It is the question that underpins the search to find an answer to the obesity problem: what drives us to eat? No matter what a person’s genetic profile, environment or activity levels, eating more food than what the body needs to meet its energy demands results in just one outcome: weight gain.
Pervasive food marketing and 24 hour access to cheap, energy-dense food are important drivers of making us eat more. Other factors such as lack of sleep, endocrine disorders, air conditioners (which reduce the energy needed by the body to regulate temperature), and even increasing maternal age are just some of a long list of factors that can each explain a small part of the weight gain problem.
Attempting to tease out the magnitude that a few select lifestyle factors can play on increasing our desire to eat, medical researchers from Sweden looked at accumulated research between eating and television viewing habits, sleep deprivation, and alcohol consumption.
Alcohol, TV and poor sleep are what drives us to eat more
After some heavy duty number crunching of all the relevant research, the research team arrived at some fairly clear conclusions. Television viewing, alcohol, and sleep deprivation are not only associated with obesity, but are likely true drivers of over-eating and weight gain.
Each of the three factors have a double whammy effect by firstly stimulating brain processes involved in increasing desire to eat food and at the same time inhibiting our capacity to exert conscious control to turn down these desires.
Alcohol can alter hormones involved in appetite regulation as well as neurotransmitters involved in brain reward systems. Watching television means more chance of snacking on high-kilojoule snacks while at the same time distracting our normal conscious mechanisms that stop us eating when we’re full. Finally sleep deprivation is known to increase hunger and appetite, alter hormonal levels and reduce how active a person is.
What it all means
Drinking, watching too much TV and poor sleep habits are a potent triad of weight gain offenders. The good news is addressing one or more of these factors does result in a slowing and even reversing weight gain.