13 June 2011,

I have stolen this title from Dr. Arya Sharma, who has put together an informative and engaging video explaining why being too hungry can make you eat crap and how to stop emotional eating.

The video draws a clear distinction between Homeostatic versus Hedonically motivated eating.

Itˊs the latter type of eating that grabs my attention: as a psychologist, Iˊm interested in things that happen in our heads. Pleasure, or mechanisms implicated in the pursuit of positive affect, is a research venue classically designated for experimental psychologists (like me!).

Good doctors will now start referring to ˊHedonically Motivated Feedingˊ in the context of obesity. Hedonically motivated feeding is a much clearer way to represent what so many talk show hosts fuzzily call, ˊEmotional Eatingˊ. It is, in my humble opinion, 100% responsible for the crisis many people feel about their weight and body size.

If you eat for hunger, you seldom feel guilt. The tie between your body and caloric requirements is clearly pronounced.
For example, If I have finished a 22 km run, and decide to polish off 40 pieces of sushi (I may or may not be speaking about my weekend), I donˊt really feel many emotional ties when a waitress raises her eyebrows. I am hungry, and I need to eat. A lot. I couldn’t care less if Iˊm placed in a group with Takeru Kobayashi in the eyes of the other diners.

However, if I decide to have two pieces of birthday cake, because Iˊm in the mood for frosting, I feel myself quickly get defensive about my energy requirements (did I mention that I log about 60 km on running trails over the week?).

Understanding the link between Pleasure versus Need will make you aware of the motivations for eating. Eating for pleasure, or eating food that is high on the pleasure quotient and low on the nutrient one, will ultimately hurt your body. Or, at least, after you have gone through the process of weight loss, you quickly realize that pleasant tasting food is the fastest way back to trousers with elastic draw strings.

The good olˊ ˊeat to live or live to eatˊ cliché has its place, of course. However, for me personally, analyzing whether I am eating for homeostatic verus hedonic motivation always helps me make the right decision. That extra piece of birthday cake is seldom worth the worry, and definitely not worth a 60 km sized chip on my shoulder.

For more information about emotional eating (OK, the training wheels are coming off soon), please see the introduction for the book I am writing with LA Times Fitness contributor, James Fell

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