If you think over-eating is something we’ve just recently invented in the West because we have an abundance of food, then you’d be wrong. Both humans and animals have always had the capacity to eat way more than they need to. It’s a survival trait, and goes way back to when mankind were hunter-gatherers. Before we were able to grow our own food or herd our own animals, humans had to make the most of any food they found, because they had no idea where their next meal would come from. Or if they’d ever get another meal. Those excess calories were stored as fat, for when there was no longer an abundance of food. So eating beyond what the body needs in a single meal is an ability we all have, regardless of how much we weigh.
Unfortunately for those of us with weight issues, that ancient history doesn’t do us any favours – because apart from anything else, it also gives us the ability to ignore the ordinary triggers that tell us we’re full. Here’s how it works:
- In your brain, there’s a spot called the hypothalamus, which contains the satiety centre. This is the place in your body that regulates your appetite.
- This satiety centre is controlled by two chemicals that balance each other: CART reduces appetite and increases metabolism while NPY increases appetite and reduces metabolism.
- When CART is overstimulated, starvation occurs. When NPY is overstimulated, over-eating occurs.
- Two hormones produced in the stomach influence both CART and NPY. Leptin tells the brain that the stomach is full while Ghrelin tells the brain that you’re still hungry.
- When NPY gets a big dose of Ghrelin, it starts pumping out the “I’m starving, feed me NOW!!!” message throughout your body. This message is almost impossible to ignore – for anyone.
I wish I could say that this is a perfect system that never goes wrong – but alas, like everything, real life has ways of complicating the system.
11 Ways Your Body Makes You Over-Eat
- Most of us have dieted many times through our lives and almost every diet ever invented has taught you to ignore feelings of hunger and that you just need to be strong. Ignoring those messages actually helps to not only screw up your ability to recognize them, but also they way they work properly. Plus, over-eating actually reduces the discomfort you feel from being too full!
- Eating while watching the TV, reading or doing any other distracting activity means you’re less likely to notice when your body is telling you that it’s full. So you keep eating because you don’t realise you don’t want any more food.
- If you have an eating disorder, you may well ignore the full signs deliberately, wanting to hurt yourself for some reason (or some other reason).
- Others with an eating disorder may find the feeling of being over full comforting in some way. This can be utterly compelling.
- When we suffer long periods of stress (and who of us doesn’t?), NPY is over-produced (especially in men), making you far more hungry than you actually are, and consequently eating more than you need to.
- Right next to the hypothalamus is part of the limbic system, which stores memories and reminds you of your favourite foods. So when you experience intense hunger, your memories of those greasy hamburgers are the first to pop up. Your brain is then flooded with the desire to eat that food in particular.
- Ghrelin is released every half hour in the stomach, more often when you’re hungry. If you don’t eat, after a while the chemical pressure builds and builds so that the desperate need to eat overwhelms any willpower you might have been using. When you finally do eat, there will be so much Ghrelin in your stomach that you won’t produce any leptin (telling you that you’re full) until you have already over-eaten.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup(HFCS) is used in most soda drinks, commercially produced cakes, biscuits and anything else that’s sweet. The body is unable to see the calories in HFCS (a sugar) and therefore doesn’t produce any leptin to tell you that you’re full. So you keep eating. And eating.
- Most alcohol inhibits the production of leptin, so you end up feeling more hungry than you actually are
- High doses of carbohydrates in your diet increases the production of NPY, making your more hungry, quicker. So you eat again, even though your body doesn’t actually need it.
- For some women, hormonal surges will also increase appetite beyond the norm, making you eat more at certain times of the month.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are also foods that act upon the brains pleasure center in the same way that gambling and drug addiction does, which is really freaky. I’ll be covering most of these in more detail in future posts.
When people tell you that losing weight is all about eating less and exercising more, they clearly have no idea that eating less isn’t as simple as they think. For many of us affected by one of more of the above, reducing the amount of food we eat is very difficult.
In future posts, I’ll be covering how you can deal with these triggers and hopefully prevent them acting on your body. In the meantime, try to eat a little every couple of hours and don’t let your body get very hungry. And try to reduce those bought cakes and soda drinks. And stress 🙂 (yeah, ’cause I know that’s so easy to do!)
Read the rest of the Causes of Obesity series:
Part 6 – Clinical Issues
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