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I’ll Eat When I’m Hungry

September 4, 2016

There’s an old song that says:

I’ll eat when I’m hungry,
I’ll drink when I’m dry,
If hard times don’t kill me,
I’ll live till I die.

Is this still a good idea?  Can we still rely on bodily sensations to know when we should drink and when we should eat?  How do these sensations work anyway?

In the case of thirst, it’s all pretty simple.  Our brain monitors our blood to determine if it’s too thick or two salty, meaning that it needs to be diluted with water.  If it does, the brain produces the sensation of thirst.  As soon as we drink water, our brain anticipates that this water will pass through our stomach into our intestine, and will eventually enter our blood stream.  It reacts by cancelling the sensation of thirst, even before the water has diluted our blood.  Of course, we can also use our intelligence or our will power to drink water before we need it, or to postpone drinking water to a more convenient time.

No doubt we have similar mechanisms in the case of hunger, but the situation is more complex.  The sole cause of obesity is eating too much food, but there are many reasons why we do this.  It only takes a small amount of excess food because the excess accumulates over time.  Unfortunately, it’s really easy to eat a bit too much, but it’s quite difficult to work it off through exercise.  Exercise is good for us, but it can’t compensate for over-eating.

Some people do feel hungry all of the time.  This feeling may have a genetic basis, as it does in this study of Labrador retrievers.  Pet dogs, of course, are entirely dependant on their owners for food.  Generally, dog owners will regulate the amount of food their dog gets in order to maintain their dog at a healthy weight.  You may have to do the same thing for yourself if you are one who feels hungry all the time.

There’s a recently-discovered factor in obesity: colon bacteria.  Their exact role is confusing, probably because scientific studies are still revealing more questions than answers.  We don’t know, for example, if colon bacteria types are a cause of obesity, or a result of obesity.  At the moment, there’s no magic potion that a person can take to lose weight.

People often amused at my interest in obesity.  After all, I’m thin, not fat.  That’s not quite true.  I do look thin, but that’s an illusion.  I only look that way because I’m tall.  I actually have a normal amount of body fat.  I’d like to keep it that way.  I also have a low capacity for food, and seldom feel hungry.  Both of these factors are a big help.  Still, I have to be careful with how much I eat, or I will put on weight.  Mainly though, I’m interested in how the human body works, and how the mind works along with the body.


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