What triggers hedonistic eating?

Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

Hedonistic eating is emotional eating; it is driven by the need for pleasure not hunger. When eating is motivated by pleasure, rather than hunger, in the brain reward chemical signals are activated which leads to overeating. The phenomenon ultimately affects weight and may be a major factor in the rise of obesity.

Hedonic hunger’ refers to the desire to eat for pleasure, and to enjoy the taste, rather than the body’s energy needs. For example, desiring and eating a piece of cake even after a filling meal is generally driven by pleasure and not by hunger. The physiological process underlying hedonistic eating is not fully understood, but it is likely that hormones regulating reward mechanisms in the brain, like the hormone ghrelin, are involved.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Emotional eating isn't about reaching for celery. Rather, it's out-of-control, hedonistic eating (that often comes from your food memory), where we eat every cookie in the bag because they look good and taste even better. It's a craving—and usually for something that's starchy, sugary, salty, or loaded with fat.

The following five brain chemicals are the ones that primarily influence our emotions, and they not only provide the foundation for why we eat at certain times, but they're also the key chemicals in many of our current and future weight-loss drugs. To deal with some of the emotions and stresses that lead to eating, you have to remember that the brain chemicals that influence our hunger and our moods are our 'why' regulators of eating.
  • Norepinephrine: The caveman fight-or-flight chemical—it's what tells you to tangle with a saber-tooth or high-tail it to the safety of your hut.
  • Serotonin: The James Brown of neurotransmitters—it makes you feel good (hyah!) and is a major target of anti-depression drugs.
  • Dopamine: The brain's fun house—it's a pleasure and reward system and is particularly sensitive to addictions. It's also the one that helps you feel no pain.
  • GABA: This amino acid makes you feel like a zombie and is one of the ways that anesthesia may work to reduce your responsiveness to the outside world.
  • Nitric Oxide: The meditation-like chemical—it helps calm you. This powerful neuropeptide is usually a very short-lived gas that also relaxes the blood vessels of the body.
YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

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YOU: On A Diet Revised Edition: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management

For the first time in our history, scientists are uncovering astounding medical evidence about dieting -- and why so many of us struggle with our weight and the size of our waists. Now researchers...

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Psychology of Weight Loss

Psychology of Weight Loss

There are good days and bad days on the journey to a healthy weight, and your state of mind has a great deal to do with how you weather the weight loss storm. Be kind to yourself through the inevitable struggles and employ positiv...

ve self-talk to help you get up and get moving. Also, make awareness a priority, not just of the fat and calorie content of the food you're eating but also when and how much you eat. Make the cycle a positive one and remember, "success fuels motivation; motivation fuels success."

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.