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Driving us to eat

We’re a sleep-deprived nation who watches too much television and drinks too much alcohol. While the sound of these three lifestyle factors doesn’t conjure up images of health, many of us fail to think about the impact they have on our waistlines. However, according to new research we should be paying more attention to these lifestyle factors that drive us eat.

Look around and you’ll see food wherever you turn. Fast-food outlets, food advertisements on buses, bus stops and billboards, cafes, restaurants, vending machines and people walking with coffee – they all entice us to constantly think about food. Then there’s the massive portion sizes and high-fat and high-sugar food choices everywhere we turn. With our waistlines expanding, it’s time many of us reduced the amount of food we eat. While making better food choices and reducing the serving size of food we consume is well know in the battle of the bulge, new research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggestions lifestyle factors such as a lack of sleep and alcohol consumption may also be weight gain culprits as they increase our drive for food.

Lifestyle factors that drive us to eat

The study reviewed 23 studies that looked at potentially obesogenic lifestyle factors such as short sleep duration, alcohol consumption and television viewing to determine their effect on kilojoule intake. The research concluded that all three lifestyle factors stimulated spontaneous food intake, with alcohol consumption resulting in the most significant increase. As a result, these behavioural patterns were not only linked to weight gain, but authors concluded that they likely contribute to it, as they enhance the value of food reward and promote less restrictive food consumption by decreasing inhibitory control.

When you look at the effects of alcohol consumption and inadequate sleep on hormone response in the body, there is an increase in circulating ghrelin levels. Higher ghrelin levels means increased hunger levels, as well as the deregulation of the reward system activation in response to food, resulting in a higher intake. Just like alcohol consumption and inadequate sleep, television viewing also promotes changes in circulating ghrelin levels. According to research, the visual image of food evokes higher ghrelin levels and people who watch the most television are not only more likely to snack but also choose higher kilojoule snack options.

Repeatedly eating a rewarding food results in the formation of new linked memories that condition us to anticipate rewards not only in response to the food, but also in response to the environment stimulus that is often paired with the reward. As a result, sleep deprivation, television viewing and alcohol consumption strengthen memory traces that trigger reward expectancy to food cues, so that people who suffer from sleep deprivation, or who regularly watch television or drink alcohol while eating are more likely to experience a greater reward response. Chronic exposure to these lifestyle factors also leads to conditioned memories, which in term enhances the reward response to food and the subsequent drive to eat. Overall this leads to a higher acute kilojoule consumption and tighter clothes.

Reducing the drive to eat

Sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption and television viewing are three prominent lifestyle factors in Westernised cultures, which makes them a top priority in beating the battle of bulge. While these lifestyle factors are common there is emerging evidence that suggests that curtailing them can reverse the trend. More and more research is showing that if we increase sleep duration over a number of years, we can reduce the likelihood of body fat gain, while restricting television viewing to less than 1 hour per day has been found to reduce body weight, body mass index and fat mass in children. Finally, reducing alcohol consumption during early adulthood can help to attenuate weight gain and abdominal obesity in adulthood.

If you want to help reduce the amount of food you eat, look at how much sleep you get, the amount of alcohol you consume and how much television you watch. By reducing your screen time, cutting back on the grog and getting more sleep, you may be able to reduce your overall food intake and have a big impact on your weight.

Do these lifestyle behaviours make you eat more?


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