Have you ever heard of the term “hedonic hunger”?
It has been defined as food consumption that is not driven by the need for calories but just for pleasure. It normally manifest itself as the desire for highly palatable foods, such as sugars and fats.
A large majority of Americans are hooked on hedonic hunger. According to some recent studies, hedonic hunger has almost the same effects of drug addiction or other compulsive behaviors such as gambling.
Just as compulsive gamblers or drug-dependent persons are preoccupied with their habit even when they are not engaging in it, individuals hooked on hedonic hunger experience frequent thoughts, feelings and urges about food.
These experiences may be prompted by food-related cues such as the smell or the sight of food, talking, reading or even just thinking about food.
The overabundance of food
For most human history the main reason to seek food was survival. Nowadays instead, among well-nourished populations, much of our food intake occurs for other reasons.
It is well established that the amount of food we eat everyday is no longer only affected by internal factors such as hormones, but also by external environmental factors such as food availability and food advertising.
That’s when hedonic hunger comes into play: since we can eat anything and everything we want at all times, our need for food is no longer dictated by the need of take-in calorie to survive. Instead, it's the urge to please our palates with the things we like best, that pushes us to eat.
Of course, there’s a downfall: as hedonic hunger is considered to be one of factors leading to obesity/overweight, with all the health problems it brings along (diabetes, heart disease, etc).
Hedonic hunger makes us eat more
Subjective feelings of hunger are more likely to reflect our hedonic hunger level than our body's actual energy needs. Our body’s hunger signals are not closely linked to the amount of food we are likely to eat at the next meal or snack.
Satiety has only a small effect on the pleasantness of foods. It's the availability and palatability of foods which keep us eating.
Does it affects everybody?
Some data recently collected suggests that obese individuals prefer and consume highly palatable foods to a greater extent than individuals of “normal weight”. This happens just because people of normal weight consciously decide to eat less that they really want, or, in other words, they voluntarily curb their hedonic hunger.
Almost everybody is affected by hedonic hunger; including athletes. The latter can even be more susceptible to hedonic hunger (in comparison with non-athletes) as a result of an increase in appetite due to high levels of exercise.
How to control hedonic hunger
Researchers have well established that higher-than-normal energy intake is not usually compensated for at later mealtimes, or in the near future.
In other words, our “inbuilt” system for regulating intake is easily and too often overridden.
So what can we do to control our hedonic hunger?
Studies suggest that reducing our exposure to palatable foods could reduce our hedonic hunger. Limiting exposure means to not look, smell or even think about food.
Psychologists also suggest to choose blander foods in an effort to reduce hedonic hunger. Remember when few days ago we talked about the method of crowding out? That is more or less the same.
Overeating is often triggered by deep-rooted psychological motives such as comfort seeking, or escaping negative emotions, a range of so-called “non-stressful cognitive activities” that can increase food intake.
For instance, eating in front of the TV or with a large group of people can divert our attention away from how much food we are consuming, causing us to overeat.
On the other hand, experts stress out that there is a risk ceasing consumption of highly palatable food as this can increase stress levels, and hasten an uncontrolled return to eating them.
I find the concept of hedonic hunger fascinating.
I can personally see how I am totally subject to it, and how it affects me daily.
Of course, I have many tricks up my sleeves that help me control it but I’m not, by all means, immune to it.
I believe that the perfect solution is to satisfy our hedonic hunger with palatable foods that are also healthy. Which is something that we do here on TheIronYou daily!
The Iron You