The Science of Hunger
It would make sense that if we only ate when we were actually hungry we’d be living in our natural rhythms and thus be healthier and fitter.
But nature doesn’t always make sense. In this case the problem is that our hunger is very often out to deceive us. Hunger is a complex conglomeration of signals throughout the brain and body. The drive to eat comes not only from our need to fuel our bodies, but also a variety of cues in our environment -- not the least of which is pursuit of pleasure.
There are basically two types of hunger. One is when you haven’t eaten for a while. That’s easy to understand. But a second kind is called “hedonistic hunger,” and it is exactly what the name implies -- wanting food, dwelling on food, craving food -- simply for the pleasure of eating it. And that is less understood.
One theory about hedonic hunger is that predisposition to tasty foods, which humans developed long ago, has run amok in the modern environment, with the wide availability of delicious foods available almost all the time.
Apparently our self-control has not evolved as quickly as humanity’s culinary skills have.
Of course we can’t just blame hunger (or its cousin “appetite”) for our weight problems. Sometimes we turn the tables and deceive our hunger -- for instance, using zero-calorie sweeteners may confuse fullness signals and trick our brain into thinking we haven't eaten much when we have actually eaten too much. Often far too much.
So the next time you think you’re hungry, before hitting the fridge try to decide if you might just be feeling a little hedonistic instead.