Eating motives and the controversy over dieting: eating less than needed versus less than wanted

Obesity Research
Michael R Lowe, Allen S Levine


Anti-dieting sentiment has grown in recent years. Critics of restrained eating suggest that it evokes counter-regulatory responses that render it ineffective or even iatrogenic. However, restrained eaters are not in negative energy balance and overweight individuals show reduced eating problems when losing weight by dieting. A distinction is often drawn between physiological and psychological hunger, and neuroscience research has shown that there is a neurophysiological reality underlying this distinction. The brain has a homeostatic system (activated by energy deficits) and a hedonic system (activated by the presence of palatable food). The omnipresence of highly palatable food in the environment may chronically activate the hedonic appetite system, producing a need to actively restrain eating not just to lose weight but to avoid gaining it. Just as restricting energy intake below homeostatic needs produces physiological deprivation, restricting intake of palatable foods may produce "perceived deprivation" despite a state of energy balance. In summary, the motivation to eat more than one needs appears to be every bit as real, and perhaps every bit as powerful, as the motivation to eat when energy deprived.

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