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What is the role of homeostatic and hedonic eating in obesity?

Link between homeostatic and hedonic eating and obesity

Major points:

  • You need to eat because you are either hungry or because you have got an appetite. These two types of eating are called homeostatic (= eating for survival) and hedonic (= eating for pleasure).
  • A body weight gain occurs when you eat more than you need. Either homeostatic eating is not sufficiently controlled or hedonic eating is overstimulated.
  • Neatic avoids or limits three ingredients that disrupt homeostatic eating regulation and overstimulate hedonic eating. The underlying processes are simplified with two fictional characters, the Survival Genius and the Pleasure Devil. 

In science, a distinction is made between two types of food intake: homeostatic and hedonic eating. Homeostatic eating is for survival. It tries to get enough calories and the greater your hunger, the less you care what you eat. Hedonic eating, on the other hand, happens only for pleasure. You have a desire for a particular food independent of your calorie needs.

To explain this principle more easily, imagine two fictional characters: The Survival Genius and the Pleasure Devil.

The Survival Genius

Starvation artist. An old man carrying a basket with ears of corn and fruit

The Survival Genius is a simplified model for homeostatic eating. It ensures your survival when food is scarce and appears whenever you are hungry. It is ancient, complex, works mostly unconsciously and keeps you from starving. Your Survival Genius is only fictional. It is not a real person and is not located in any particular part of your body.

Your Survival Genius carries out four jobs for you:

Its first job is energy monitoring. It keeps an eye on energy 24/7.
It can only sit back and relax when your body’s energy supply and energy demand are in balance.

If the energy supply is less than the energy demand, it has to take on another job: energy acquisition. First, it triggers feelings of hunger and makes your thoughts revolve more and more around food. It makes food look tastier than it is. And it does not want to be ignored. It leads you to the fridge. First gently, then more insistently.

If you ignore it, you are in alert mode! The Survival Genius now protects you from starvation and activates energy-saving mode. The Survival Genius cuts back on your body’s energy consumption. Non-essential processes are shut down, e.g., you are no longer as energetic as before and your concentration decreases. You can now survive on a lower energy supply.

In case of a longer lack of food, the Survival Genius additionally activates its energy memory to not forget this situation and react faster the next time. For safety reasons, it keeps the energy consumption permanently low to decrease the future risk of starvation.

If the energy monitoring of the Survival Genius does not function properly, the regulation of homeostatic eating is disrupted and overeating as well as obesity occur. The calories contained in sugar – especially in sugar-sweetened beverages – are not correctly noticed by the energy monitoring of the Survival Genius. These so-called empty calories do not produce sufficient satiety and more energy than necessary is consumed. Sweeteners also confuse the Survival Genius: A food tastes sweet but does not contain the energy anticipated by the Survival Genius. This is called a disruption of the sweet-taste-calorie association. In this confusing situation, the Survival Genius makes you eat more than necessary.

The Pleasure Devil

Little devil with a fork in his hand on which a piece of cake is impaled

The Pleasure Devil is a simplified model for hedonic eating. It always appears when you are not hungry, but only got an appetite. The Pleasure Devil does not care whether you really need the energy. It works mostly unconsciously and gives you pleasure in eating. The Pleasure Devil is only fictional. It is not a real person and is not located in any particular part of your body.

There are foods that are so delicious that you just cannot stop eating them. You may even feel like you are losing control. The urge to eat becomes so powerful that it does not matter whether you are hungry or already full.

Many people feel this way about sweets or chips. You cannot stop eating until the package is empty. That is because these foods contain ingredients such as flavors, sweeteners and sugar that make your Pleasure Devil go wild. It does not want to stop eating, leading to weight gain and obesity.

What does Neatic recommend?

In Neatic, flavors and sweeteners are avoided and sugar is limited. This allows your homeostatic eating to work without disruption and your hedonic eating is not overstimulated. Or to say it with the two characters: Your Survival Genius will not be confused and your Pleasure Devil will not go wild.

If you want to learn more about the program, click here.

If you want to learn more about the role of flavors, sweeteners and sugar in obesity, click on the links for more information.