Health

The Sneaky Science of Overeating

And why there may finally be a new tool in the obesity fight

No matter which fast food restaurant serves it, the American burger — often loaded with salt, sugar, fat, and chemical additives — is more than just a nutritional staple in this country. It is a product of science aimed at one thing: getting you to eat more.

If you’re concerned about your health or your weight, take seriously the fact that for years, restaurants, food manufacturers and fast food chains have been engineering your overeating. Chemists, physicists and neuroscientists have been intent on hijacking your brain chemistry and programming a food addiction to the best of their ability.

While they work to get you to eat more, a new discovery from Johns Hopkins could advance the search for drugs or other means of controlling appetites.

Researchers have announced a new type of nerve cell that seems to control feeding behaviors in mice. The finding, they say, adds significant detail to the way the brain signals to animals to stop eating. If confirmed in humans, this could lead to new tools for fighting obesity.

The group deleted an enzyme called O-GlcNAc transferase, or OGT, from the brains of mice. The cells are known to send and receive multiple signals related to appetite and food intake.

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“After deleting OGT in mice, the rodents quickly developed an insatiable appetite and swelled in size when offered a large amount of food. Limited to a regular diet, they lost weight, indicating a key signal in the brain needed to hit the switch on a feeling of being full had been turned off by the absence of OGT,” Fierce Biotech Research reported.

While we wait for that elusive magic pill to help us control our appetite — the food science industry continues to push a complicated mishmash of different flavors so that we don’t notice the signs of fullness.

In the United States, the number-one indicator of whether a restaurant is evaluated as “excellent” by diners is portion size. Big portions get good reviews — and good reviews get more people through the door.

When New York Times reporter Michael Moss investigated the food industry for his book, “Sugar Salt Fat,” he discovered a billion-dollar food science industry “more conspiratorial in nature than you ever imagined.”

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Dr. Mark Mincolla, a natural health practitioner and author of “Whole Health” and “The Whole Health Diet,” says that over 80,000 chemical food additives are approved by the FDA and are often deployed in the processing of food.

Although they might be used for “flavor enhancement,” artificial flavoring or as a preservative, they slow the metabolism. He also refers to pesticides as “obesogens,” because they disrupt the endocrine system and lead to weight gain and associated diseases.

“The food industry has demonstrated they are willing to go to great herculean lengths to sell product, even if it’s not in the best interest of the consumer,” Mincolla told LifeZette. “They are spending millions to make billions.”

It may feel as if the deck is stacked against changing for the better. That’s how Betty Eggleston, a secretary in Naperville, Illinois, felt when she tried to kick her daily McDonald’s habit.

“I wanted to lose weight and my health coach made me aware of how addictive fast food was. I was shocked — every day for years I’d been at McDonald’s for lunch. Until I tried to break that habit, I had no idea how addicted I was. The first day I agreed to skip McDonald’s for lunch, I went anyway — and ordered two Big Macs. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. It took me months to end the habit and feel better.”

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For the consumer who wants to make changes, Mincolla suggests looking for the USDA green and white sticker that signifies “organic and chemical free” when possible. He advises eating quality protein three times a day, limiting starchy carbs to twice daily, and drinking plenty of water.

Dr. Nitan Kumar, a gastroenterologist who specializes in obesity medicine in Addison, Illinois, agreed with that, suggesting people avoid the most obvious addictive substances such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup and starch.

Although restaurants are often a necessity for business and travel, Kumar recommends thinking strategically.

“This means eating salads when you can, which will give you fiber and micronutrients, such as trace minerals, that are lacking in processed foods,” he told LifeZette. “Scrap the buns, which are loaded with sugar. Avoid pizza crust, plus never add salt or sauces like soy, barbecue and spaghetti sauce.”

Decisions about food and nourishment rest solidly in the hands of the consumer, but knowing what occurs behind the scenes is an important component of every decision.

“I’m not going to tell you this will be easy,” Kumar said. “It means avoiding many foods you love. But knowing you love them because they rewarded you with dopamine release in the past should help break the pattern.”

Pat Barone, CPCC, BCC, MCC is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating. She helps clients heal food addictions. 

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