It seems like every day I come across something that sounds (or looks) good on paper but just isn't true in reality. Most of the time these things are quite obvious...

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But now and then something a bit more seductive pops up, often promising a solution to one of life's more difficult problems. The latest example of this comes by way of a Guardian Unlimited story: Chewing gum drug could help curb obesity epidemic. The first paragraph of the story sounds convincing enough:

An appetite-suppressing chewing gum or injection could be used to tackle Britain's obesity epidemic. Scientists are developing a way to emulate the body's natural signals for feeling full using a drug based on a natural gut hormone produced after every meal.

And it goes on to talk about how it'll make people less hungry and therefore less obese. In the UK, they seem to be following our (USA) lead in the Obesity Race:

In Britain, more than a fifth of adults are obese and of the remaining population half of men and a third of women are classified as overweight. In early trials, volunteers' appetites were reduced by a fifth after being injected with the experimental new drug.

What the article never discusses is how many overweight people are overweight because of appetite. I'm sure that's the case for some overweight people, but probably not the majority. I think the problem is self-control, not appetite. I'd wager that the majority of seriously overweight people would be far less overweight if they actually stopped eating when they were not hungry. But they don't. They enjoy eating so they keep going. Or they snack on junk. Or both.

That's the problem--not that their appetite is somehow "broken." They simply disregard it.

It sounds good on paper, though, and it'll probably help some small percentage of people for some period of time. But it's no silver bullet.

Posted by jzawodn at January 17, 2007 08:04 AM

Reader Comments
# Ryan Kennedy said:

The best diet I ever used was the South Beach Diet. The best thing about that diet was appetite control. The diet focused on foods that would convert to sugars in the blood stream slowly to prevent spikes/drops in blood sugar, the leading cause of an intense appetite (and type 2 diabetes).

I found that when I was on the diet, I'd actually need reminders to go eat something periodically, otherwise I'd accidentally skip meals.

You don't need gum or injections to get your appetite in check, just a little self-control and a proper diet of foods that won't convert to sugar in the bloodstream on contact with your stomach. Your body is just a big chemistry set, learn how the reactions work and you can turn your appetite into something you control just like an experiment in the lab.

on January 17, 2007 10:32 AM
# Martin Plante said:

"[...] how many overweight people are overweight because of appetite. I'm sure that's the case for some overweight people, but probably not the majority. [...] That's the problem--not that their appetite is somehow "broken." They simply disregard it."

Hmmm, false. Self-control causes you to gain weight. But then the stomach gets bigger, and appetite causes you to stay overweight even if you gained self-control. Overweight people DO have an appetite problem, even if they improved self-control.

So in short, this drug (or other techniques to reduce appetite) is not about preventing obesity, but loosing weight. That's where I don't agree with this technique. We should target self-control and reduce the huge amount of bad incentives, like ads, additives or quantities (which is exactly what you're implying, but for the wrong reasons, q;-) ).

on January 17, 2007 10:44 AM
# Kris said:

Ryan's comment is right on. You just need to find what works best for you and avoid all those fads. I just found out how many calories I need to stick to each day so I can lose weight. I found a free calculator online at that was pretty helpful.

on January 17, 2007 11:22 AM
# said:

"but it's no silver bullet."

Are you implying some sort of correlation between obesity and lycanthropy?

I suppose I could see how that could be, what with the body mass increasing dramatically as the moon becomes full.

Perhaps the mass is being converted to fat as the body returns back to the human form?

on January 17, 2007 12:01 PM
# Neil Mix said:

Worked for me when I lost 45 pounds. I would chew gum in the afternoons when I started feeling hungry, helped me curb my appetite until dinner.

What it *really* did, though, was it made me aware of my body. What I found was that many times I thought I felt hungry when really I was really just desiring some sweet taste. I became much more aware of the difference between "taste hunger" (back-of-the-tongue, near the throat) and "food hunger" (in the upper stomach).

So I agree with your skepticism about obesity's correlation with appetite. On the other hand I see no reason that chewing gum couldn't help raise one's awareness of their bodily cues.

on January 17, 2007 12:57 PM
# Jeffrey Friedl said:

Jeremy, I agree that the article begs certain questions, but your suggestion that the problem is due to self control is way off base. As proof, I can simply point to myself as a contradictory data point: I gain weight despite not having an ounce of self control. So, self control can't be the problem...

on January 17, 2007 05:21 PM
# Neil said:

The website to which you refer is Guardian Unlimited and not Guardian Ulimited.

on January 18, 2007 06:03 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Typo fixed. Thanks.

on January 18, 2007 06:31 AM
# Aukcje said:

Very good article ... Can I translate this article and insert on my site in Poland? ... Thanks :)

on January 19, 2007 02:51 PM
# Stuart Langridge said:

I think it might help more than you’re expecting. There are, I believe, three states you can be in:

* Hungry
* Not hungry
* Full

Everyone wants to eat when they’re hungry. Everyone doesn’t want to eat when they’re full. As you say, though, people who are overweight (like, say, me) eat when they’re not hungry, when it’s neutral to do so (don’t necessarily need food, but don’t dislike the idea). People who aren’t overweight (and aren’t that way through a huge mental effort), I think, don’t eat when they’re not hungry (as you mention). So, what you want is to take someone overweight and poke their brain so that when they’re in the “not hungry” state they actually feel full and don’t want to eat. The impression I got (although this might be wishful thinking) is that that’s what this chewing gum stuff does, sort of. There may be some sort of conscious effort (i.e., recognising when you’re in “not hungry”), but the policy there is relatively simple: whenever you’re not actually eating a meal and you fancy a snack, eat the chewing gum instead of looking in the fridge. It’s no panacea, but if it works like that then it might have some hope of success.

on January 20, 2007 10:52 AM
# Klaumwell said:

Thanks for sharing your refreshing opinions on appetite control and overeating. It would be great if you could do some research on your assumptions to see what you find.

on July 26, 2010 01:34 PM
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