Hunger is a mood: the psychology of weight loss and self-control

Michael Graziano, a psychologist, lost 50 lbs in 8 months by experimenting on himself to see how different dietary choices affected his feelings of hunger, reasoning that the major predictor of weight control isn't calories consumed versus calories burned -- but the extent to which your unconscious mind exerts pressure on you to eat more and exercise less.

Graziano concludes that the three major tactics for weight loss actually make it harder to limit the "hunger mood": caloric restriction (which kicks your hunger into high gear); low fat diets (because fat produces feelings of satiety) and high-carbs (which make you hungrier, and which are almost all that's left if you eliminate fats).

In the end, Graziano ate a moderate fat, low carb diet without any caloric restrictions: so long as he stuck to foods that met those two criteria, he could eat as much as he wanted.

In some ways, the hunger system is like the breathing system. The brain has an unconscious mechanism that regulates breathing. Suppose that system got shut down so that it was up to you to consciously control your own breath, adjusting its rate and depth depending on factors such as blood oxygen, carbon dioxide level, physical exertion, and so on. What would happen? You’d die in about 10 minutes. You’d lose track of the necessities. The intellectual, conscious mind is not really good at these matters of regulating the internal environment. It’s better to leave the job as much as possible to the dedicated systems that evolved to do it. What you can do with your conscious mind is to set the general parameters. Put yourself in a place where your automatic systems can operate correctly. Don’t put a plastic bag over your head. Likewise, don’t eat the super-high death-carb, low-fat diet. Don’t micromanage your brainstem by counting every calorie. You might be surprised at how well your health self-regulates.

The hunger mood [Michael Graziano/Aeon]

(via Kottke)

(Image: day 1 of 30 - 135 lbs, Dana Robinson, CC-BY-SA)