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Why Are We So Addicted to Food?

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Do me a favor and imagine that you are in a real-life famine and you have access to very little food. Just imagine what would happen.
Immediately, everything in your life would become about food. Everything in your body would be telling you both to ration what you have and to eat a lot the first chance you find enough food. You would be constantly looking for more food. You’d maybe start searching for crops that weren’t destroyed. You’d hunt rabbits. You’d forage. And you would quickly become very resourceful with the food you did find.

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There would be a surge of adrenaline when this restriction and food search begins—it’s slightly euphoric—giving you enough energy and hope to scavenge for food. But at the same time, your metabolism would slow down so it can resourcefully use and store the nutrients you are eating. As you are forced to eat less, you would probably lose weight, but at the same time your metabolism would slow down so you don’t lose too much too fast—because if you used too much fuel too fast, you’d die.
After you’ve been hungry and rationing for a while, always eating what you can when you can, you may finally come across more substantial food. Maybe you spear a boar. Maybe you steal some loaves of Wonder Bread from a rich family in the village. Whatever. The point is: you find more than a handful of food, and everything inside you overrides whatever rationing willpower you’ve had so far. You eat it all. You eat as much as you can get. You feast. And if you tried to stop yourself halfway through, you probably wouldn’t be able to.

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That’s what your body is wired to do for survival. It’s a good thing. Your body’s only job in a crisis is to help you store nutrients and fuel in your body for the days and weeks to come. It gives you some energy, though you’ll still be operating at a lower metabolic rate than normal if the feasting isn’t able to continue. You’re still in a famine, even if you just ate two loaves of Wonder Bread. Your body knows you’re still searching for food, constantly.
To stay alive, you will have to keep eating as much as you can when you find it, and your metabolism will remain low while you do, ensuring that you stay alive.

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There are two possible endings to this famine:
FATE #1: THE FAMINE NEVER ENDS. As you use up all your food stores, you stop being hungry at all, because your body believes there really is no food, so it is not going to keep using precious energy to send hunger signals. You live for a little while like this, in deteriorating health, then you die. And you can and will die of starvation even if you still are not emaciated because starvation weakens your muscles and heart regardless of your weight.FATE #2: YOU FIND ENOUGH FOOD TO KEEP YOU ALIVE BEFORE THE FAMINE ENDS. But before it fully ends, every time you find food, you feast. As you should. Your body stores those calories as fat to help you rebuild and repair your body, and to protect you in case you find yourself in a famine again. In between these necessary and helpful feasts, you are hungry and still fixated on finding and eating as much food as you can, when you can. Of course.
Before the famine is over, other things happen as you go through feast-and-famine eating: your hormones stop working properly and your sex drive drops (no use having children in the middle of a famine!), you’re irritable, and that adrenaline high is wearing off. Your body is trying to conserve energy, so your metabolism is low and your energy may come mostly from spikes of adrenaline and stress hormones.
Maybe thanks to some sort of manna, or because you found a more bountiful terrain with fish and mangoes and brownies, you live and the famine eventually ends.

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Once there is food, you are going to eat as much as you can, for a long time. You will gain weight, and it will be awesome. Your body will take some time regaining strength and vitality. You will be tired for a good chunk of time, while your body slowly repairs the parts of you that were sacrificed in order to keep you going during the famine. During your recovery from the famine, every time you see food, you’re gonna eat it. Because of course, you are. There was just a famine! You were starving for half a year! Or five years! Your body is not convinced that there isn’t another famine right around the corner, so you’re going to be eating a lot for a while. You’re going to need to rest for a while. And you will gain weight during this recovery, as you should.
Once your body is fed for a long time, and not worried about any more famine, you will slowly come back to normal. Food won’t be as stressful. You will slowly trust that there is enough food again, and your body’s metabolism will eventually normalize. Your appetite and desire for food will eventually normalize, and your weight will eventually stabilize—may be slightly higher than it was before, just because of a fear of future famines, or maybe not.
I’m sure that you’ve made the connection by this point, but let me spell it out anyway: dieting is putting your body through a famine. That may sound like a stretch, but it’s not. Not at all. You’ll say, “No no, I eat plenty, even when I’m on a diet.” Or you’ll say, “Um, I am bingeing all the time, there is no way my body doesn’t have enough food.”

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