When we haven't eaten all day, chances are that we (and everybody around us) knows it.
Easy irritation and quick-and-snappy responses become the norm, and we tend to lash out unprovoked at the people nearest to us. A mood often described as “hangry” (a word combination of ‘hungry-angry’), our body knows exactly when it’s not getting what it needs to operate at full capacity and that “low fuel” signal is unignorable.
However, a recent study shows that that same kind of alert system, the telling of your brain to feed your stomach, can actually be hijacked and reversed.
A Crossing of Wires
According to new research, your brain can misunderstand the message for being “full” and interpret it incorrectly as the message for “feed me”.
What that looks like on a daily basis is that very shortly after you consume a meal, your brain will be alerted that it’s time to eat again --even though you just ate, or are probably still in the middle of eating.
Your stomach may be full, but your brain goes only off of messages and signals, as it cannot see directly into your stomach to tell the difference. With this message of “I’m still hungry”, your brain understands that it must be time to eat again, and therefore sets out to find and consume more food.
This is often how you can pack on unwanted body weight very quickly and in high amounts.
Fullness as Subjective
“Can states of hunger and satiety play the role of context?” ask the authors of the study, Scott Schepers and Mark Bouton. “In two experiments, rats learned a food-seeking response that earned sucrose or sweet, fatty food pellets while they were satiated.”
What they found was that when the rats were already fed and discovered that they could have more food by pushing a button, they always opted for the food. The experiment then removed the food source and placed the rats, now hungry, back in the box. The rats pressed and pressed the button, but never received food. The rats were removed, fed, and then placed back in the box --and even though they were full, they pressed the button repeatedly and ate and ate and ate. Even though they were full.
“The findings have implications for understanding the role of interoceptive contexts in controlling the inhibition of motivated behavior.” said authors Schepers and Bouton. “[R]esults suggest that associations with hunger or satiety stimuli were learned more readily than associations with other potentially useful exteroceptive stimuli.”
The experiment, although with rats rather than humans, proved that eating and satiation were contextual. We eat due to the situation rather than necessity.
Eat by Signal, Not by Sight
When we go out to a restaurant, and we eat a large plated portion until we are full, there is often plenty of food left on the plate. The tendency is to keep going and finish off all the food on the plate rather than stop at the point in which our brain tells us that we are full.
With enough mental conditioning of ignoring the “I’m full signal”, we can delete the signal for full and have our feeling of satiation run completely from context and situation, which may easily lead to rapid weight gain.
The best way to keep our eating habits from being controlled by sight rather than by signal? --pay close attention to the moment you feel full, and keep the portions that hit your plate on the smaller side.
Bouton, M., Schepers S.. “Hunger as a Context: Food Seeking That Is Inhibited During Hunger Can Renew in the Context of Satiety” Psychological Science. 2017.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with questions regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here. This article is for general information only.