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The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat

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From an obesity and neuroscience researcher with a knack for engaging, humorous storytelling, The Hungry Brain uses cutting-edge science to answer the questions: why do we overeat, and what can we do about it? No one wants to overeat. And certainly no one wants to overeat for years, become overweight, and end up with a high risk of diabetes or heart disease--yet two thirds From an obesity and neuroscience researcher with a knack for engaging, humorous storytelling, The Hungry Brain uses cutting-edge science to answer the questions: why do we overeat, and what can we do about it? No one wants to overeat. And certainly no one wants to overeat for years, become overweight, and end up with a high risk of diabetes or heart disease--yet two thirds of Americans do precisely that. Even though we know better, we often eat too much. Why does our behavior betray our own intentions to be lean and healthy? The problem, argues obesity and neuroscience researcher Stephan J. Guyenet, is not necessarily a lack of willpower or an incorrect understanding of what to eat. Rather, our appetites and food choices are led astray by ancient, instinctive brain circuits that play by the rules of a survival game that no longer exists. And these circuits don’t care about how you look in a bathing suit next summer. To make the case, The Hungry Brain takes readers on an eye-opening journey through cutting-edge neuroscience that has never before been available to a general audience. The Hungry Brain delivers profound insights into why the brain undermines our weight goals and transforms these insights into practical guidelines for eating well and staying slim. Along the way, it explores how the human brain works, revealing how this mysterious organ makes us who we are.


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From an obesity and neuroscience researcher with a knack for engaging, humorous storytelling, The Hungry Brain uses cutting-edge science to answer the questions: why do we overeat, and what can we do about it? No one wants to overeat. And certainly no one wants to overeat for years, become overweight, and end up with a high risk of diabetes or heart disease--yet two thirds From an obesity and neuroscience researcher with a knack for engaging, humorous storytelling, The Hungry Brain uses cutting-edge science to answer the questions: why do we overeat, and what can we do about it? No one wants to overeat. And certainly no one wants to overeat for years, become overweight, and end up with a high risk of diabetes or heart disease--yet two thirds of Americans do precisely that. Even though we know better, we often eat too much. Why does our behavior betray our own intentions to be lean and healthy? The problem, argues obesity and neuroscience researcher Stephan J. Guyenet, is not necessarily a lack of willpower or an incorrect understanding of what to eat. Rather, our appetites and food choices are led astray by ancient, instinctive brain circuits that play by the rules of a survival game that no longer exists. And these circuits don’t care about how you look in a bathing suit next summer. To make the case, The Hungry Brain takes readers on an eye-opening journey through cutting-edge neuroscience that has never before been available to a general audience. The Hungry Brain delivers profound insights into why the brain undermines our weight goals and transforms these insights into practical guidelines for eating well and staying slim. Along the way, it explores how the human brain works, revealing how this mysterious organ makes us who we are.

30 review for The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat

  1. 4 out of 5

    April

    4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars because I want so many people to read it: nutritionists, primary care doctors, people who want to lose weight, people who are prejudiced against people who are overweight, reporters, and many more! The great: all the research that Guyenet carefully explains. You may have heard snippets of this information before, "Sleep deprivation makes it harder to lose weight!" "Stress increases belly fat!" But reading about it in some depth with all the pieces put together hel 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars because I want so many people to read it: nutritionists, primary care doctors, people who want to lose weight, people who are prejudiced against people who are overweight, reporters, and many more! The great: all the research that Guyenet carefully explains. You may have heard snippets of this information before, "Sleep deprivation makes it harder to lose weight!" "Stress increases belly fat!" But reading about it in some depth with all the pieces put together helped me really understand the importance of sleep, feeling in control rather than stressed and helpless, and so much more. The iffy: Guyenet has been influenced by the paleo folks - when he strays from the research and shares his opinions that becomes clear and it made Guyenet a little less trustworthy for me, although I still thought the book was great. Instead, I wish he would have read about the Blue Zones - the places on earth where people live the longest, healthiest lives - and mused about those lifestyles before writing this book. Also, he is heavily in favor of eating meat (which most people in Blue Zones do- although they eat most of their calories from plants), but when talking about being lean, it seems unbalanced not mention that on average vegetarians are leaner than meat eaters and vegans are leaner still. Not to say I think he should be promoting any particular diet, but since he brought up Paleo, he should look at the big picture. Summary The main factors that contribute to weight are: genetics plus environment 1. Genetics. It really sucks for those of us who easily gain weight, but it turns out that genetics contribute up to 70% of how much someone weighs. So why didn't we see overweight people at other times in history? Because genetics only contribute to weight gain in certain environments - like our current calorie rich environment. (Genetics determines how susceptible we are to the following causes.) 2. How rewarding foods are. Our brain considers foods high in calories to be the most rewarding. When those foods are around, we tend to overeat them because our brain says, "Calories available! Time to EAT!) 3. How valuable foods are. The equation for food value looks something like this: Reward - Effort. We've already learned that high calories equals highly rewarding. The other part of the equation is how hard those foods are to get. To our brains, fast food is very valuable because it's a great deal - very high calorie food with very little effort Our body wants to keep our weight the same. There are two systems that help it do that: 1. The lipostat which is based primarily in the hypothalamus. The lipostat has one job: to make sure you don't lose any of your valuable life saving, fertility ensuring fat. (This may seem strange to us now, but when we evolved all of these systems, calories were hard to come by so, fat = GOOD, HEALTHY, FERTILE.) The lipostat makes sure your energy systems stay in balance over time. So if you lower your calorie intake, it makes you want to move less and eat more. Ah, gee, thanks, Lipostat. Because of this, often the more weight people lose, the hungrier they get. Until eventually the can't fight their lipostat and their tremendous hunger any longer and they gain all that life saving (from the perspective of the lipostat) fat back, and maybe a little more. Lipostat for the win! 2. We also have a system that "regulates food intake on a meal-to-meal basis by making us feel full and reducing our drive to continue eating after we've had enough." This system is located primarily in the brain stem and gets it's information from the gut. Recap: two systems that regulate how full you feel: the lipostat which is working to keep your energy intake and expenditure balance the same over time (ie keep the lovely fat on you) and the brain stem which regulates energy intake meal by meal. This is where your genetics come in. Some people - given a high calorie environment - have a lipostat that says "Ohhhh calories! Let's get a lot of fat on this bod and keep it around. We will be the most fertile in all the land!" While some people's lipostats just say, "Meh. Clearly our genes survived for tens of thousands of years. We'll just keep doing what we been doing and stay lean." As you can see, most people did evolve to take in more calories when calories are available. What else influences how much we eat? 1. Sleep. When we don't get 7-9 (yes NINE for some people) hours of sleep a night, we eat about 300 calories more than we otherwise would. And remember, our lipostat wants to keep our levels about the same. So, except for the rare genetic freaks (and I say that lovingly), it's not going to want to lose that fat after it's gained it. 2. The threat response system. Guyenet describes this as "stress" and recommends lowering our stress. But in the research he shares, he shows that it's only uncontrollable stress that makes us overeat. I think a clearer way to describe this factor would be: status. In the research he shared, if we have low status and are being criticized and picked on without recourse, we feel stressed and eat more calories than we otherwise would. If we have a lot to do, but we can do it and we feel empowered, then we don't overeat even though we are also feeling "stress." (Clearly we need an additional word because these are two very different states.) To sum up so far: It is how much we eat and how much we move that determines how fat or lean we are. There is not a big genetic difference in how our body processes calories. The big genetic difference is in how much our body wants to weigh. How fat we are is a combination of how much our body wants us to weigh PLUS our food and movement environment. Can we lower our lipostat? Yes. We just have to roll back the clock a hundred years or so and live like it's 1960 or much earlier, depending on your particular genetics. 1. Eat moderately palatable food. People who were given bland food and lost weight didn't get the starving response that people losing weight on highly palatable food got! This is great news! If it sounds like less fun, it is. But food doesn't have to taste bad, it just has to taste good instead of amazing. Eating whole, natural foods without added sugars, or oils, and very low salt can achieve this. (I've eaten this way for long stretches before and my cravings disappeared and I felt very peaceful, just like the people in one of the studies Guyenet shared.) 2. Exercise. For some people it lowers the weight set point - which again, means you're lipostat won't make you ravenously hungry when you lose some fat. In addition to formal exercise, find ways to move a little all day. Maybe get a treadmill desk or do like the genetically lean folks do and increase your fidgeting. :) 3. As much as you can, don't have high calorie, highly palatable (tasty) foods in your house. Make those foods a lower value by increasing the effort it takes to get to them. 4. Don't look at those foods. Don't have foods out on your counters. Don't watch food commercials on TV. Even seeing these foods can make your brain say, "I see lots of calories! TIME TO FEAST.) 5. Lower inflammation in the brain, so your brain systems that notice you've already eaten are at full capacity. (There is more about this in the book.) You can do this by not eating unhealthy oils or sugar. I wonder if taking an ibuprofen after Thanksgiving would help? Or if eating an anti-inflammatory diet would help? 6. Maybe don't let yourself get too hungry. When people are hungry, they react to high calorie density food but not to healthier low calorie density food. Could eating more frequently help? Or just eating at regular meal times? I remember meeting a very slim French woman who said she thought it was ridiculous to eat when you were hungry. "The point of eating at the same time everyday is to eat before you get hungry!" I'm sure there are many best practices, but the main idea is: avoid high calorie density foods when you are super hungry! What to eat? If you want to be leaner, eat a diet filled with satiating foods, which have these characteristics: *Low calorie density *Lower fat *Low to moderate palatability (they taste good but not exciting) *Higher protein *High fiber

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mario Tomic

    Absolutely loved it! The Hungry Brain is a much-needed breath of fresh air bringing the science and evidence-based approach to weight management in an industry that has been deeply polluted with decades of dogmatism, fearmongering and pseudoscience. For all of you that know Stephan's work from his blog, the Hungry brain puts it all in one place. My favorite thing about the book is how Stephan breaks down very complex interactions between eating behavior and the brain in a simple easy-to-understa Absolutely loved it! The Hungry Brain is a much-needed breath of fresh air bringing the science and evidence-based approach to weight management in an industry that has been deeply polluted with decades of dogmatism, fearmongering and pseudoscience. For all of you that know Stephan's work from his blog, the Hungry brain puts it all in one place. My favorite thing about the book is how Stephan breaks down very complex interactions between eating behavior and the brain in a simple easy-to-understand way. The Hungry Brain is a book you can recommend to a friend who might be struggling with weight loss and who's lost in the world of fad dieting. Overall, highly recommended read for all fitness and nutrition professionals, coaches, health enthusiasts and anyone who wishes to learn more about how the brain dictates our food choices.

  3. 4 out of 5

    bookfan

    The best book about obesity currently on the market. However, since Guyenet is a scientist true to science, he is sometimes a little bit vague on things I feel he ha some very strong views on in private. Therefore, this book is the best summary of the best obesity research to date, and really gives you the best framework for thinking about obesity as a whole. If You want to lose weight, read this in conjunction with Guyenet excellent blog. This book is the one book every layman need to read about The best book about obesity currently on the market. However, since Guyenet is a scientist true to science, he is sometimes a little bit vague on things I feel he ha some very strong views on in private. Therefore, this book is the best summary of the best obesity research to date, and really gives you the best framework for thinking about obesity as a whole. If You want to lose weight, read this in conjunction with Guyenet excellent blog. This book is the one book every layman need to read about obesity, and obesity professionals should have this AS their favoritt book, and every doctor should have a copy on their desk and recommend it!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jay Pruitt

    The Hungry Brain describes testing and experimentation conducted in recent years on lab rats and humans alike, attempting to explain how the brain, genetics and chemical reactions, influence our eating behaviors. Obviously well researched, the book was a bit more technical than I was hoping for. For the layperson, the medical jargon became difficult to follow. Towards the end of the book we are presented with recommendations for those wanting to control our state of "adiposity", many of which ar The Hungry Brain describes testing and experimentation conducted in recent years on lab rats and humans alike, attempting to explain how the brain, genetics and chemical reactions, influence our eating behaviors. Obviously well researched, the book was a bit more technical than I was hoping for. For the layperson, the medical jargon became difficult to follow. Towards the end of the book we are presented with recommendations for those wanting to control our state of "adiposity", many of which are techniques commonly known. For example, limit intake of "high reward" foods like chocolate and white flour, and rather eat bland foods like vegetables, meat and potatoes. Some may find the book interesting, but I was starting to skim pages by the latter half.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    This was a very concise book, but not written for the layperson. It was an extremely scientific overview of why humans are becoming fatter. I got a bit lost with the academic language throughout the book, even though it was absolutely necessary when describing the various brain centres and their roles in hunger. I quite enjoyed the last couple chapters as they were easier for my non-scientific brain to grasp. A great book by Mr. Guyenet, but not a quick, easy read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    This was very comprehensive and included lots of studies on various reasons for why we eat such as genetics, food environment, sleep, ingredients in food, stress, exercise etc. I also liked that he didn't seem biased towards any particular diet/lifestyle. Although he included tips on how to implement the research into your daily life, I felt like there could've been more written on it rather than just a small chapter in the end that seemed like an afterthought. This was very comprehensive and included lots of studies on various reasons for why we eat such as genetics, food environment, sleep, ingredients in food, stress, exercise etc. I also liked that he didn't seem biased towards any particular diet/lifestyle. Although he included tips on how to implement the research into your daily life, I felt like there could've been more written on it rather than just a small chapter in the end that seemed like an afterthought.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nupur

    A really well-researched and well-written book on how the brain controls hunger and eating behavior. My notes are below. The practical tips for everyday life are in bold. Introduction The conscious, rational brain cares about abstract concepts like health, appearance and the future. The non-conscious intuitive brain only cares about concrete, immediate things. The conflict between the two explains why we overeat even when we don't want to. Overeating and obesity are caused by a mismatch between a A really well-researched and well-written book on how the brain controls hunger and eating behavior. My notes are below. The practical tips for everyday life are in bold. Introduction The conscious, rational brain cares about abstract concepts like health, appearance and the future. The non-conscious intuitive brain only cares about concrete, immediate things. The conflict between the two explains why we overeat even when we don't want to. Overeating and obesity are caused by a mismatch between ancient survival circuits in the brain and an environment that sends the circuits the wrong messages. The Fattest Man on the Island A calorie is a calorie, nevertheless some foods are more fattening than others but this is not because of an effect on the metabolic rate but rather because they coax us to eat more calories. The obesity epidemic is a result of overeating. What’s the most effective way to cause overeating? “Palatable human foods” or the supermarket/cafeteria diet. Making free and tasty foods available leads to substantial overeating. The Selection Problem Eating is a complex behavior that requires coordinated decision-making on motivational, cognitive and motor levels. But motivation (which can come from different brain regions in response to different cues) is the fundamental spark that sets the whole behavioral cascade into motion. The Chemistry of Seduction Dopamine is the “learning chemical” rather than the “pleasure chemical”. It reinforces sensory cues. The brain instinctively seeks out calories. Flavors and smells are a quick way for the brain to gather information about a high calorie food before it enters the digestive tract. The human brain is extremely preoccupied with calories. Non-conscious parts of the brain perceive some foods to be so valuable that they drive us to seek and eat them even if we aren’t hungry and even in the face of a sincere desire to eat a healthy diet and stay lean. Addiction is simply an exaggerated version of the same reinforcement process that happens in all of us. Eating a bland repetitive diet does indeed reduce spontaneous caloric intake without provoking hunger. Eating a varied diet is a good maxim for meeting our overall nutritional needs, but it has a dark side: food variety has a powerful influence on our calorie intake. The more variety we encounter at a meal, the more we eat. To beat the “buffet effect”, limit yourself to a few foods when you are in a buffet or party situation. When food reward and variety decrease, so does food intake. Why do some people develop obesity and others don’t, when we are all surrounded by high-reward foods? One reason is that people differ greatly in the relative reinforcing value of food, that is, how hard a person is willing to work for food, relative to a non-food reward. Another reason is impulsivity. The third factor is the presence of highly rewarding food in your personal environment. The United States of Food Reward Diets of non-industrial cultures have three prominent characteristics in common: they include only a limited variety of food, they don’t add heaps of sugar, salt, fat and flavor to their food and they use only a few cooking methods. To our modern palates, they would seem bland and repetitive because modern palates are accustomed to constant entertainment. Modern foods are very high-reward. In particular, the combination of concentrated fat and sugar (eg, ice cream) is a deadly one for our food reward system. It is also a pairing that is rarely found in nature. The foods we encounter today are more seductive than what our ancestors would have encountered. Creating an obesity epidemic was not the objective but it is the unfortunate side effect of the food industry’s race to make money. The Economics of Eating The brain that drives hunter-gatherers to gorge on calorie-dense foods when they come across them- and because it’s good for them- is the same brain that drives us to overeat in the modern world. In the dangerous environment of our ancestors, it was advantageous to evolve brains that valued present selves over future selves, but in affluent countries today, the future is more certain than it ever was and it makes sense to value our future selves. An exercise to do this is “episodic future thinking”- before making a decision, imagine yourself vividly in the future. This helps the brain to weigh the future more heavily in its decision-making process. The Satiety Factor This chapter is an excellent explanation of leptin. Rodent experiments revealed that the ob gene codes for a small protein hormone secreted by fat tissue and circulated in the blood- this is leptin, the satiety factor. A complete lack of leptin (genetic mutation) can cause obesity in humans. Starvation also lowers leptin levels. Both these responses can be reversed by injected leptin. But leptin therapy in general is not a miracle cure for obesity- it requires enormous doses and shows an extremely variable response. Leptin is really a mechanism for detecting deficiency, not excess. While low leptin levels in humans elicit a powerful starvation response that promotes fat gain, high leptin levels don’t engage an equally powerful response to promote fat loss. Once we gain weight, the lipostat (the brain region that regulates appetite and fatness) regulates adiposity around a higher set point, and becomes one of the primary reasons why we continue to overeat. This doesn’t mean dieting is hopeless but to be successful, it is important to understand, respect and work with what you’re up against. Diet palatability influences the set point of the lipostat in humans. A weight management secret is to eat simple food, but you have to stick with it long term. Exercise can cause substantial fat loss but it works better for some people than others. The Hunger Neuron The brain circuits that control eating and adiposity in rodents are well understood and we’ve cured obesity countless times in rodents. Why can’t we use these techniques in humans? Because of the ethics of manipulating brain circuits. Drugs would be more acceptable but are very blunt tools. The sating ability of foods is largely explained by a few properties: calorie density up to a certain point (lower the calorie density, the more satiating it is, e. oatmeal), palatability (the more palatable a food, the less filling it is), fat content (the more fat, the less filling per unit calorie), fiber (the more fiber, the more filling) and protein (protein is more filling than carbohydrate or fat). Rhythms Sleep restriction increases food intake. When you don’t sleep enough, your lipostat mistakenly thinks you need more energy, which activates your food reward system and causes you to eat more without intending to and often without realizing it. When you don’t sleep enough, you also become a prisoner of your own impulses, more compelled by the immediate reward of eating tempting foods than by long-term costs. Life in the Fast Lane Uncontrollable stressors have a stronger effect on the threat response system, and are much more harmful to our health and mental state than stressors we believe we can control. Remarkably, it can make you undereat when only plain, simple food is available but makes us overeat when highly rewarding junk food is available. The Human Computer This is a summary chapter. The output of our brain, including appetite and eating behaviors are determined by the input cues it receives. Some cues are processed by conscious circuits and others by non-conscious ones and the latter explain why we overeat despite our best intentions. (a) The reward system evolved in a world where calories were hard to come by. In the modern world brimming with calorie dense and highly rewarding foods, out hardwired motivation to eat remains strong and drives us to overeat. (b) The economic choice system weighs costs and benefits of possible actions and selects the best deal. When it comes to food, its primary cues are calories and convenience which is a liability in the modern world. (c) The lipostat is a system primarily located in the hypothalamus, cued primarily by the hormone leptin, and it non-consciously regulates adiposity by influencing appetite, response to food cues and metabolic rate. It has one job- to keep your adiposity from decreasing (because in the ancient world, more fat= more offspring). This is the system that makes weight loss difficult and often temporary. (d) The satiety system regulates food intake on a meal by meal basis by making us feel full. It takes cues from the digestive tract and also from the reward system. Calorie dense, low fiber, low protein but highly palatable foods (eg, pizza, ice cream) trip up the satiety system causing us to overeat. Genetics of these systems could explain why some people develop obesity in the modern world while others stay lean. This is why it does not make sense to judge people for their weight. The sleep and circadian systems interact with the systems above to influence eating patterns. Stress shifts our eating preferences towards calorie dense and highly palatable comfort food. Outsmarting the Hungry Brain We can manage weight by giving our brain the right cues. Things that can be done as a nation: taxes on foods like soda, changing the way government subsidies are allocated, financial incentives for healthy foods, regulating food advertising. Six steps for a slimming lifestyle 1. Fix your food environment- get rid of tempting, calorie-dense foods around you (home, office), minimize exposure to food ads and visible food, create barriers to easy eating by not keeping ready to eat food around. 2. Manage your appetite- choose foods that are not as calorie dense, and high in fiber and protein for greater satiety. Eat simple foods closer to their natural state. Limit highly rewarding foods. 3. Beware of food reward- Calorie dense combinations of fat, sugar, protein, are highly rewarding and powerfully drive cravings and overeating. Alcohol, caffeine and theobromine in chocolate are habit-forming and may drive consumption of unneeded calories. 4. Make sleep a priority 5. Move your body 6. Manage stress- identify if you are a stress eater, identify the stressor(s), mitigate the stressor(s) by making plans to manage it, practice mindfulness meditation, replace stress eating with more constructive coping methods, and remove comfort foods from your environment.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Goddard

    This is the first book I’ve seen that explains the brain science behind things like why sleep deprivation increases obesity, how stress impacts the brain’s reaction to food, and why we crave so strongly foods that aren’t healthy for us. It took some paying attention for me to gather up all the science, although it’s presented in terms that a layman can get. I’m not sure that knowing this will make the a-ha difference for someone trying to change their eating (for me, the advice to get enough sle This is the first book I’ve seen that explains the brain science behind things like why sleep deprivation increases obesity, how stress impacts the brain’s reaction to food, and why we crave so strongly foods that aren’t healthy for us. It took some paying attention for me to gather up all the science, although it’s presented in terms that a layman can get. I’m not sure that knowing this will make the a-ha difference for someone trying to change their eating (for me, the advice to get enough sleep and reduce stress isn’t really earth-shattering), but it’s a strong additional support tool. With so much nutrition advice out there being based on hunches and anecdotes, it is deeply appreciated to see a book like this.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alex MacMillan

    Ever since high school I’ve understood how people get fat, but I like to read books like this one to periodically remind myself why. During high school I ballooned, going from 170 to 220 pounds over a 6 month period, until I read David Kessler's The End of Overeating and proceeded to lose the fifty pounds and keep them off throughout college. Knowledge is power. However, between Graduation 2013 and Halloween 2018 I proceeded to gradually gain all that weight back, despite my exercise regimen and Ever since high school I’ve understood how people get fat, but I like to read books like this one to periodically remind myself why. During high school I ballooned, going from 170 to 220 pounds over a 6 month period, until I read David Kessler's The End of Overeating and proceeded to lose the fifty pounds and keep them off throughout college. Knowledge is power. However, between Graduation 2013 and Halloween 2018 I proceeded to gradually gain all that weight back, despite my exercise regimen and above-average mindfulness about food (I’ve lost twenty pounds [and counting] since then). I found out about this book after listening to the author debate Gary Taubes on the Joe Rogan podcast. The Hungry Brain reiterates the cognitive science/evolutionary psychology perspective on weight gain that I was already familiar with, but contributes the most recent scientific experiments to put a subtle update on the “Calories-in, Calories-out” framework embraced by the scientific mainstream. The key cause of weight gain, Guyenet reminds us, is that our contemporary diets aren’t boring enough. Our brains evolved to unconsciously divert us from the original purpose of food, which is to fuel our daily activities, rather than as a source of entertainment, or a means to pave over negative moods like boredom and stress. Accidental weight gain is nearly impossible when we stick to mostly whole foods and vegetables, because the fiber and nutritional value quickly satiates us. However, these foods are relatively bland when compared to the highly concentrated levels of sugar, salt, and fat found in contemporary processed foods, which are always available at a moment's notice. This book informed me for the first time about how we all have a baseline “lipostat” governing our daily appetite. We are unconsciously compelled to satisfy our lipostat, set by a combination of genetic inheritance and food environment, despite the pounds of excess fat around our waists that our conscious selves wish would go away. Highly processed foods share the properties of addictive drugs, gradually pushing our lipostats higher and higher over time, until and unless we figure out how to make a course correction. This book serves as a great reminder of what I already knew that I needed to do to stay healthy: fill my pantry with only “boring/satiating” food, and cut back on “recreational-drug” food, so that I can keep the unconscious impulses of my appetite in check. The only reason I gave this book a three star rating, in comparison to the four stars I’ve given to Gary Taubes books (such as Why We Get Fat and The Case Against Sugar), is due to my relative enjoyment of Taubes' writing and presentation of his thesis. Mr. Guyunet is definitely a better scientist than Mr. Taubes, but Taubes is a better writer and investigative journalist, even if his vision of weight gain being entirely caused by the endocrine system is less supported by scientific studies, and has been less useful to me for achieving actual results, in practice.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wilford

    A solid and fun to read book about the science of what causes us to eat and overeat. The information contained within is super interesting, though sometimes a bit... disheartening. If you're looking for a book that gives you strong, clear directions on how to lose weight... well, this book isn't it, and after reading the book, I am even less trusting of those "lose weight fast" schemes. (I've been pondering writing my own weight-loss guide from the book, which will sort of be a "safely and health A solid and fun to read book about the science of what causes us to eat and overeat. The information contained within is super interesting, though sometimes a bit... disheartening. If you're looking for a book that gives you strong, clear directions on how to lose weight... well, this book isn't it, and after reading the book, I am even less trusting of those "lose weight fast" schemes. (I've been pondering writing my own weight-loss guide from the book, which will sort of be a "safely and healthily permanently lose a pound each year" sort of thing at best.) What this book does is provide a full understanding of how modern day life intersects with a brain build for scarcity. Which... is easy to say, and is simple in a general matter, but the book really gets into all the particular gears and levers. Not only food related things like ease or the buffet effect, but also sleep and stress. Each things gets a chapter, and is entirely readable, despite the excellent detail. It's also a very non-judgemental book. Guyenet deals in neuroscience, and is aware of a book's worth of reasons why being over one's desired weight is more a big roll of the dice than some sort of moral failing. In fact, there's pretty much zero interpretation of weight as a moral failing. I think that non-judgemental nature is partly because Guyenet isn't trying to sell anything. There's no motive for him to go "Hey, something's wrong with you, fix it by buying [X]." He just wants people to know more about how their brains interact with food. I would have liked to see him put a chapter on the effects of modern dieting schemes. There's mentions strewn throughout the book, particularly if you read between the lines (Lipostat upregulation is done by episodes of extreme eating, and adjusted down by time, so starving then binging is less effective than steady non-feasting), but a whole chapter on how modern schemes interact with the body and brain would be nice. (Content note: If you are squeamish about rat studies, they come up quite a few times.)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Y.

    "Information alone isn't always an effective way to change behavior...It's quite rational to care about your health, and therefore how you eat, because health has a major impact on your wellbeing, life span, and performance in many areas of life. If our eating behavior is primarily guided by conscious choices based on rational thinking, then educating the nation on what to eat should be a highly effective way of making us slimmer and healthier over time. The [Dietary] Guidelines [for Americans r "Information alone isn't always an effective way to change behavior...It's quite rational to care about your health, and therefore how you eat, because health has a major impact on your wellbeing, life span, and performance in many areas of life. If our eating behavior is primarily guided by conscious choices based on rational thinking, then educating the nation on what to eat should be a highly effective way of making us slimmer and healthier over time. The [Dietary] Guidelines [for Americans released in 1980] assume, as many of us do, that if we just have the right knowledge about how to eat the right foods in the right amounts, we'll do it. In contrast, if our everyday eating behavior is primarily guided by brain systems that aren't so rational, information alone shouldn't be a very effective way to change it, no matter how accurate, clear, and compelling it is. I think our nationwide experiment over the last thirty-five years supports the latter scenario."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brenna Dittmar

    This is a technical read, but I took a high school anatomy class that helped me find most of the terms relatively familiar. The author does a good job of explaining terms quickly and clearly, which is invaluable for staying attentive through the book. There's tons of tidbits hidden in the discussions in each chapter that I found sparking ideas about ways to try out a concept he talks about, and I really appreciated the various ways he gave different approaches that scientists have studied (even This is a technical read, but I took a high school anatomy class that helped me find most of the terms relatively familiar. The author does a good job of explaining terms quickly and clearly, which is invaluable for staying attentive through the book. There's tons of tidbits hidden in the discussions in each chapter that I found sparking ideas about ways to try out a concept he talks about, and I really appreciated the various ways he gave different approaches that scientists have studied (even if not on purpose) the functions in the brain that contribute to appetite, adiposity, and ways to control them. If you struggle with your appetite or weight loss, I highly recommend this book. Also, I recommend reading it instead of listening to it. I listened to it and the reader was good bu I wished it had been easier to pause and take notes or look things up. I was always driving. :)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    Public library e book I am constantly fascinated by the increase in obesity since 1980. The convergence of technology, high fructose corn syrup, and other factors does seem to be a factor, but it can't be the whole reason. I loved the combination of history, science, and psychology in this book. The most intriguing (and useful) part was the admonition to construct a healthy food environment, high in foods that have a high satiety factor and low in processed "yummy" snacks that are quick to grab. Public library e book I am constantly fascinated by the increase in obesity since 1980. The convergence of technology, high fructose corn syrup, and other factors does seem to be a factor, but it can't be the whole reason. I loved the combination of history, science, and psychology in this book. The most intriguing (and useful) part was the admonition to construct a healthy food environment, high in foods that have a high satiety factor and low in processed "yummy" snacks that are quick to grab. Also, a bland or boring diet can lead to more weight loss because people just sort of lose interest in food! Amusing was the fact that when people are supervised so that they actually do exercise, they lose weight, but most people under report their food consumption and over report thei exercise. A bit slow in parts, but worth reading if you are interested in this topic.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    A very enjoyable evidence based look at food and nutrition. This book made me change the way I look at food, eating, dieting and such. Stephan Guyenet dismisses some myths about food and then proceeds to give compelling, research backed reasons for which people overeat. In general these ideas seem to have validity. What he states and that I previously generally agreed with is that calories in and calories out is what causes weight gain. All calories are roughly equal, but it's a bit more complex a A very enjoyable evidence based look at food and nutrition. This book made me change the way I look at food, eating, dieting and such. Stephan Guyenet dismisses some myths about food and then proceeds to give compelling, research backed reasons for which people overeat. In general these ideas seem to have validity. What he states and that I previously generally agreed with is that calories in and calories out is what causes weight gain. All calories are roughly equal, but it's a bit more complex at people actually extract and burn calories differently. I always figured some "unhealthy" food which has similar calories to a "healthy" one is generally not all that different. Modern wisdom tells us otherwise and vilifies some foods as unhealthy but those reasons are usually wrong (carbs are bad, fat is good, grains are bad, glutten bad or some bull shit like that) Basically, one of the main reasons is that of food reward. Foods that are appealing have high food reward. This is fatty, sweet, salty, savoury foods. Modern food is engineered to have high food reward because of course it would people like shit that tastes good. High food reward encourages overeating, creates addiction like (careful not to call it addiction) behaviour with food and encourages obesity through various processes, like changing your brain's set point about what your weight should be. This idea is supported well by evidence in people and animals and seems to be a reasonable, if not somewhat intuitive, idea of what's causing the obesity epidemic. It may seem obvious but basically people eat more when food is tasty, but it's a bit more nuanced than that as the author explains. The catch? Most foods which are usually vilified as being "bad for you" actually have high food reward and so called "healthy" foods have low food reward. So most common intuitive health advice ends up being right for the wrong reason! No it's not that you should eat a salad because it's simply healthy but eating a salad will fill you without as many calories as, say, french fries. Some good advice on how to have a healthy relationship with eating. Tricks to not be tempted by food and eat less food rewarding food. The down side? It pretty much means eating food that doesn't taste as good! But there are no short cuts to eating well it seems. All around a good read and I'd recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about food and nutrition.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Xerxia

    Those who know me know I'm a bit of a science nerd and won't be surprised that I loved this book. It's not, despite how it's marketed, really a book for the lay person. Yes, the author adequately breaks down the science into understandable chunks, but the average person who doesn't get a hard on for neuroscience will be bored before the end of chapter one. But if you are, like me, fascinated by the brain, this was fantastic; really well researched with a ton of references, and a smattering of hu Those who know me know I'm a bit of a science nerd and won't be surprised that I loved this book. It's not, despite how it's marketed, really a book for the lay person. Yes, the author adequately breaks down the science into understandable chunks, but the average person who doesn't get a hard on for neuroscience will be bored before the end of chapter one. But if you are, like me, fascinated by the brain, this was fantastic; really well researched with a ton of references, and a smattering of humour to keep the whole thing from feeling like a lecture.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sabina

    Imagine your brain like an auction house, where hunger bids the highest amount. This book is a deep dive into the neuroscience of the brain and how it handles hunger. After reading Guyenet, I feel more aware of how my brain tricks me into choosing the least best options. Thankfully he provides plenty strategies to handle this. For my taste, there were too many tests on rats and monkeys. Also very scientific at times, probably more suitable for reader that have extended knowledge in neuroscience. Imagine your brain like an auction house, where hunger bids the highest amount. This book is a deep dive into the neuroscience of the brain and how it handles hunger. After reading Guyenet, I feel more aware of how my brain tricks me into choosing the least best options. Thankfully he provides plenty strategies to handle this. For my taste, there were too many tests on rats and monkeys. Also very scientific at times, probably more suitable for reader that have extended knowledge in neuroscience. I had a tasty banana bread today.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Guilherme Zeitounlian

    It's easy to find weight loss and diet books that talk about insulin. Or sleep. Or behaviour. Or counting calories. It's not so easy to find a book that tries to encapsulate all that, and therefore talks about the systems that govern our desires and our hunger - and that drive us to overeat. The Hungry Brain is a great book because it shows how complex the interactions inside our bodies can be. And it is interesting to realize how the author travels a different path than the other books, but arrive It's easy to find weight loss and diet books that talk about insulin. Or sleep. Or behaviour. Or counting calories. It's not so easy to find a book that tries to encapsulate all that, and therefore talks about the systems that govern our desires and our hunger - and that drive us to overeat. The Hungry Brain is a great book because it shows how complex the interactions inside our bodies can be. And it is interesting to realize how the author travels a different path than the other books, but arrives at the same conclusions: sleep well, move your body, manage stress, and eat less processed food (ideally higher in protein and not ultra-palatable). I liked it a lot, and give it a 4/5.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Wendi Lau

    When I realized how much time my family spends eating, particularly the soccer player and runner, I thought this might be a good read. And it was. I understand why potato chips are so appealing to me but why yogurt, beets, and lettuce are way better. I would rather have both categories of food in my diet instead of only healthy, but now I understand the things that make me want to eat chips and fries as well as how to avoid putting my brain in that cravey place. Fiber, less yummy, less stress, m When I realized how much time my family spends eating, particularly the soccer player and runner, I thought this might be a good read. And it was. I understand why potato chips are so appealing to me but why yogurt, beets, and lettuce are way better. I would rather have both categories of food in my diet instead of only healthy, but now I understand the things that make me want to eat chips and fries as well as how to avoid putting my brain in that cravey place. Fiber, less yummy, less stress, more activity, more sleep, less stress, and less visible snacks all good. Foods that are easier to eat and yummy, like ice cream, make it easy to overdo. Funny that rats got fat easier and faster on the Standard American Diet.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sadzawka

    Great first half of the book (the science).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Viktoriaf

    A fascinating compilation of research related to brains perception and processing of food and how we are influenced by that. A special bonus is the list of tips, driven from the research reflected in the book on mastering your own brain.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    “The Hungry Brain” is a book I wish more people new about and read - especially if they are working with or personally struggling with overeating. I loved how it included a variety of scientific research, case studies, and biological science to explain its points on the most simplistic way possible. Even if you aren’t a “science-person” the info shared is very easy to digest. I found the last chapter especially helpful, as it summarized all of the main points of the book and helped give realistic “The Hungry Brain” is a book I wish more people new about and read - especially if they are working with or personally struggling with overeating. I loved how it included a variety of scientific research, case studies, and biological science to explain its points on the most simplistic way possible. Even if you aren’t a “science-person” the info shared is very easy to digest. I found the last chapter especially helpful, as it summarized all of the main points of the book and helped give realistic action steps. Thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be recommending it to clients and coaching friends who work within the wellness/nutrition industry.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ryan P

    More for a scientist than ordinary people. And the tips it does eventually provide towards the end are things we've heard dozens of time. More for a scientist than ordinary people. And the tips it does eventually provide towards the end are things we've heard dozens of time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian

    Guyenet presents a very compelling alternative explanation for obesity and prescription for weight loss in contrast to the Taubes / Ludwig / Atkins low-carb axis, the Campbell / Ornish high-carb camp, the Cordain / Paleo camp, your cousin who is on a ketogenic diet, and whatever Dave Asprey is doing these days. In the first chapter, Guyenet asserts that figuring out the correct macronutrient ratio to go after actually doesn't make sense. Assuming someone is strictly held to the same number of ca Guyenet presents a very compelling alternative explanation for obesity and prescription for weight loss in contrast to the Taubes / Ludwig / Atkins low-carb axis, the Campbell / Ornish high-carb camp, the Cordain / Paleo camp, your cousin who is on a ketogenic diet, and whatever Dave Asprey is doing these days. In the first chapter, Guyenet asserts that figuring out the correct macronutrient ratio to go after actually doesn't make sense. Assuming someone is strictly held to the same number of calories each day - "varying the fat, carbohydrate, and protein content of the diet has no appreciable impact on adiposity" (13) [1]. We are obese because not because we are eating the wrong macro ratio per se (there's some nuance here) but because we are eating too much (about +218 kcal / day more from 1978 to 2006) (14) and the real questions we should be asking are why are we eating so much and how do we stop? The book then outlines a sequence of experiments in mice and humans [2] that paint a picture of a neurological "lipostat" mechanism that through manipulating hunger, physical activity, and NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis AKA fidgeting) that tries to keep us at roughly the same weight. These are things like leptin, NPY, melanocortins, and how they all work together to keep us in rough stasis. This is why retaining weight loss from dieting is hard - you put the weight right back on when you lose it because your lipostat has an expected set point. We get fat and stay fat when our lipostat is set at a high point. Guyenet suggests that a lot of things could be to blame for this: modern food that "hacks" our feeling of satiety to get us to eat more (this is probably the main thing); genetics; stress; a lack of sleep. Protein appears to be uniquely satiating, as are fiberous carbohydrates - explaining the sometimes success of and low and high carb camps: "carbohydrate restriction per se isn't actually the key ingredient in low-carbohydrate diets. Rather, advice to eat a low-carbohydrate diet may be effective simply because it's an easy way to get people to eat high-protein foods..." (143). In all these diets we are effecting the same mechanism of reducing our desire to put calories in our body in different ways. The beauty here is twofold: (1) that it doesn't invalidate but builds on and plausibly explains findings in nutrition and weight loss from the past 5-10 years. All-encompassing. (2) there’s something elegant if you think about applying capitalism to food. Of course it would evolve the single best food products to minimize satiety and maximize reward. Bellies only so big. Need to get people to put more in. Bottom line: read this book, it’s worthwhile. [1] Concordant with Hall (2016) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/ear... [2] The explanations of each experiment are excellent - with the caveat that I've not read many of the papers mentioned, nor do I know the field well, and so it is hard to spot what could be misrepresentations.

  24. 5 out of 5

    loeilecoute

    A very complex book that tackles a very complicated medical issue: obesity, satiety, the pathophysiology of food metabolism. Not. An. Easy. Read. Even with my medical background, I found it quite challenging to read and understand parts of this book. It is the type of book that I would plan to read twice, with heavy highlighting, and constant review of previously read chapters in order to understand the topic thoroughly. And, after this challenging read, the recommendation for how to mange one's A very complex book that tackles a very complicated medical issue: obesity, satiety, the pathophysiology of food metabolism. Not. An. Easy. Read. Even with my medical background, I found it quite challenging to read and understand parts of this book. It is the type of book that I would plan to read twice, with heavy highlighting, and constant review of previously read chapters in order to understand the topic thoroughly. And, after this challenging read, the recommendation for how to mange one's diet in a healthy manner in order to maintain a lean body weight, the recommendations themselves where quite meager, and is the smallest section of the book. If you are only looking for these recommendations, just read part of Chapter 11, pp. 230-237, rather than tackling the summary of the scientific research. From a lay person's perspective, I would recommend reading "Fat, Sugar, Salt", which summarizes in a much more 'palatable' manner the effects of certain food types on our eating patterns. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a much more comprehensive scientific view, this book is the one to go to. Bon appetit!!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dino

    Guyenet takes us on a tour of the brain, and as he describes the brain’s various systems, one can’t help but feel that our brains – in cahoots with the food industry – conspire to make us fat and keep us fat. Start with the reward system of our brain in the basal ganglia. Dopamine, also called the ‘learning chemical’ is designed to reinforce behaviors that meet with success. Unfortunately, foods that are high in starch, sugar, fat – especially combinations thereof – are highly reinforcing. “Will Guyenet takes us on a tour of the brain, and as he describes the brain’s various systems, one can’t help but feel that our brains – in cahoots with the food industry – conspire to make us fat and keep us fat. Start with the reward system of our brain in the basal ganglia. Dopamine, also called the ‘learning chemical’ is designed to reinforce behaviors that meet with success. Unfortunately, foods that are high in starch, sugar, fat – especially combinations thereof – are highly reinforcing. “Willpower often bows before the power of dopamine-reinforced sensory cues”. Enter food advertising. The top 10 U.S. food companies spend $7b/year in advertising, plus $4b/year by the fast food industry, to pepper us with the cues that trigger the reward centers of our brain. You might think our prefrontal cortex, responsible for rational decision making, might serve as a check on dopamine-inspired binges. Unfortunately, this part of our brain is not apt to protest as it applies cost-benefit logic to select foods with the maximum caloric value per unit of energy needed to obtain them. This was rational throughout the history of our species when our survival and reproduction depended on our ability to obtain calorie-dense foods with the minimum possible effort. Guyenet describes hunter-gatherer societies in South Africa and South America that exhibit this behavior – they identify and immediately consume the fattiest parts of the animals they kill, and drink as much as a pint of honey in a single sitting when they encounter a bee hive. Unlike the tremendous effort that hunter-gatherers must exert to obtain calories, the cost of obtaining food in the modern world is very low. Technological advances over the last 150 years have enabled us to extract pure sugar from beets and sugarcane, refine wheat into white flour, and extract liquid oils from corn and soybeans. “Fat, sugar, starch and salt are now available in highly concentrated forms and married together in irresistible combinations”. Some startling facts show just how cheap and easy food has become in the modern world: • Over the last 130 years, the proportion of our food expenditure spent eating out increased from 7% to 50%. • Over the last 90 years, U.S. food spending dropped from 23% of disposable income to 10% • Since 1980, the average U.S. grocery store has tripled the number of items it carries to 44,000 • Wheat, corn and soybeans receive $10 billion in annual subsides, and these commodity crops are building blocks of the most calorie-dense foods In light of these facts, you might be wondering why we aren’t all obese. If our brains have evolved to seek out and consume rewarding calories as cheaply as possible, and the food industry makes just those foods abundantly available, what regulates how much food we eat? Enter the lipostat. The lipostat is a thermostat of sorts, except instead of regulating temperature it regulates the amount of fat we carry. When we gain weight or lose weight, our lipostat tries to return us to our set point. In obese people, the lipostat defends a higher set point of adiposity. A hormone called leptin (the satiety hormone) is released from fat cells and sent to the hypothalamus region of our brain to signal satiety. One of the reasons it’s tough to keep weight off is because leptin levels fall when we lose weight, increasing our appetite and food cravings. The set point on our lipostat – which determines our long-term energy balance – is 70% determined by genetics. The inference is that our efforts to lose weight are doomed to failure. In fact, Guyenet does not draw that bleak conclusion and speculates on how we might lower the set point of our lipostat. Increasing protein intake may be able to lower the adiposity set point in humans. He also cautions against overeating which spikes leptin levels and desensitizes the brain circuits that respond to leptin. While our genetics make us susceptible to weight gain, other factors are the triggers that make it so. These include our level of impulsiveness, our tendency to steeply discount the value of future rewards, and our personal food environment. However, it’s not clear that the first two of those are less genetically influenced than the set point of our lipostat, so ultimately our weight is a lot less controllable than we commonly think. Guyenet seems to acknowledge this tacitly by likening eating habits to other addictive behaviors: “Whatever a species’ innate preferences are, they can often be overstimulated by presenting a cue that’s more powerful than what the species has evolved to expect—and this can sometimes lead to highly destructive behavior. It seems likely that certain human innovations, such as pornography, gambling, video games, and junk foods, are supernormal stimuli for the human brain.” Other brains systems that influence our food intake are: - The brain stem which receives signals of satiety from the digestive system based on how full we feel - The sleep and circadian rhythm systems of the hypothalamus that, when desynchronized, increases the reinforcing value of food, and the risk-taking centers of our brain - The threat response system of the amygdala which can trigger a nervous system response when under stress or induce eating as a form of self-medicating emotional pain Throughout the book, Guyenet teases out practical advice for how to “outsmart the instincts that make us overeat”. There is no silver bullet and much of the advice he gives seems banal. - Minimize the reward value of food by eating simple foods (e.g. choose unsalted nuts) - Get enough sleep as we’re more likely to make poor food choices when we’re tired - Choose satiety-signaling water-based foods like fruit, potatoes and oatmeal over flour-based foods like bread and crackers - Minimize exposure to advertising - Control food cues in your personal environment - Imagine yourself in the future (to avoid steeply discounting the value of future rewards) - Get daily exercise - Practice mindfulness meditation to minimize the impact of stress on our eating Overall, I enjoyed the book. I liked learning about the different parts of the brain and how the eating behavior they motivate was adapted to a nonindustrial lifestyle and not fitted for the modern food environment. Will my newfound knowledge inspire change or merely be added to what I already know is good for me, to be brashly shuffled aside the next time I encounter something delicious? While my stomach may have an opinion, it appears my brain will decide, and it is a hungry brain, indeed!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rupinder

    Amazing. This is the most accessible, yet information-packed tour of the brain systems which lead us to overeat and gain weight. Full of tips to translate the knowledge gained from cutting-edge research in neuroscience, endocrinology and metabolism into simple tips one can use to get one's brain "on track". The book also delves why the current lifestyle choices and toxic food environment created by food companies have led to the current obesity epidemic. Cannot recommend this book enough. Amazing. This is the most accessible, yet information-packed tour of the brain systems which lead us to overeat and gain weight. Full of tips to translate the knowledge gained from cutting-edge research in neuroscience, endocrinology and metabolism into simple tips one can use to get one's brain "on track". The book also delves why the current lifestyle choices and toxic food environment created by food companies have led to the current obesity epidemic. Cannot recommend this book enough.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Arjun Rao

    Eating behaviours are dominated by our hormonal and neural regulatory systems. Will power has laughably little role to play in what we eat and how much we eat. . But if your current eating habits are Garfield-esque, does that mean there's no hope for you to ever get back in shape ? There is hope... but it involves deliberately staying away from foods that hijack our hormonal and neural regulatory systems (esp the leptin signalling pathways which signal fullness to the brain) Eating behaviours are dominated by our hormonal and neural regulatory systems. Will power has laughably little role to play in what we eat and how much we eat. . But if your current eating habits are Garfield-esque, does that mean there's no hope for you to ever get back in shape ? There is hope... but it involves deliberately staying away from foods that hijack our hormonal and neural regulatory systems (esp the leptin signalling pathways which signal fullness to the brain)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shane Duquette

    A well-sourced and scientifically honest look at the mechanisms behind weight gain. This is a must-read for people who are fatter than they'd like to be, and even more essential for people who judge fat people harshly. A well-sourced and scientifically honest look at the mechanisms behind weight gain. This is a must-read for people who are fatter than they'd like to be, and even more essential for people who judge fat people harshly.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Guilherme Tomishiyo

    Everyone trying to lose weight knows the drill. You need to eat less and exercise more. But yet doing just that does not work for the majority of us. How can that be? Then we turn to the Oracle of our ages, the Internet, and ask for guidance. And we find out, annoyingly, that people claiming to know the right answer to our problem are Legion, and most of them provide inconsistent advices. You learn that pretty much any claim regarding nutrition, physical activity and weight loss will be conteste Everyone trying to lose weight knows the drill. You need to eat less and exercise more. But yet doing just that does not work for the majority of us. How can that be? Then we turn to the Oracle of our ages, the Internet, and ask for guidance. And we find out, annoyingly, that people claiming to know the right answer to our problem are Legion, and most of them provide inconsistent advices. You learn that pretty much any claim regarding nutrition, physical activity and weight loss will be contested by someone somewhere with a blog. You learn about countless diets, workouts and other lifestyle changes. You even learn that some people are skeptical about the mere possibility of persistant and significant weight loss. Yet you cannot see the big picture, because you lack something very important to see it: knowledge. You get a bunch of information and people telling you that there's a study somewhere supporting their claims. But you are not told, in a coherent and global way, how all of this advices adds up. Fear not my child, for Stephan Guyenet book is an island of sound knowlege in the vast sea of information. His book starts from the very beginning, establishing to you some very basic facts, for instance, that weight loss is really about a caloric deficit. That might seem obvious, but again you might get confused and uncertain if you start reading around the internet. But he does more than merely telling you that, he tells you how in world do we know that, writting about researchers and their experiments in their quest to test this idea. He also talks about the obesity epidemics, a major US problem but a problem that is starting to affect other affluents nations relentlessly. The core part of the book is written to make you understand why it is so hard to simply follow the good advices of eating healthy food and doing physical exercise. In order to explain that, he gives you a fantastic ammount of knowledge from his field of expertise, neuroscience, and tells you about your reward system in the basal ganglia, how it is a very powerful and primitive part of your brain that responds to high density caloric content, fat, sugar and starch. He tells you of your economic choice evaluator, centered in your orbitofrontal cortex, and how things such as calorie density and convinience increases the odds that it will tell you that overeating is a good deal. He also tells you about the lipostat, a system centered in the hypotalamus that was discovered to regulate your lower bound adiposity with the help of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat tissue. He tells you what increases the set point addiposity of the lipostat and what may help you turn it down. Finally, he discusses other factors that are known to increase overeating, going in a substantial ammount of detail about the research done to figure it out. Disruption of your sleep cycle and stress control, to mention two examples. The lesson is that your brain is hardwired by many primitive, nonconscious processes to value food which makes you fat. In the enviroment of our hunter-gathers ancestors, it was a useful tool to prevent starvation. Sadly, in the enviroment of our affluent nations, it is a liability that makes us fat and sick. So you are not lacking will power when you break your New Year's resolutions, you're losing a battle uphill against powerful nonconscious agents. To quote a quote in the book: "Those who doubt the power of basic drives, however, might note that althought one can hold one's breath, this conscious act is soon overcome by the compulsion to breath. The feeling of hunger is intense and, if not as potent as the drive to breathe, is probably no less powerful than the drive to drink when one is thirsty. This is the feeling the obese must resist after they have lost a significant amount of weight." Knowing this enables us to be more compassionate and mindful about people suffering with obesity. Of course it would not be such a good book if it ended with such a fatalistic note, without providing any way out of this conundrum. The books gives you hints along the way about some things you can do to turn the tides in the favor of the rational, conscious part of your brain which understand the correlation of type 2 diabetes and weight gain. But it ends with a very nice big picture of how your brain works and providing many advices of how you can fight it. As a person who suffers from overweight and in my personal battle to leaness, I find this book very empowering and enlightening. It is a good book for any scientifically oriented mind, and a fantastic book for any scientifically oriented mind that wants to lose weight.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Peter McCluskey

    Researchers who studied obesity in rats used to have trouble coaxing their rats to overeat. The obvious approaches (a high fat diet, or a high sugar diet) were annoyingly slow. Then they stumbled on the approach of feeding human junk food to the rats, and made much faster progress. What makes something "junk food"? The best parts of this book help to answer this, although some ambiguity remains. It mostly boils down to palatability (is it yummier than what our ancestors evolved to expect? If so, Researchers who studied obesity in rats used to have trouble coaxing their rats to overeat. The obvious approaches (a high fat diet, or a high sugar diet) were annoyingly slow. Then they stumbled on the approach of feeding human junk food to the rats, and made much faster progress. What makes something "junk food"? The best parts of this book help to answer this, although some ambiguity remains. It mostly boils down to palatability (is it yummier than what our ancestors evolved to expect? If so, it's somewhat addictive) and caloric density. Presumably designers of popular snack foods have more sophisticated explanations of what makes people obese, since that's apparently identical to what they're paid to optimize (with maybe a few exceptions, such as snacks that are marketed as healthy or ethical). Yet researchers who officially study obesity seem reluctant to learn from snack food experts. (Because they're the enemy? Because they're low status? Because they work for evil corporations? Your guess is likely as good as mine.) Guyenet provides fairly convincing evidence that it's simple to achieve a healthy weight while feeling full. (E.g. the 20 potatoes a day diet). To the extent that we need willpower, it's to avoid buying convenient/addictive food, and to avoid restaurants. My experience is that I need a moderate amount of willpower to follow Guyenet's diet ideas, and that it would require large amount of willpower if I attended many social events involving food. But for full control over my weight, it seemed like I needed to supplement a decent diet with some form of intermittent fasting (e.g. alternate day calorie restriction); Guyenet says little about that. Guyenet's practical advice boils down to a few simple rules: eat whole foods that resemble what our ancestors ate; don't have other "food" anywhere that you can quickly grab it; sleep well; exercise; avoid stress. That's sufficiently similar to advice I've heard before that I'm confident The Hungry Brain won't revolutionize many people's understanding of obesity. But it's got a pretty good ratio of wisdom to questionable advice, and I'm unaware of reasons to expect much more than that. Guyenet talks a lot about neuroscience. That would make sense if readers wanted to learn how to fix obesity via brain surgery. The book suggests that, in the absence of ethical constraints, it might be relatively easy to cure obesity by brain surgery. Yet I doubt such a solution would become popular, even given optimistic assumptions about safety. An alternate explanation is that Guyenet is showing off his knowledge of brains, in order to show that he's smart enough to have trustworthy beliefs about diets. But that effect is likely small, due to competition among diet-mongers for comparable displays of smartness. Or maybe he's trying to combat dualism, in order to ridicule the "just use willpower" approach to diet? Whatever the reason is, the focus on neuroscience implies something unimpressive about the target audience. You should read this book if you eat a fairly healthy diet but are still overweight. Otherwise, read Guyenet's blog instead, for a wider variety of health advice.

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