eat fatty and sweet food (think ice cream), the brain rewards us with a dose of neuromediator serotonin (2, 3). At the same time we think - we are happy. And this happens every time, automatically, as if a button was pushed. And not really because we actually were short for something fat and sweet.
So... think before you put anything in your mouth. And why. It's all in your head!
My name is Monika, I am health and nutrition psychologist. I help to deal with daily and difficult questions about behavior, thinking, emotions. I write, teach and provide psychological counselling. Book my talk to hear load more about psychology in nutrition!
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1. If you are good you can have a cookie: How memories of childhood food rules link to adult eating behaviors: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rebecca_Puhl/publication/8679359_If_you_are_good_you_can_have_a_cookie_How_memories_of_childhood_food_rules_link_to_adult_eating_behaviors/links/0c96052f38db04e424000000.pdf
2.Serotonin, Eating Behavior, and Fat Intake: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1550-8528.1995.tb00214.x/pdf
3. You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood: http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/2011/02/you-are-what-you-eat-how-food-affects-your-mood/#.WJoLPPl969I
We choose food most often (statistically speaking) based on taste. There is also another, a wider concept - food reward, which is composed of food taste, decreasing of hunger, created pleasure (liking of food) and perceived motivation to eat (wanting). Food reward is a driver of amount o food we eat and commonly thought to be related to obesity. But perhaps food liking and wanting are interacting with weight in different ways?
People on a diet during this study had decreased food liking across all food categories, in one year after the study without any interventions - body weight was regained, appetit control weakened and food liking returned to initial level.
Overweight women (when compared to normal weight women) did not want high fat/sweet food more, but they wanted low fat/sweet food less.
Wanting low fat food was associated with improved appetite control and less fat mass, and wanting high fat food was associated with decreased appetite control and more fat mass.
👆 so, diets bring temporary results (we knew that, right?). If you want your eating method to be helpful in reaching your weight goal - make sure you choose the nicest words and definitions for your food (thus increasing your motivation), low-fat food in this case. Do not eve use anything that related to struggle, limitations, deprivation or similar. This is the expression of your utmost care and love for your body!
My name is Monika, I am health and nutrition psychologist. I help to deal with daily and difficult questions about behavior, thinking, emotions. I write, teach and provide psychological counselling. Book my talk to know more about psychology and food entanglement!
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Well, I read this one with one eyebrow raised and kept thinking about the children who demand that their foods do not touch in the plate. But the research is not about them. After reading at least three times and thinking about it for a bit longer, it does make some sense.
So, the research compares how people make assessments about the food that is served "separated" (all products in groups and not touching one another) or "mixed" (like in a salad or stew).
- participants believe that "separated" food is less caloric, even if it obviously is (for example, fried snacks)
- when eating "separated" food, participants eat more mindfully, they also believe that such food affects body weight more
- when eating "separated" food participants also control the amount of the consumed food more - even though here I keep thinking of parties and rivers of snacks flowing freely across the tables and plates; it is possible to eat more of the snacks than to have more salad that you need a spoon or fork to eat... then again, research was done in the lab, not at the party.
My conclusions are these. Whenever you can, eat with your hands (this is not part of this research, but you can control the amount of food you eat better, besides, you will get more pleasure out of eating). If possible - try eating food that is "separated" - not salads and stews, think poke bowls of buddha bowls direction. During parties (not fancy dinners, but talking and snacking parties) drink water, and if this does not sound like a plan - get yourself a plate for your portion of snacks, so you don't go foraging across the big platters.
And, bon appetit!
My name is Monika, I am health and nutrition psychologist. I help to deal with daily and difficult questions about behavior, thinking, emotions. I write, teach and provide psychological counselling. Book my talk to ask more!
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#spoonfulofreason #psychology #food #eating #perception #calories