Overweight.. but Still Hungry?

Woman Confused by Hunger Pangs

If you are overweight but possessed by hunger pangs, there is a good chance that your cravings for food are being triggered by external factors. Americans love to eat but our eating habits differ greatly from those in other countries around the world. In general, most of us in the "Good Ole USA" allow the wrong area of the brain to tell us when we need to eat. If you feel hungry when you smell food cooking or see your favorite meal on a TV commercial, those are external influences.

Although our bodies naturally need food, we sometimes choose to eat when we are not hungry. When the dinner bell rings or the clock hits one of the three magical times of day to eat, we usually do. If noon is the normal time for your lunch meal, most of us will eat at that time whether we are hungry or not. In fact, you may be seating down to eat again before your body has an appropriate amount of time to digest your last meal or snack. That doesn't make us a nation of binge eaters but it does suggest that our hunger motivation relies heavily on external cues.

For centuries it was believed that hunger was controlled by food entering and exiting the stomach. But, that's not exactly true. Modern research has proven that an area of the brain called the hypothalamus determines how hungry we are. If the lateral hypothalamus is stimulated, we feel hungry. If the ventromedial hypothalamus is stimulated, we feel full. So, the brain's dual role is to maintain an optimum weight (set-point theory) by lowering or raising our body's metabolic rate to store or burn the food we consume.

Unfortunately in our country, we don't always listen to our brain's internal signals and are constantly allowing external influences to drive our cravings for food. These external villains include our reaction to stress, smell or time of day. We also misinterpret a lot of signals. For example, we can confuse feelings of dehydration or sleep deprivation with hunger; we often throw our hormonal balance off when we overeat sweets and then fool our brain into thinking we even need to eat more; or we choose to eat when we're distracted.

Now before you schedule an appointment with a brain surgeon, you may want to consider taking a few minutes to evaluate your motivation before you eat. At least make sure you're actually hungry. To learn more about your body and how to attain your weight loss goals, call the Metabolic Research Center. We've been in your shoes and are always excited by an opportunity to share our decades of experience.


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