There was a little teaser headline on the front page of the commuter paper this morning saying something like “Unhappiness linked to obesity!” The headline, when I opened the paper, was along the same lines. So I was bracing myself for some dumb new pseudoscientific study of how we’re only fat because we’re sad lonely compulsive eaters just trying to fill the holes in our hearts with food. Or how we’re only sad because we’re fat and nobody loves us which is our own fault because we can’t get control of ourselves.
Instead, I found a rather interesting study about how some people may overeat (and, in some cases, then proceed to get fat) because they don’t have as many dopamine receptors, so they don’t get as big of a dopamine kick from foods. In other words, they actually enjoy eating less than other people do, which leads them to eat more in order to seek the pleasurable response that naturally comes from food. You know, I really buy that. Obviously not all fat people eat compulsively or overeat, but I definitely buy that some people get less of a dopamine kick from the same activities — we certainly don’t all have identical neurotransmitter activity, any more than we all have identical metabolisms. And I buy that this can cause people to eat more. Having experienced sufficient pleasure from your food is as important a satiety cue as a physical feeling of being full — hence why people still want food, or want it more, after eating miserable dietetic junk, even if it has sufficient bulk to produce fullness.
It was intriguing. It deserved further study. It had absolutely nothing to do with unhappiness being linked to obesity. So why the hell was it being played like that, media? Were you too lazy to read what you just wrote?
Headlines aside, I’d actually be interested to read further studies on this. Particularly, I’m interested — and one of the researchers seems to be, too — in finding out whether dieting behavior actually increases the problem by fucking with your brain chemistry. Don’t you just bet it does permanent damage to your dopamine receptors, requiring you to eat more and more (or engage more and more in other compulsive activities) in order to get the same pleasure? It seems plausible, given how joyless dieting makes you (“Unhappiness Linked to Dieting!”). I want to see data!
I think there are risks to treating overeating as an addiction, because it’s so easily generalized to treating all eating as an addiction. But that’s nothing new — people have been treating overeating as an addiction for ages. This study gives me hope that they’ll at least treat it as something with an addiction-similar brain mechanism, NOT just some kind of personal failure to cope. I don’t want people to assume I’m a compulsive eater just because I’m fat, so I dislike the conflation — though the HealthDay report is at least marginally okay about distinguishing overeating, and even a tendency to gain weight due to overeating, from simply being fat. But if people are going to assume a compulsive overeater anyway, I’d like to at least endure that with the knowledge that actual compulsive overeaters were being treated with an evidence-based scientific understanding of the neurological underpinnings of their habits — not just dismissed as emotional fuckups.