Could Your Weight Affect How You React to Food Cues?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  91 comments   :  38,618 Views

Most people assume that individuals are overweight because they eat too much at every meal, or they are always making unhealthy choices. But as you probably know, that’s not always the case. New research is looking at how people react to food in different ways, and how that can have an affect on eating patterns and ultimately, weight.

A new study, published in the International Journal of Obesity compared normal weight and overweight women, and how they respond to the sight and smell of pizza. The overweight subjects salivated more and had more desire to eat than the leaner subjects. But even though their reaction was stronger and were told they could eat as much as they’d like, the overweight individuals did not eat any more than the normal weight individuals.

Researchers conclude that overweight individuals might not eat more at every meal, but because of their heightened sensitivity to food, they could end up eating more frequently. This could result in snacking throughout the day, which can cause calories to quickly add up. More research is needed to determine whether certain people are born this way, or if they develop these reactions over time.

A good take-away from this is the importance of tracking food. It’s easy to think you’re not eating much if you don’t eat a lot in one sitting. But all of the small bites throughout the day can add up to big calories, and that could be a reason for weight gain or trouble losing weight. Research has shown that people who track their food can lose up to twice as much weight as those who do not.

What do you think? Do you think people react to food in different ways, and that could be a significant factor when it comes to weight?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
NEXT ENTRY >   Contest Closed: Enter to Win 1 of 10 'Dance With Me: Cardio Fit' DVDs


    I totally agree with the findings of this study from personal experience. I feel that I'm very sensitive to food and have a very hard time constantly wanting more than I know I should have. I went to a friend's house for dinner last night. He set out a bowl of candy before we ate, and he and my other two normal weight friends had some, as did I. But I had a lot of trouble keeping my hand out of that bowl and going for serving after serving, while they seemed to have no trouble having a few pieces and then leaving it alone. We then ordered two pizzas for dinner. I was definitely salivating and wanting to eat more than I planned, even though I had a healthy snack before I went over there and had some candy while I was there. I ended up eating three pieces, but probably would've went for more if I wasn't embarrassed about how it would look. I still ended up coming within my recommended calorie range for the day, and I'm proud of myself for not overeating, but it was really tough. So, I really think there's something to this study. Thanks for sharing! - 8/18/2010   9:25:45 AM
  • 40
    You know, honestly... I don't buy that. I have a feeling that there were plenty of women holding back in that study and NOT eating all that they wanted. Or maybe it was really lousy pizza, so nobody ate much of it at all. I mean, look at portion sizes available to Americans these days -- years of eating at fast food places or out of large bags of snack foods is clearly going to warp someone's perception of what a normal amount of food is, and cause people to eat more and more at meals. - 8/18/2010   8:32:17 AM
    I remember seeing an article similar to this several years ago. I hope the research continues until difinitive answers can be found. - 8/18/2010   7:55:22 AM
  • 38
    I can see both sides of this study. Sometimes i eat because i am bored, sometimes I eat because I am hungry, sometimes I eat just to eat! I love to smell things. My dh, on the other hand, can't smell as well as I can. Pizza is definitely a food I can over eat on, whether it is homemade or from a pizza place.

    Someone posted about chocolate. I have some dark orange chocolate with almonds that I bought 4 weeks ago and still have some left. Most of the time this would be gone in less than a week, but I am getting better. However, when I would have eaten the chocolate, I probably replaced with something else that doesn't taste half as good as that chocolate (cheese curls, chips, etc). - 8/18/2010   7:29:43 AM
    The power of smell.... it can make your portion size double if you're not careful. - 8/18/2010   6:53:25 AM
    wow... its so eye opening... i also am very aware of smells and already wnt to eat it... but i dont eat a lot at one sitting... its thouout the day... thats the trouble... - 8/18/2010   5:23:37 AM
  • 35
    "Researchers conclude that overweight individuals might not eat more at every meal, but because of their heightened sensitivity to food, they could end up eating more frequently. This could result in snacking throughout the day, which can cause calories to quickly add up."

    This is EXACTLY my point, THANK YOU, about mini-meals and eating 4, 5, 6, times a day, which is all the dieting rage now. I started SP at 315 and now am 285, and I am saying DON'T TELL FAT PEOPLE TO EAT MORE OFTEN. Hello!!! We are ALREADY eating too often!! America is full of fat people eating too often!!

    Try the No S Diet SparkTeam and philosophy, instead. It is great-grandmother's common sense way of eating before we all went crazy and before we all got fat.

    The No S Diet is sooooooo simple and works sooooooo well, it's almost embarrassing. We've been sold a bill of goods, people. Look around you. Eating 4, 5, 6 times a day is NOT WORKING.

    There may be a small percentage of people for whom multiple meals/snacking work, due to differences in metabolism, biochemistry, physiology. We're all different. Fine that's well and good. But look around you. It's a very small percentage. I still say: bottom line is, don't tell fat people to eat more often. - 8/18/2010   4:19:01 AM
  • 34
    I mostly eat because I like to eat--not because I am hungry. I eat when I am happy, sad, thirsty, tired, bored, stressed and so on. I have rationalized for years that I am fat because of heredity or that I am on medication or this or that. Truth is .....I eat too much and move too little. Yes, I do believe that I am more sensitive to smells, sight, and taste. I also believe that IN FRONT OF SOMEONE ELSE I will not eat any more than a person who is within the accepted weight range. - 8/17/2010   11:05:23 PM
  • 33
    There are multiple factors that affect how individuals react to food --- from current stressors, to unresolved emotional challenges, to how food was viewed and managed in the childhood home. - 8/17/2010   10:39:13 PM
  • 32
    There are multiple factors that affect how individuals react to food --- from current stressors, to unresolved emotional challenges, to how food was viewed and managed in the childhood home. That said, individuals can definitely change their relationship with food over time, and with greater self-awareness, knowledge, and an internal desire to change. - 8/17/2010   10:39:02 PM
  • 31
    I don't know about weight, but after a few months of strength training, my appetite got smaller and I stopped craving sugary things. - 8/17/2010   9:51:18 PM
  • 30
    This is true. In my experience i've felt it. Esp at thanksgiving and christmas time and having my grandmother's/mother's cooking and the pies. I tend to over indulge. i've been tracking my food and caloric intake and it's helping me to keep any eye on what i'm eating. I haven't been on spark people long and i'm still taking my baby steps. - 8/17/2010   8:51:53 PM
    This happened to me today! The restaurant on the ground floor of our office building was sending such delicious smells up the stairs that I immediately wanted to go there instead of having my brown bag lunch; except the restaurant wasn't open for another 15 minutes. I couldn't even wait that long so I ate my (healthy) lunch. Phew, saved by the clock! - 8/17/2010   8:08:56 PM
  • 28
    Smelling food often sends me into a frenzy. Working in a deli doesn't make it any easier. Snacking bits of cheese and ham and whatelse is there sends my tracker through the roof. I have been brutally honest about putting down each and every piece I snack on,(thanks to the deli scales, I actually weigh each piece an write down what the weight is) and then putting it into food tracker at night, I see that my snacking amounts to more calories than entire meals, and then some! But no more! I'm done snacking, and my weight is finally coming down. Who knew!!!!!
    - 8/17/2010   7:20:40 PM
  • 27
    I'd say it had to do with the fact that they were in a study. I know that if someone told me that, I'd eat what I knew intellectually was the correct portion, leave the study and pig out somewhere else if I was still hungry! - 8/17/2010   5:51:04 PM
  • 26
    Food tracking is an absolute must for me! - 8/17/2010   5:40:55 PM
  • 25
    Pavlov's dogs didn't start out salivating at the ringing of the bell. That came after time, when their desire for food was satisfied after the bell was rung.

    A lot of overweight people are emotional eaters. I think that if you're an emotional eater and you get satisfaction from food, over time your brain is going to be programmed to respond to that..
    - 8/17/2010   5:35:11 PM
  • 24
    I agree with the study Not only smells but pictures or even words on a menu can set me off. I am sure that I am like many who sit at a restaurant looking at the dessert/drink menu that is lef t and keep wondering should I or shouldn't I. Also being with with people can influence food choices - 8/17/2010   5:14:54 PM
  • 23
    I know that I am very susceptible to food smells, but that vegetable soup can smell just as good as pizza and a more manageable choice. - 8/17/2010   3:58:45 PM
  • 22
    You know I am not so convinced with this study.. they say they told both kind of woman to eat as much as they want and they did and the heaver woman did not eat any more then the thinner people ok that is fine I do agree with teh eating through out the day that causes calories to add up lets not forget the fact that some people either starv them selves all day long and will say "gee I hardly eat" that maybe so. and then at night they over eat. the body is so confused that is why weight loss is so hard.
    I am a firm believer that Calories in , minus Calories out will = weight loss..
    - 8/17/2010   3:43:11 PM
  • 21
    This may be true in some cases, but for me, I became obese because of poor choices and poor portion control at meals. If I had been part of the study, I probably would have eaten the amount of pizza that I thought I "should" eat, since I was eating in front of people. I tend to mimic the portion sizes of the women that I eat with. - 8/17/2010   3:40:21 PM
    See I knew that the smell of food triggers alot. So maybe I need to rethink my habits so that smells don't trigger me into a feeding frenzy. - 8/17/2010   3:08:42 PM
  • 19
    I love snacking and since SP, I've been trying to change that. However, I agree with those who are saying it's about WILLPOWER. It is. I probably react much the same way as the heavier participants in the study, but I will not use that as an excuse for my weight. That's all me and up to me to change...with a will of iron. (I hope.) Hehehe - 8/17/2010   3:00:36 PM
  • SUNSET09
    When I get sleepy, heavy or feel guilty, that's not the right food choice to make, however there are the ice cream and chocolate feel good food that makes it more better! My body craves salad and or green vegetables every now and then which is much appreciated on that part! I also like to eat a balanced meal instead of taking pill sot make up for the nutrients I miss. - 8/17/2010   2:34:35 PM
  • 17
    I wonder if this is the same for men. I've noticed my relative who is overweight usually has large portions and second large portions when he eats. - 8/17/2010   2:33:23 PM
  • 16
    This is ironic in that we are also told to small meals/snacks more often during the day!!! Every 2-3 hours have something, no? - 8/17/2010   2:20:46 PM
  • 15
    I have often said that food comercials should be illegal at least after 8 pm. - 8/17/2010   1:53:14 PM
    I've found myself eating or eating a second helping just because I love food. The smells & tastes are so satisfying, but a lot of times I'm really not hungry, the food just seems to draw me in. Since I've started my nutrition log, I have been making a conscious effort to only eat if I'm hungry and if something is smelling or looking really good & I'm not hungry I will just have a taste instead of eating a whole serving. That seems to be helping me to let go of eating for the wrong reasons. I hope to change this habit over time. Amazingly, even though it hasn't even been a week since I started with SP, I am feeling really good about how this system works for each person on their own level. I definitely have a different reaction to food than many other people I know! - 8/17/2010   1:51:32 PM
  • 13
    I don't think that just having a heightened sensitivity to food will make you gain weight. It's what you do in response to your appetite that matters. What you actually eat is what can make you gain weight. - 8/17/2010   1:51:02 PM
  • 12
    This finding does not surprise me. I know that sensation! I know I'll eat the same meal or even less than my thin friends, but it's as the article says, more frequent meals, or just tiny changes in eating patterns add up over time. - 8/17/2010   1:42:19 PM
  • 11
    i think tracking your food is one way to bring all the little handfuls of things to your attention - when you are lamenting about - why the scale isn't moving.... at least for me it helps. but - even when you track everything, and you exercise regularly, and the scale doesn't move - yeah i wonder if people react to food differently. - 8/17/2010   1:30:36 PM
  • 10
    When I see something yummy, I want it. Point blank. My fit friend has a ton of self control and hasn't noshed in ages. She just ignores whatever it is. You condition yourself on how you respond to food. - 8/17/2010   1:26:35 PM
  • 9
    I'm definitely a foodie, and know that my love of food and lack of movement led to me being overweight. I can say that I have a very clear reaction to the smell of sauteing butter and onions or fresh baked bread...regardless of if I am hungry or not, my body prepares to nosh on something delicious. I think it was important for my journey to learn how to redirect that hunger response, involve myself in more active pursuits when this response popped up, or be satisfied with a "taste" when I wasn't actually hungry. Most of the time it is a taste that allows me to move on from the aroma or presentation of delicious looking food. If I am still hungry after 20 minutes of the taste, I will usually reevaluate and see if I can fit a small meal into my day's intake rather than just diving in. - 8/17/2010   1:18:07 PM
  • 8
    Even when I was a 98 lb college student, I reacted the same way to food. I'm a glutton. SP has helped me see that though, and be more responsible for what I eat. - 8/17/2010   12:53:19 PM
  • 7
    i think everyones body and mind is different, and reacts differently to everything..
    i also believe it is the brain that controls it all and until we all feed good enough about ourselves to treat ourselves with loving care and love ourselves.. the body tempts us with challenges. - 8/17/2010   12:47:49 PM
  • 6
    I think people do react differently. I know people (ahem, DAD!) who can eat half a candy bar, wrap it up for the next day. Then there are people like me, who just the smell of chocolate makes me want some and tricks me into thinking I'm hungry. - 8/17/2010   12:43:38 PM
  • 5
    I'm reading Judith Beck, PhD's "The BECK Diet Solution" and she teaches how to THINK like a THIN person. When an obese person reacts to food in the way you describe, they need to have a ready answer to tell themselves. Dr. Beck says "Hunger is never an emergency." She teaches to have a PLAN of what you are going to eat for the day and STAY with the plan, marking off what u have eaten, etc.
    I think these people ate less when the researchers were watching, too. - 8/17/2010   12:33:00 PM
  • 4
    I agree. I'd eat less too if people were watching. - 8/17/2010   12:21:54 PM
  • 3
    Gotta say: if I knew strangers were watching me, I'd eat less, too. I'm not obese but I put away 1/2 of a medium pizza the last time we had one. - 8/17/2010   12:17:54 PM
  • 2
    I have personally felt it. Where I work has a deli on the other side of the sore, and the minute I smell food of any kind, I'm suddenly "starving". My stomach will actually begin to ache and I will get nauseated if I don't have at least a soda cracker or something fast... whether it be for that food in particular depends on what food it is. - 8/17/2010   12:11:55 PM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›


Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.