Cover to Cover// The Hungry Brain
I picked up this book to read on our mini Indio vacation next to the pool between rounds of golf! It’s real sciency. But not too sciency for a guy who says “sciency” to understand. Very generally, Guyenet discusses the various research that’s been done on the human appetite and what we’ve been able to figure out so far. Metabolism, appetite, and human biology as research subjects have become really important in the wake of the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease epidemics.
One thing remains constant. These things that are ravaging the health of society result from, at a base level, overeating- taking in more energy than we expend- “calories in calories out”. But wow, there are a lot more things going on. Genetics, environment, hormones, economics, brain chemistry. And still, no matter what is layered on top, energy balance is the Alpha culprit. And with that settled, you’re able to read the rest of the book with great understanding.
Disclaimer, the tag line or subtitle “outsmarting the instincts that make us overeat” could be a bit misleading. There is a meager 10 page chapter at the end outlining what to do with the shotgun blast of information you’ve just received. So if you skip to that chapter, you’d be like “dumb! This is just what Devin and Mac tell me everyday.” In the right hands though, the reader really can easily formulate what to do with the information presented. Here’s an example:
In an attempt to fatten mice in order to study fat loss, researchers had to come up with feed that would pack on the lbs quickly. What they came up with was pellets that were high in fat and sugar, and so naturally, very very palatable (tasty). The mice had free access to the feed and ate it without end. That wasn’t a study so much as an ovbservation. On studies human subjects though, when given unlimited access to hyper-palatable foods- starchy, fatty, savory, sweet- all the tastes humans love and crave. We are all but guaranteed to over-eat. Certainly people do become full and many don’t binge or feel like they’re over-eating, but according to the math, they do. I certainly do! Conversely, when given access to only bland or only mildly palatable foods in comparison. People eat far fewer calories but don’t report anymore hunger. Over-eating almost never happens in the bland group even with people who claim to have exceptionally ravenous appetites. So what to do with that information?
If you have little self controll, your food probably tastes too good. ????wtf? Yah think about it. I have this conversation a lot. “I wanna loose weight.” “Well you should eat more whole foods like vegetables.” “Well I don’t like vegetables, whole foods don’t taste as good.” Just work out that logic. We’re not happy with our fat levels, which occur because of over eating. We over eat because food tastes good. And so tell me about how eating really good foods that you like is supposed to help you eat less... so actually if you were filling up on mildly palatable food that you tolerate, you’re less likely to be hungry and crave the foods that you wish you could have in moderation.
This book review is already going on too long! The book is full of really cool and interesting studies. It passes my sniff test of legitimacy (as if I’m some health watch dog). No agendas, nothing to sell. He’s just pulling together all of the important current research on our appetites.
If you don’t read it, here is my most important takeaway from the book as a whole.
Your brain and body are truly amazing. We’re evolutionary powerhouses created to rule the planet. Our problem is that God gave us these rediculously robust bodies made to survive ancient winters, but those winters currently don’t happen anymore. We actually have to pay someone to make our lives harder to be healthy- so dumb! You. Will. Eat. Nobody wants to over-eat and become unhealthy. So there is little value in beating ourselves up over doing something we’re made to do. Understanding why and when you crave certain things can be your most valuable tool in staying consistent.