Hunger is mental but Obesity is genetic

A California State University researcher, Takako Hara, raised a question in 1997, “What is the relationship between hunger and eating?” Hunger has been analyzed by several researchers for decades in three different criteria – biological, cognitive and learned. Click here to read this article summarizing the role of hunger in obesity research in 1997.  With the sequencing of the human genome, the role of the genes we inherited from our parents and their role has been extensively researched by obesity researchers and summarized in an article by Harvard University which you may click here to read.  We want to convince our readers that obesity can be strongly influenced by healthy environments and lifestyle choices.  However, we have to acknowledge that a certain segment of humans are genetically at far higher risk of obesity than the rest of us, on the same diet, in the same environment.  It is for them that it becomes critical to conquer this battle of mind over stomach and genetics.

People whose stomach was removed still felt hungry.

Hunger and Eating based on Biology
Humans use an external clock in their daily routine. At “lunch time” it is time to eat. Interestingly, people feel hungry for particular tastes. For example, the four basic tastes bitter, salty, sweet and sour are often included in statements when hungry.

Hunger and Eating based on Cognition
Blue is said to be an appetite suppresant – can you remember a single blue food that you crave? Mother nature does not produce blue food. Color greatly affects our hunger and people eventually can learn to change their preference. Children at a party beg for a cupcake with blue icing.

Our Brain, our intestine and Hunger
There are two places in our brain that control the feeling of being hungry or full. One part signals when to begin eating and the other part signals when to stop eating. The intestine or the gastrointestinal tract controls short-term hunger, or impulse eating.

So, What is Obesity?
Exceeding the average weight for a given height at a specific stage in one’s life may be defined as being obese. Simple overeating does not explain the cause of obesity. Obese people tend to respond more often to external cues of hunger like “lunch time” than the non – obese. There are boundary levels of feelings of hunger and being full that are determined by biology. For the obese this biologically determined boundary is higher than the non-obese.

Eating Disorders
There are people who can starve themselves and are called anorexics. A cognitive or learned component of anorexia cannot be ignored. While those who eat too much and then throw up by forcing themselves to throw up are called bulimic and tend to have a connection with depression. Both anorexics and bulimics may suffer from malnutrition.

Mind and Body Connection to Hunger
There are two kinds of hunger; one that is caused psychologically and the other that is caused physiologically. Problems like eating disorders and obesity occur frequently because we try to fullfil our psychological hunger. Until we acknowledge the fact that it is often times our mind that is hungry and not our stomach we may never be able to be fully “not hungry”.

The Sense of Hunger is Not Just the Food we Put Into Our Mouth but The Thoughts Controlled by The Environment Around All of Us.

Hunger Obesity BrainHunger in Children and Tantrums 
Occasionally, serious emotional or behavioral problems in children, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis may sometimes indicate a problem more serious than hunger (Read more).  Excessive tantrums in pre-schoolers and it’s relationship to hunger is being extensively researched. Quoting Andrew C. Belden, Ph.D., a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) research scholar in child psychiatry,

“Healthy children may even display extreme behaviors if they’re very tired or sick or hungry. But if a child is regularly engaging in specific types of tantrum behaviors, there may be a problem.”

Unquote. You may click here to read more on when excessive tantrums in preschoolers may indicate mental evaluation is warranted rather than simple hunger of a healthy child.

Common Obesity is caused by Mutations in Multiple Genes
The search for an obesity gene that began several decades ago illuminated several genetic factors are responsible for obesity. Many people who carry the so called “obesity genes” do not become overweight until exposed to certain lifestyle factors which influence the genes that they inherited from their parents, including certain rare forms of obesity. Quoting from a Harvard University article, “Obesity – promoting genes in an Obesity – promoting world”:

To date, genome-wide association studies have identified more than 30 candidate genes on 12 chromosomes that are associated with body mass index. (8-10) It’s important to keep in mind that even the most promising of these candidate genes, FTO, accounts for only a small fraction of the gene-related susceptibility to obesity.


The interplay of genes and genes – environment warrants attention. Twin studies are often cited by obesity researchers. A recent study of over 25,000 twins suggested a strong genetic influence on BMI. Twins have the same genetic influence on BMI and thus, obesity, assuming environment and lifestyle at home is same for the twins. It is increasingly clear that genetic factors identified so far make only a small contribution to obesity risk. Click here to read this Harvard University article.

Related Articles
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How the biological inheritance from your parents defines you
Race, ethnicity and kidney disease
Two Traditional Plant-based Diabetic management from Africa, and India
War on obesity and diabetes by reducing intake of drinks with sugar to 16oz in New York City

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