Hunger Drive, Control System, and Weight Loss
by Professor Jay
The hunger drive, or urge to eat, is the most fundamental and powerful biological drive that we have. Hunger is a term which means a craving for food. It is associated with both physical and psychological sensations. For the physical side, if a person has not eaten for many hours, the stomach will undergo intense contractions. As these contractions occur, air is moved around creating the sounds known as a growling stomach. These contractions can be so fierce that they can actually cause pain. This pain is physical and is commonly known as hunger pangs. This is a cue to go get food. However, interestingly enough, people who have had their stomachs completely removed will still have cravings for food that will make them seek food until satisfied. This tells us directly that hunger is not only physical, but psychological.
Satiety, on the other hand, is a term given for the opposite of hunger. It means a feeling of contentment and fulfillment in the quest for food. It is the feeling of being full, or satiated.
Our bodies, as do all systems, need energy to do work. We derive this energy from food. Energy from food can be either in the form of carbohydrates (sugar, starch), proteins (amino acids), or lipids (fats and oils). Our hunger and satiety drives are designed to tell us how we are doing as far as our energy needs. You can think of the gas gauge in your car. When your car’s energy is low, i.e., you are low on gas, your needle reads empty and a light goes on. This prompts you to find a gas station to fill up. After you have filled up, the light goes off, and your needle reads full.
When our energy levels are low, our hunger center is stimulated, which drives us to find food. When we have satisfied our hunger center by taking in food, our hunger drive is inhibited and our satiety center is stimulated, which gives us a feeling of fullness.
Your gas gauge is located on the dashboard of your car. Your hunger and satiety centers lie deep within the brain in a very important control region known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus plays a major role in controlling our most powerful emotional and behavior drives, such as sexual arousal, thirst drive, rage, fear, pain, and pleasure, and YES you guessed it – hunger and satiety! The hypothalamus contains a region for the hunger center and a region for the satiety center. The hunger center is responsible for the hunger drive. The hunger drive is one of the most primitive and powerful drives that exist.
This can be easily seen by referencing the movie, Alive. Alive is a true story where a group of Uruguayan rugby players make an annual trip to Chile with friends and family. The pilots make a mistake and think they have passed the snow-covered Andes Mountains, when in fact, they haven’t. Their plane crashes into the snow-covered mountain, killing some and leaving some alive. The weather is so brutal that rescue searchers give up. It is not long before the survivors run out of food, and the primitive hunger drive kicks in. Each and every survivor is able to remain alive long enough for an eventual rescue by eating the bodies of the friends and family members who died. No matter what you may say right now as you read this, believe me, you would do the same thing, because the primitive hunger drive is more powerful that our conscious thinking.
The other major region in the hypothalamus that regulates hunger is the satiety center. This is the center that gives you a feeling of fullness or satiation. This is the region that tells you to stop eating. Just as there are different stimuli that turn on the hunger center there are also different stimuli that activate the satiety center.
The hunger and satiety drives are controlled by our genes. There are many genes that govern these processes. We are still in the infant stages of understanding how these multitudes of genes act independently, as well as interact with each other, to regulate the complex hunger and satiety drives. And to complicate matters, everyone’s genes behave differently. Because everyone is different, there cannot be a single target point in achieving weight control. That is why it is necessary to target multiple areas that regulate these processes. And because everyone is different, it is also necessary to allow for flexibility when targeting.
Think about this. What if a person’s genes that control these areas are not functioning properly, or what if they function differently than how we think they should work? What works for one may not work for another. Based on this, and the power of the hunger drive, it is easy to understand why achieving permanent weight loss is not as simple as telling someone, “Hey, just follow this diet. It’s not hard.”
The environment that we live in now is fast, complex, and the availability of high energy foods certainly is not scarce, as it was in the hunter-gatherer environment that originally influenced our genes and behavior.
For obvious reasons, we are both fortunate and unfortunate to have such food abundance in our society. However, there is still much food scarcity around the world. Let me say this more clearly, “Men, women, and children literally starve to death each and every day around the world because they have no food to put into their mouths.” Paradoxically in our society, people die because they have too much food to put into their mouths. Wow. Now, we should not feel guilty for having such good fortune, but we always should be grateful and openly express gratitude for what we have.
In addition to the sheer abundance of food, our society also places a great deal of focus around food. It’s hard to think of an event throughout the day that food is not a part of. Our society has spun out of control with its incorporating food into everything. There are many events throughout the day that do not in any way require the presence of food, yet food has become incorporated into them. One example that simply amazes me is how students in my class, during lecture, will eat continuously. They eat chips and cookies and candies. They drink soda and sugary energy drinks. They eat and drink and eat some more. This is the type of behavior that is congruent with weight gain.
But because of my understanding of the hunger drive, I absolutely understand how difficult this type of behavior is to overcome. This behavior is so powerful that attempting to control it in our food-abundant and food-focused society all too often leads to a feeling of desperation. This desperation leads to failure, depression, and often withdrawal and misery. It becomes a vicious cycle of chaos.
The good news is that anything can be fixed with a control system. In fact, everything needs a control system. It is well known that the natural forces of the universe favor disorganization and chaos. In order to overcome the forces of chaos, a control system must be put into place and utilized. When no control system is utilized, then the natural forces of chaos will ensue.
Now it comes down to you. There are two very clear options to choose from. You can choose to have a control system or choose not to have a control system. Ultimately, it is up to you.
Lack of a control system leads to the vicious cycle of obesity. Without a control system, unplanned and unnecessary food consumption leads to increased weight gain. The increased weight gain leads to natural feelings of failure and depression. This creates the out-of-control, vicious cycle of obesity that revolves around depression, misery, withdrawal, low self-worth, and ultimately overeating and continued weight gain.
But there is hope.
By introducing a control system (such as The My Family Plate™ Weight Loss Plan for Parents), overeating, failure, desperation, and the whole cycle of obesity is broken. The My Family Plate™ Weight Loss Plan for Parents, functioning as the control system, allows you to achieve success by allowing you to live in the desired cycle of permanent weight loss.
When you choose to bring a control system into your life you will be able to achieve controlled eating.
Controlled eating is necessary to achieve permanent weight loss. Weight loss and weight maintenance will give you a feeling of success. That feeling of success will cycle you through feelings of high self-worth, empowerment (maybe for the first time ever), and ultimately permanent weight loss.
It’s all in implementing the proper control system. For more on this go to Professor Jay’s Perspective.