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3 Fat Chicks on a Diet Weight Loss Community (http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum/)
-   Rethinking Thin - a book discussion (http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum/rethinking-thin-book-discussion-220/)
-   -   Topic 7 - The Drive To Eat (http://www.3fatchicks.com/forum/rethinking-thin-book-discussion/116340-topic-7-drive-eat.html)

Meg 06-28-2007 08:00 AM

Topic 7 - The Drive To Eat
As weíve discussed, Rethinking Thin argues that obesity canít be blamed on emotional eating because itís a behavior seen equally in overweight and normal weight people. Several of the posters noted that sure, lots of normal weight people are emotional eaters but some of us consume much, much more than normal weight persons when triggered by emotions. So that raises the question, why do we Ė the overweight and obese Ė eat more? Why do we eat more in response to emotions; why do we just eat more than normal people do overall?

No one is disputing that weíre overweight/obese because we consume more calories than our bodies can use in a day, and consequently our bodies are forced to store the excess as fat. Thatís simple math, calculating calories in versus calories out. The big question is Ė why? What are the reasons that we eat more food than our bodies need to function? Is it gluttony? Lack of willpower? Social cues? Food availability? Or are there biochemical factors at work? If so, are we capable of controlling the drive to eat?

Rethinking Thin takes the stance that ďFree will, when it comes to eating is an illusion.Ē (p 155)


Fat people are fat because their drive to eat is very different from the drive in thin people Ö and that is something thin people will never understand. (p 168)
The book discusses the remarkably complex hormonal and biochemical pathways that control appetite, some of which weíre probably familiar with, like leptin and ghrelin, and some more obscure ones like PYY and AgRP.

Thereís even discussion of the idea that hormonal surges early in life can ďrewireĒ the brain:


The brain almost seems to be developing a memory for the weight it wanted the animal to be, which raise intriguing possibilities about weight regulation in people. It all comes back to the same issues Ė the whole issue of appetite and weight regulation in humans Ö It is at the interface of free will and determinism. There is certainly a strong biological underpinning to our drive to eat and maintain certain weights. Ö But now there is another layer of mechanisms by which things like hormones not only can affect the neurochemistry that affects how hungry you are but also can affect the wiring of your brain. (p 170)
So -- are we wired for a certain weight or setpoint? And do our hormones control our appetite in order to sustain that predetermined weight?

If we do indeed have a biologically determined weight range and if our bodies are going to use hormones to drive us to eat to sustain that weight, can we overcome that urge to eat Ė that biologically driven appetite? How powerful is that drive? Can it be controlled?


Those who doubt the power of basic drives Ö might note that although one can hold oneís breath, this conscious act is soon overcome by the compulsion to breathe. The feeling of hunger is intense and, if not as potent as the drive to breathe, is probably no less powerful than the drive to drink when one is thirsty. This is the feeling the obese must resist after they have lost a significant amount of weight. The power of this drive is illustrated by the fact that, whatever one's motivation, dieting is generally ineffective in achieving significant weight loss over the long term. The greater the weight loss, the greater the hunger, and, sooner or later for most dieters, a primal hunger trumps the conscious desire to be thin. (p 125)
What do you think about the research about the drive to eat that's discussed in the book? How do you feel about the argument that appetite is hormonally driven? Is free will indeed an illusion when it comes to the drive to eat? Will the drive to eat take over just like the drive to breathe?

Meg 06-28-2007 08:11 AM

My Two Cents
As long as I can remember, Iíve been hungry. I snuck food as a child because I was hungry. I got yelled at by my parents because Iíd finish a meal and say that I was still hungry. To this day, I lack an ďoff switchĒ. My body still thinks itís hungry, long after itís consumed sufficient calories to meet my daily energy needs. And I totally believe that this hunger has a biological basis - it's a hormonal "drive to eat".

Maintenance, for me, boils down to hunger management. When Iím overly hungry, I make bad food choices. So Iím always walking the tightrope between eating enough so Iím not starving but not eating so much that Iím storing calories as fat. It takes a lot of thought and planning and careful food selection to both keep within my daily maintenance calorie range and to stay satisfied.

Iím absolutely certain that my body is cueing me to eat more in an effort to return to a higher weight. If our bodies do indeed have a natural weight range, mine is in the low to mid-200ís. Itís the weight my body returned to after countless diet failures. Itís the weight I tend to stay at while eating intuitively. So I know Iím fighting my biology when I work to keep my weight way below its natural setpoint.

But the knowledge that Iím fighting some basic hormonal drives makes it easier for me to keep on because now I understand why weight loss and maintenance are so difficult for me and so many others. In a sense, I know my enemy and I know this is war. The awareness that Iím always going to have to eat thoughtfully and never going to be able to rely on intuitive instincts creates the framework of maintenance for me. Itís why I continue to count calories, weigh and measure portions, and journal my food even more than five years after reaching goal. I have no doubt that Iíll be doing the same things for life, or at least for as long as I plan to keep the weight off.

If I ever decided to listen to my body, eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full, Iíd gain 100 pounds in six months, guaranteed. Perhaps someday science will devise a method of regulating the hunger hormones that control the drive to eat; until then, I have to deal with them in my head.

srmb60 06-28-2007 08:20 AM

Is it gluttony? Lack of willpower? Social cues? Food availability? Or are there biochemical factors at work?

sitting on the fence on this one ... some of each and a combination in most folks.

I do believe that there are biological causes for some overeaters but I also think they are very very rare ... like leptin insufficiency.

I very seldom feel stomach grumbling hunger. Occasionally, I feel hypoglycemic ... draggy, grumpy, tired ... and know I should eat something.
If I feel that way, surely others do too.
Is it biological or learned?

And whatever that drive is, it can be impossible to consciously control.

Not impossible ... very very difficult, yes. Otherwise there would be no maintainers ... but there are and they'll tell you it ain't easy.

So, if there are maintainers, were they some special combination of factors that were more 'easily' overcome? The lesser evils so to speak?

srmb60 06-28-2007 09:38 AM

I had an AHA moment. Remember in Meg's post she said something about knowing her battle and knowing the war? It leads me back to my friend. I told her to eat lean proteins and things that grow. She said "Right, what's a protein."

Forewarned, forearmed ... ready for any eventuality that comes along? Whether it's biological, genetic, habit, cultural, environmental .... have plan will travel?

Get n healthy 06-28-2007 10:00 AM

This is just fascinating to me.

All i know is that i lost 115 pounds on WW. i watched all my thin friends *not* count calories and actually eat MORE than i was eating...lots more AND not exercise. To maintain their 140 pound frames. So i got tired of the policing of my own food. Well, here i am, at 259 working it all off again.

My son is an overweight 6' 2" teen. He has no off switch when it comes to food. People say, oh, all teenage boys can eat you out of house and home. Yes, but do all teenage boys weigh 250 pounds? No. So why the difference in him. I can sit there and watch his friends eat some potato chips, they take a hand full here and there. My son will eat them until they are gone and then go through the fridge for something else and eat it until it is gone.

There has GOT to be some kind of missing hormone, some chemical that is missing. I honestly think it is handed down through the generations, the chemical imbalance has to be linked to genetics.

So while the deck may be stacked against us, and at times i think, whats the point. I do have hope that you can change your set point. Although unfortunately, i think it is easier for your body to raise it's set point to lower it's set point. Such as my husband. He is 5' 11', when we married he was 140 pounds, VERY thin and bony. Has been thin and bony all his life. We have been married for 15 years. He now weighs 210 pounds. He has been this weight for probably 7 years. He tried to "diet" and he will go down as far as 199, then he shoots right back up to 210. He can go on vacation and pig out and he will gain up to 212...then go right back down to 210. Almost like whatever he does, his new set point is 210. From past experience my set point will always be mid to upper 200's. So why was his able to change, but mine not?

There has got to be something in our bodies that is "missing" from our naturally thin counterparts. Why does it take two plates before i realize i am full, whereas my sister in law can eat a taco and realize she is full. Why is she full for HOURS off of one taco. I am starving after an hour and i had two plates? The math just doesnt make sense. Some say, well, you have stretched your stomach out. Yes, absolutely i have. But the question is WHY? Why did I stretch my stomach out? That is what we need to look at. And even with that stretched out stomach...why does mine digest SO much faster than my skinny counterpart? She can skip lunch and not notice. I cant even skip a snack.

So i will continue to fight. I just have to look at it as a "medical condition" in that some people have diabetes and have to watch their carbs/sugar. Some people have high blood pressure and have to watch their salt. I am obese and have to watch my food.

srmb60 06-28-2007 10:20 AM

Stacy? Does the thought of lifelong vigilance frighten you?

lilybelle 06-28-2007 10:54 AM

I believe my body has a natural wt. setpoint of about 185 lbs. (this is where I normally would return to after each dieting attempt without the steroids that helped me get to 234 lbs. ) I definitely feel that I'm battling my own body to try to stay in the 140's. Like MEG so greatly stated, this is WAR. I'm gonna do my best to stand my ground. After this many failed dieting attempts, I know without a doubt that I'll never be able to be carefree with my eating or my exercise. It took me many years to learn this. Even when I first found 3FC's , I was skeptical when I read the posts on Lifestyle Change. I was still Naive enough to believe that I could lose the weight and then eat whatever I wanted.

I used to be really hard on myself. I thought it was nothing but pure Gluttony. That I was a PIG. That I had no willpower. But, I also blamed a lot of external forces for making me FAT. EX. my health, my medicine, my DH, my kids, my stressful life with divorces and moving multiple times, my childhood, the deaths of both of my parents. You name it and it made me FAT.

Now, I do believe there are internal/biological factors that drive me to overeat. I never understood why I never feel full. I don't know why others can eat a much smaller amt. and feel satisfied and why I feel the need to eat constantly. Why I am hungry again an hr. after a big meal. Sometimes it feels like my mind and body doesn't register that it has already been fed. I do not think that losing the wt. has made me less hungry. Yes, it has made me more vigilant at trying to keep it off, but not at all less hungry.

gailr42 06-28-2007 11:15 AM

My history is quite different from Meg's. I was a very skinny child. Everyone was always trying to get me to eat. I was pretty close to 40 years old before I started gaining weight.

I am going to be 65 (Hello Medicare) this year. I have been on probably 4-5 major diets in the last 25 years. The first time I lost weight, it took about ten years for me to gain it all back. The last time I lost weight, it took about six months to gain it all back. Each time I regained the weight, I ended up heavier than I had ever been. 182 lbs this last time. Yikes. I am about 5'1 1/2" tall, so that is pretty fat. I don't think any of you are a bit surprised by my lack of sucess....

I think my prefered biological weight would be 10-15lbs over the "perfect weight". No one in my family was obese. They were just a few pounds overweight. I managed to overcome my set point by being sedentary, enjoying my food and cooking. I also have an addictive personality. I over do things! I have overcome my addiction (so far) to other stuff and the addiction has transfered to food - but weakly. If I had a strong addiction, I, too would weigh 250 or more.

I am not sure where I am going with this, but I think what I am getting at, is that we are not mice or dogs. We are individually much more complicated and we vary more from each other. Because of that, it is very hard to point to one thing or group of things that cause me or any of the rest of you to be fat. Don't get me wrong, I think biology plays a significant role, but there are lots of variables involved in how one's biology is expressed.

I think that there is something in the human spirit that enables us to overcome all manner of difficulties. The soul trumps biology, so to speak. That is why some people can lose weight and keep it off, regardless of what the scientific studies tell us.

shananigans 06-28-2007 11:15 AM

Why do we overeat? I would guess that for most people it is a number of reasons, but for a few it might be as simple as a hormonal drive to constantly eat. Like SusanB, I think a purely biological cause for overeating is rare.

I think in the past when I was truly eating in a disordered way, back in high school and perhaps a few years beyond, my overeating was emotional and habitual, I donít think I ever really kept eating because I thought I was still hungry. I ate the entire medium pizza in hiding because I like the way it tasted and it filled some need other than hunger for me.

However, coming out of disordered eating by becoming healthier emotionally did not stop me from overeating. I think at that point it was an ingrained habit. I didnít eat food in hiding, I didnít feel the shame associated with food that I previously did, but I still ate too much.

Now that Iím more in touch with my body and learning what itís like to be hungry and to eat until Iím satisfied but not overly full I think my body might actually possess the cues to tell me when to stop eating, however Iím still going through the process of learning how to listen to those cues. However, I canít say if this might apply all the way to maintenance at goal. I feel like Iíve reset my bodyís ďdefaultĒ weight by 30 lbs, whether I can drop that another 30 lbs without feeling driven to eat more I donít know.

Kery 06-28-2007 12:06 PM

This is one of the things that puzzled me, because I really can't determine if it's 100% exact or inaccurate. I've been wondering if there was indeed a biological impulse, but one that would be different depending on the individuals. For instance, I personnally don't eat a lot in one sitting, and it hasn't anything to do with 'dieting' or 'restricting'. Most of my weight, I gained it because I ate the wrong things, and would eat some of those often because they were under my nose at family gatherings and such (not out of hunger... more out of not having anything better to do, I'd say :x). One meager cheeseburger and a small portion of potatoes at McDonald's can fill me up for a good 12 hours or so, and my colleagues at work think I'm starving myself because most of them eat more than I (FYI, I don't; I am truly satisfied with my quantities, and I eat more slowly these days because I'm always talking, being with people and not alone at home). But I've also met people IRL who could indeed eat a lot more, and always seemed to be hungry. Some would manage to stay at a normal weight, others would put on lots of extra weight.

Somehow, I doubt I'd fit in the "people who can eat whatever they want and never gain one pound" category, but an everlasting hunger (the kind of hunger described in the book) is also something I don't know, and I think I can safely bet that there are many other overweight people in a similar case. Hence why I wonder if this is something that strikes any overweight person, or it it varies a lot. Of course, I'd be totally unable to isolate the factors of such variations... but I still do wonder.

shrinkingchica 06-28-2007 01:18 PM

Well, I don't think I can trust my body and just "intuitively eat," eat when hungy, stop when full.

My body is often hungry-- stomach churning, and that empty feeling that I go to bed with every night--- sometimes it is very physically painful. And my head is always hungry. I could always stand to eat something. Even when very full.

Speaking of fullness, I only ever feel that when I get to the point of physical pain as well. And even then my mind wants to eat more, while my tummy is in agony.

I am convinced that my brain and gut ("the second brain" according to new research) are not communicating very well. It is like they operate completely independently and frequently send me mixed messeges.
So, I rely on my cognitive mind to tell me what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. I do all of this by reasoning. For instance, if it is 8pm and I haven't eaten for 8hrs and only consumed very little even then, it would be reasonable to believe that my body might need some healthy refueling. Just as if it is 8pm and I last ate at 7pm and that was quite a heavy meal following a day of heavy eating, it would be reasonable to assume that my body does not need refueling, no matter how badly my gut or brain might want more cake.

clvquilts 06-28-2007 02:06 PM

Oh, I've been waiting to discuss this topic that I can hardly contain myself at the keyboard!

Those on the Maintainers forum have heard my story a dozen times in the last few months, but there are many in this discussion group that have not, so I'll tell it again.

I take four serious drugs to manage my mental illness of Schizoidaffective Disorder with Bipolar Features - a fancy phrase for having the mood swings of manic depression along with voices and visions if I'm not properly medicated. I have had this since an early teenager and have been in balance 90% of my life because I am diligent about taking my meds.

Until a few years ago when I was put on an anti-psychotic to minimize the voices and visions, I was always thin. I was always within 5 pounds plus or minus of my goal weight. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and if I was hungry, I ate until I was full. It wasn't a problem.

Then everything changed overnight. The anit-psychotic that was targeting the receptors in my brain that caused the halucinations also produced a primal hunger that I never experienced before. I couldn't stop eating and I craved sweets and carbs like crazy (pardon my personal pun!)

For the first time, I experienced never ending, gut renching hunger. I knew I was gaining 10 pounds a year and that I was the one responsible for putting the food in my mouth, but I didn't care. For the first time in 30+ years I had relief from the voices and visions and the mood swings were under better control.

Then in December of 2005 there was a lot of stress in my life, I went into a hypo-manic phase, and the drug stopped working.

I was very fortunate that there was a new anti-psychotic available. I got immediate relief from the haunting of the nightly voices and visions (during the day, I've always been able to block them out).

With the new drug, came a new and very welcomed side effect - the loss of appetite and a major switch in what I wanted to eat. Gone were the cravings for starches and sugars and in their place, I'll I wanted to eat were vegetables. The pounds melted off naturally with NO efford on my part.

So from very personal experience with brain chemistry I know that some brains are wired to eat more than others.

Meg 06-28-2007 03:02 PM

Thank you for sharing your story, Carolyn! :hug:

paperclippy 06-28-2007 04:47 PM

Why do we eat? I don't know. Some of us, like Meg for example, are always hungry, which may likely be some sort of hormone or chemical imbalance. Some of us just keep eating when we're not hungry (like me).

I do believe that if you overeat regularly, your stomach capacity will increase and as a result you will not feel "full" as fast and will end up eating more over time. That's how it seemed to work for me. If I eat smaller portions, over time it takes less to satisfy me.

For me one of the hardest lessons to learn has been that I ought to stop eating when I am full, not when I am uncomfortably stuffed. There are so many factors that go into why I started eating until I was stuffed all the time. Some might have been biological, who knows? Some might have been environmental. My fiance will eat until he is stuffed because he had it drilled into him as a child that he should never, never, never leave food on his plate. We worked together a lot on it and now he is okay with taking some food to go at a restaurant, but I have seen him eat immense quantities of food when we're out to dinner (you know they put way more than one serving on a plate), not because he is hungry, but because he feels like he absolutely has to clean his plate.

Food is such a strange subject. Overeaters, undereaters, picky eaters, there are all sorts of different things people do. I believe had I not started losing when I did I would have continued to gain 10lbs/year as I had been for at least the past 8 years. Would it have stopped at some "set point" somewhere in the 200s? I don't know.

clvquilts 06-28-2007 07:19 PM

I want to publically thank Meg for the wonderful job she is doing of leading the various discussions with insightful questions and excellent summaries of the topics and research studies.

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