Aeon has an intriguing new essay by Michael Graziano, a neuroscientist at Princeton with an interesting personal weight loss story. Suspecting that hunger was a psychological state, rather than a physiological one, Graziano set out to see if he could manipulate it. For a year he ate the same foods every day, periodically making small regime adjustments and carefully tracking their effects on his "hunger mood."
Three things made him hungry. The first two, eating excessive carbohydrates and restricting fat, will surprise no one who follows nutrition science. This has been standard American dietary advice for many years, and you'd be hard pressed to find an expert who thinks it hasn't contributed to our portly national condition. That's why today's presumably enlightened health mantras direct us to avoid "refined carbs" and seek out "healthy fats."
But Graziano found a third factor, a counterintuitive one, that would reliably prompt him to eat more: trying to eat less. "Skip breakfast, cut calories at lunch, eat a small dinner, be constantly mindful of the calorie count, and you poke the hunger tiger," he writes. The reason, he says, is that our common-sense notion of willpower is flawed. Hunger is a powerful autonomic drive that runs in the background of our brains. We can influence it indirectly, but actively trying to eat less is a bit like trying to will down your blood pressure. "The more you try to micromanage your automatic hunger control mechanism, the more you mess with its dynamics," he says.