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Hedonic hunger

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Hedonic hunger or hedonic hyperphagia is "the drive to eat to obtain pleasure in the absence of an energy deficit."[1] Particular foods may have a high "hedonic rating"[2] or individuals may have increased susceptibility to environmental food cues.[3] Weight loss programs may aim to control or to compensate for hedonic hunger.[4] Therapeutic interventions may influence hedonic eating behavior.[5]


Although hunger may arise from energy or nutrient deficits, as would be expected in the set-point theories of hunger and eating, hunger may arise more commonly from anticipated pleasure of eating,[4] consistent with the positive-incentive perspective.[3][6][7] Gramlich distinguished the overeating responses to these stimuli as homeostatic hyperphagia and hedonic hyperphagia respectively.[8] Accordingly, hunger and eating are subject to feedback control from homeostatic, hedonic, and cognitive processes.[9] Although these mechanisms interplay and overlap to some extent,[3][9] they can nonetheless be individually separated.[9][10] Thus, the positive-incentive perspective suggests that eating is similar to sexual behavior: humans engage in sexual behavior, not because of an internal deficit, but because they have evolved in a way that makes them crave it. High calorie foods have had intrinsic reward value throughout evolution.[11][12] The presence of desirable (or "hedonic") food, or the mere anticipation of it, makes one hungry.[13] The psychological effects of hedonic hunger may be the appetitive equivalent of hedonically-driven activities such as recreational drug use and compulsive gambling.[3][14][15] Susceptibility to food cues can lead to overeating in a society of readily available calorie dense, inexpensive foods.[1] Such hedonistic eating overrides the body's ability to regulate consumption with satiety.[16]

A related phenomenon, specific appetite, also known as specific hunger, is conceptually related to, but distinct from, hedonic hunger. Specific appetite is a drive to eat foods with specific flavors or other characteristics: in usage, specific appetite has put greater emphasis on an individual who adaptationally learns a particular appetite behavior rather than an evolutionarily innate, hedonic appetite preference.

Food variability[edit]

A "hedonic rating" of foods reflects those which are more likely to be eaten even though the individual is not hungry.[10][17][18] For example, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning suggests that fed rats show a high preference for a mixture of fat and carbohydrate in the form of potato chips compared to their standard chow or single macronutrient foods.[19] When binge eating occurs without the presence of energy deprivation, it is thought to be due to frequent exposure to palatable food.[1] Another study evaluated how hedonic ratings of individual foods aggregate into the food components of particular types of meals, and related preferences to overall dietary intake.[20]

Interpersonal variability[edit]

Individuals may have increased hedonic hunger susceptibility to environmental food cues.[2] Genetic variability may influence hedonic hyperphagia.[10][16] Variation in hedonic hunger levels from person to person may be key in determining success in weight loss tactics and a person's ability to cope with tempting foods that are readily available. To assess this, a Power of Food Scale (PFS) has been developed that quantifies a person's appetitive anticipation (not consumption).[1][3][21][22] Binge-eaters, obese individuals and those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa scored higher than restrictive type and normal weight college students.[1] A decrease in PFS score leads to better success in weight loss.[2]

Food reinforcement[edit]

The reinforcing value of food refers to how hard someone is willing to work to obtain food.[23] Food reinforcement is influenced by several factors including food palatability, food deprivation and food variety. The effector mechanisms of food reinforcement depend on dopaminergic activity in the brain.[23]


Conceptually, weight loss programs might target control of hedonic hunger.[4][10] Specific research to determine what diet techniques would be most beneficial for those with an increased hedonic hunger would help people modify their immediate availability of food or its palatability.[3] For example, whole grain popcorn may be a better choice than potato chips due to a lower calorie load and an increased sense of satiety.[24] Adding dietary fiber to foods and beverages increases satiety and reduces energy intake at the next meal.[25] Low-energy-density foods with high satiating power may be useful tools for weight management.[26] Satiety has been found to be greater with yogurt beverages than fruit juice, and was equal with low-energy-density yogurt with inulin and high-energy-density yogurt.[26] People with high PFS scores may do better with meal replacement products.[2][27]

Medications may affect hedonic eating behavior. Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP1) agonists, such as exenatide and liraglutide which are used for diabetes, may help suppress food reward behavior.[5] Inhibition of dopamine transport within the brain increases dopamine concentrations, which can reduce energy intake.[23] Despite theoretical underpinnings, opiate antagonists as single agents have generally not shown substantial clinical benefit.[16][28][29] However, preliminary data has suggested synergistic effects with concurrent targeted therapy of opiate receptors and either dopamine or cannabinoid receptors.[16]

Bariatric surgery of various types may influence hedonic hunger[30][31][32] particularly if accompanied by counseling interventions that reduce automatic hedonic impulses.[33] These surgeries may work in part by modifying the production of gastrointestinal hormones, particularly by increasing glucagon-like peptide-1 and peptide YY (PYY);[30][34] reduction of ghrelin has been inconsistent.[30]

See also[edit]


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