Could Your Weight Affect How You React to Food Cues?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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?

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This idea of explaining everyone's weight gain and loss with overly simplified points is frustrating. One article says "snack more to lose weight" while another says "if you snack too much, you'll gain weight". We are trying too hard to paint with a broad brush; until we get past this mentality of "oh, THAT'S what I've been doing wrong!" we won't arrive at meaningful solutions. Report
I think this research is takes 28 days to establish a brain CELL pattern. I have reduced the "want" for sweets and fast foods by following the diet plan on SP and took the Eat More to Slim Down challenge. My taste buds have changed. I think the the stimulus response info is on target. Its not how much...its what. Sugared up and salivating more is a high calorie life. The good news on this is that it is (salivating) a conditioned response. I used the visual of little bodies running with a fire hose (gastric acids) to put out a flaming sugar fire inmy stomach when I looked at sugary foods. Knowing people die of pancreatic cancer due to an excessive amts of sugar...well the visual works for me. I love veges now. Even celery tastes sweet. We can recondition our minds. Report
I do think people react differently to food. I see that with my husband and I. Smells and pictures of food start my craving of food. Usually what i want is not in my house leaving disatisfied and I eat more of other things try to fill that satisfication. Report
Hmm... interesting... but I can't say that my personal experience correlates with this. I find I'm much more sensitive to food cues when I'm thinner. But that may just be me being crazy. I also don't buy the fact that the overweight women actually do eat the same at meals. Report
I am definitely sensitive to smells, good and bad. I can't wear perfumes, hairspray, etc. because chemical smells bother me. Good food smells activate my appetite. I also have a heightened sense of taste, including texture. I can't eat liver not because of the taste or smell, but because the texture of it bothers me. Often I can tell what is a food by the smell and taste of it. Even looking at a food I like can affect me. Usually I only watch DVD's, not tv with commercials, but I have noticed that when I do watch food commercials it can trigger me to want what I am seeing; MMMM, Taco Bell, let's go there! when it isn't even somewhere that I would normally go, just because the food in the commercial looked so good.
FEARLESSLIFE, there is a big difference between eating mini-meals and snacking all day. When you eat more smaller meals, what you should be doing is breaking up your daily allotment up into 4-6 smaller portions instead of the usual three large meals. This allows you to eat when you are hungry without going overboard. I find it really helps me, especially since I am hypoglycemic. I eat breakfast about 6 am and there is no way I could go until noon without eating again. It's WHAT you eat for your snacks that is important; for example I often have 2 Tbs of natural peanut butter with an apple or raw carrots for my afternoon snack. The protein in the peanut butter keeps me from getting hungry again too soon. If I didn't eat this way I would probably be struggling all day with wanting to eat junk food, especially since we have a snack bar at work with every kind of junk you can imagine. The only time this doesn't work as well for me is the three or four days a month when I am suffering from PMM (Pre-menstrual Munchies!) Report
I find it amusing that so many people tried to critique the study (which they did not read in its entirety, just decided from this and maybe the linked summary (if they read that) that it was flawed) instead of taking away anything they could use for their own benefit. I find it interesting that overweight people salivated more (Pavlov :-) and thus are more conditioned to food; I think I will snack less as a result, just stay out of/away from the kitchen and other food-eating response situations altogether; give it my own test for a week or two. Report
Just like fingerprints, no two people are alike.

Of course we all react to food differently, just as one food may have different effect on each of two or more people. One person may pack on the ounces just thinking about a cookie, where another individual has trouble getting enough weight on their frame even though they eat like a proverbial horse.

Studies only dissect what is "average". If we were to look into what is "normal" for everyone individually, it would be a futile practice as we are all that different. Report
This study truly does not take into consideration both the awareness of all the subjects that they were being watched... as well as how those of us who are obese undereaters end up that way. It only pertains to overeaters.

I have to work hard to get in all the food my SP Nutrition guide lists, and most days I don't finish.

I also have found that certain foods with the same calories/fat/protiens make me gain weight fast, and others do not. I love ice cream, but cannot eat it much because even a single serving gets converted immediately into pounds of weight. Report
I have a friend who eats "to get rid of that annoying feeling of hunger." I will never ever understand that! Everyone has different reactions to food. Report
That's what's so great about SP: the trackers. I now would not be without them. Report
Perhaps some of us have developed a "6th" sense. Satiation. We may be extra sensitive to the sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture of food . And if our enjoyment of food ended there, we'd be fine. For some reason our minds desire more, our bodies react physically (salivation, hunger), and we are driven to actually consume the food (often to excess) in order to truly enjoy the food and be satisfied.

I'm going to give this some more thought and try to start looking at food and the eating and enjoyment of it differently. By logging under My Nutrition, I've been able to start focusing on food as fuel. I am trying not to think of dieting and deprivation. Instead, I've flipped the switch to looking at this as giving my body good things (nutrients) by making better choices. I'm doing something beneficial for myself, not being punished for being overweight.

That doesn't mean I'm ever going to stop appreciating good food and special meals. But maybe if I (we) could look at food, prep, cooking, presentation, and consumption as an art, then we could learn to savor and be satisfied without overindulging. That's what I'm going to try.
As some others have shared, I feel there are flaws in this study. What about those of us that have decreased appetite, "forget" to eat because there isn't a trigger reminding and gain weight? The assumption was made that those who were overweight automatically all salivated the same, all had the same heightened sensitivity to appetite and hunger, therefore, the conclusion is that overweight people eat more in the day. As I just said - what about the rest of us? I saw a nutritionalist who said it was common in her practice to meet with overweight people who do not eat enough calories, then binge, then starve, then binge and like me, have a distorted appetite sensor. She advised that I train myself and be consciously aware of time - that I snack and eat meals at specific times, as a means to train my body to actually be triggered for hunger. I can easily go all day without food and sometimes, into several days. I find a study that wraps all people with obesity issues into one ball to be totally flawed. Report
Of course people react differenty to foods. How one was reared on food would make a great difference. If you use food as a coping tool this will determine also your reaction toward food. There are so many variables to the reaction toward food. That is one reason we vary so much in weight.
I feel sorry for emotional eaters. I am one but am lucky it does not effect me as severe as it does for others. I have had a higher metabolic rate which enabled me to be able to pig out and not gain. Not the case today. I am 57 and my rate is much slower. I have to work out more and eat less.
what is the no S diet? Report
I have always thought this was true. I have one overweight friend (who does not track her calories or diet properly) who actually moans while she is eating. I also think that when you keep your weight-loss goals top of mind, you don't desire food as you would if you weren't so mindful of what is going into your body. The takeaway for me from this study is to continue to track calories so my desire for food does not control my calorie consumption, instead it puts me in control of my body. Report
I believe that overeaters are very sensual people and are very stimulated by not only the smell of food, but by the sight of it, reference to it, speaking about it, and the taste of it, because it elicits passion within the mind, and senses, for it. So, beauty [and lust] is in the eye and mind of the beholder. Put that in your study.LOL Report
As a psychology grad student, I see a serious flaw in the design of this experiment.

The results - that overweight women ate the same amount of pizza as healthy weight women (thereby meaning that overweight women are enticed to eat more frequently due to their heightened sensitivity to food) - could be an example of what is called the "Hawthorne Effect".

The Hawthorne Effect basically means that subjects who know they are being studied will alter or modify their behavior. Put into the context of this study, the overweight women ate less than they normally would because they knew their behavior was being watched, studied and scrutinized.

The only reliable results of this study were the effects of the smell and sight on the salivary reactions of overweight women ... which leads right back to Pavlov. Overeating is a form of conditioning. We have been conditioned to overeat. TV commercials, ritualistic behaviors (big Thanksgiving dinner, 4th of July BBQ), and our own internalization of feelings ... these have all been linked to overeating.

I think this really depends of the person, not one broad catagories like "normal weight vs. "overweight". Some people react to smells ( I personally reast the opposite of Roseaclark, for example - being in a bakery all day would be sensory overload and the last thing I'd want to eat would be the bakery goods). Others are effected by taste. There are lots of studies what show that if a person tastes a flavor they crave, they are satisfied. Yoplait capitalizes on that with there flavored yogurt. They actually do taste like strawberry cheesecake, pinapple upside down cake, etc. I can have one in the morning or as a snack and feel less "deprived". I think articles like this that clump large groups of people into narrow catagories do more harm then good and encourage people to feel guilty about one more thing. Report
I agree that the snacking can definitaly add up and as to the improtance of tracking every food eaten. I did this and it has really helped me a lot. Report
I'm not so sure about this aritcal.. I eat , it dont matter if i smell the food or not. I dont even have to see the food. I think sometimes I just eat to eat. And for me that is a problem and why I'm not losing weight. I been there and done that over and over and over again. Lose and gain, lose and gain. Then you have all these so called 'experts' that tell you how to do it. I'm the expert, since I have done this so many times. I think my problem is being obsessive about losing weight.
Of course smelling food will make people want that food or maybe feel more hungry. But I dont think it has alot to do with being over weight. Report
I think food means different things to different people. A conditioned response perhaps. Sometimes that slice of pizza is the best pizza in the world, and other times, (the exact same pizza mind you) is just "blah". When it's the best pizza in the world I'm usually feeling pretty low, needing something in my life and for whatever reason (learned behavior from childhood I suspect) that pizza represents comfort and love. Some people look at food and just see simple nourishment. Others, like me, attach a lot more to it, making that pizza a lot more weighty than it really is. Report
Oh, Boy! Can I ever identify. Night time snacking is a real issue for me. Also, I eat when studying, paying bills, stress...ok, beathing. I just need to continue tracking and curbing my appetite. Can do! Report
I agree with the article above - mom can be cooking something & it will smell so good or I'll see something on her plate & just have to taste it. I even do it when I'm cooking. Last Saturday night, I was making lasagna for Sunday dinner the next day & was making the meat sauce which smelled so good, I had a hard time not diving in. Perhaps some candles would cut the smell out. I also agree with what the others are saying as well - it must be about portion control & making healthy choices, but I think smells go a long way towards that as well. Report
"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."

I love how everyone is talking about they reactions to why people overeat and why some do not. There are many studies out there that also focus on brain chemicals not responding to the body's cues as well...and overweight people's brains have a tendency to not listen to those cues...but I digress.

The gist of this article is about TRACKING your calories in the nutrition tracker. When you actually see WHAT you are eating and WHEN and HOW MUCH can visually see what you need to tweak and change in order to eat differently to lose the weight. I am a firm believer in nutrition tracking...that is how I lost and why I keep it off. It also allows you to change things up and see the difference when you are honest with yourself FOR EXAMPLE: switch from the creamer to the non-fat milk with your coffee at breakfast in the morning or switch from a kaiser roll to a thinner whole grain bread for lunch...and to actually learn portion sizes and track things more accurately so you LEARN to make better eating choices for the rest of your life. Report
@Vida -- it is not weird at all that your healthy choices don't trigger a binge, whereas the unhealthy choice would. David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, wrote a great book which basically says that people develop addictions to fatty, sugary and salty foods, making them crave more, as they would to an addictive drug. The food indusrty is well aware of this and uses it to their great profit. This is not to say that people cannot control this reaction, but that there are real reasons that you have this reaction. Report
I so relate to the sight and smell of food causing salivation and anticipation. My problem is that though I may not eat more of a fattening food than other people at the time, I usually go home an pig out afterward when I'm alone. The safe bet for me is to go with a healthy option because usually it won't trigger a binge. Weird? Report
There are 3 overweight women in my office and the other 7 women are average weight. When we have food brought in, I'm very careful how much I put on my plate because I can just "hear" their thoughts if I piled more food on the plate then the thinner people thought I should have on there's, but the other two women say, "I'm hungry so I don't care what they say". I'm sure it was because of the way I was brought up. Report
So.... the groundbreaking news is that people eat more because they enjoy food more? And that people who are inclined to eat more won't do it if someone's watching? Umm... yeah. Report
I love the site of pizza pudding and any other food. It is a new thing I just started doing with in the last year or so. Also I gained about 20 ponds in the last year so maybe there is some truth. Report
That does not sound right. When I only weighed 98 lbs., I loved pizza, now that I am overweight, I really don't like pizza. It is just not as tempting as it used to be, but then I have trained myself to dislike so many fattening foods, that when we do have pizza, I order a salad for myself. Report
I'm guessing the overweight participants didn't eat more than the thinner participants during that study because they were being observed. It might have been different if they were alone at home on their couch. I know this from past personal experience. Report
for me, i know the second i smell something, i want it. even if i'm not hungry before hand. it's unfortunate haha.

i agree with sneakyvegan though- i bet people controlled their portions because they were being watched. i know i would have. Report
All I know is that I definately salivate when I smell a yummy BJ's pizza and I always will...I don't think it has anything to do with my weight...I think it has to do with my brain recalling how my taste buds liked it after I smelled it. My husband and I have learned to get a small pizza even though we think we can eat a large when we smell it and then we end up eating less. Pizza is my way to reward myself when I have been good about going to all of my workouts planned for the month. Report
I've read many things over the past few years that supports this article. Thin people's chemical reactions are different than obese people's. This is why heavier people will eat and eat, while thinner people will know when to quit eating.

Great article! Report
The older I get the more difficult it is to lose weight....sounds like a cop-out but I have been charting my foods but the scale doesn't change. What do others suggest, as I'm stumped and can't get past losing 5 pounds in 2 months. Report
The older I get the more difficult it is to lose weight....sounds like a cop-out but I have been charting my foods but the scale doesn't change. What do others suggest, as I'm stumped and can't get past losing 5 pounds in 2 months. Report
Wow! At least there is a method to my madness! :) Report
Yikes! This is so true for me. Here's an example: I usually do not watch TV - just DVD's without the commercials, so I had forgotten how many food cues there are on TV ads. I'm house-sitting for a friend who has tons of cable channels and right away I began to crave the foods I was seeing. Way too much stimulus for me. Report
The following statement makes so much sense to me and confirms what I've always known - I LOVE FOOD!!!

"...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... A good take-away from this is the importance of tracking food."

With that in mind I'm grateful to have SparkPeople and the Nutrition Tracker so I can better manage my food intake.

I can start craving a dish just by seeing a picture of it or talking about it. Because of my training as a wine and food writer/consultant (I've taught classes in sensory evaluation of food), I can actually "taste" things in my head; so I mostly stay in my calorie range. I don't like to brush my teeth until ten or fifteen minutes after eating so I can enjoy the aftertaste of the food. Sometimes just sniffing dark chocolate works! Report
I totally think people react to food differently. And the more I see studies like this the more I am convinced! Report
LRWRIGHT, I resonate completely with everything you said. I too am extra sensitive to food cues - both visual (on TV, or on the table in front of me - like a bread basket at a restaurant) and olfactory. Like the study says, I can feel my salivary glands kicking in and my desire to eat kicks in, even if I wasn't hungry at all in the moments before. A friend of mine who was on fen-phen years ago also told me that her food reactivity was greatly reduced when she was on it, and she just literally "didn't care" about the bread basket on the table in front of her. I think this is the "magic bullet" the drug companies need to be working on - albeit with better testing to ensure that things like heart valve problems, etc. don't develop. To me, this is the main thing that separates obese people from normal weight people: over-reactivity to food! Report
I completely agree!! I beleive my nose and my vivid imagination get the better of me every time. My nose is SO sensitive - sometimes I can smell something on a passer-bys clothing (and now want what SHES having)...HELP!!! Report
This is a fascinating study! I have often found myself in the kitchen cooking for company, or making a "homestyle" breakfast for my spouse, and I am suddenly hungry. I don't begin hungry, but once I smell the aromas, sometimes I am suddenly famished. This must be my body, good thing I am learning to ignore those urges! Report
This is a very interesting study. My mom battled obesity all her adult life and I used to observe the amounts of food she ate at meals we shared. It never seemed that she ate much more than I did (and I was THIN back then), but she could never shed the pounds. Now I realize that she fit this study's subjects: I think she had a heightened food sensitivity and snacked a lot between meals - especially when she was alone during the day. Now, as I am also having to watch my weight, I think my sensitivity to food has also (naturally? genetically?) heightened over the years. Very, very interesting! Report
Lots of good comments here. For me - I need to have something with a strong taste. Seems like if it's too bland then I keep eating because I'm not satisfied. Also I eat because I'm sad, happy, bored, or just if it's there. So I keep busy and keep my hands busy to help. I do believe that there is something to this article. Report
I believe people react differently to food. Years ago I worked with a thin young man who told me he only ate because he needed fuel for his body. He seemed to be motivated solely by the intellectual challenge of his work. I, on the other hand, was eating because I loved food and the social interaction surrounding food (at that time). Report
Did these people know they were being observed? If I was salivating over something I might eat more if I thought nobody was looking. Report
I have felt for years that I react more strongly to smells, tastes, and even suggestions (television ads, for example) of foods. I try to stay aware of that and take my cues from other people about how much to actually consume. I even stay out of certain restaurants because I can over-react and over-eat the wrong things. Once, many years ago, my ex-husband and I walked into a store where the candy was the first thing you walked past. I commented about how good the chocolate smelled, and he couldn't believe I could even smell it! I had the same experience with my mother in the bread aisle of a store soon after that. And that was an epiphany for me that for some reason I had a heightened sensitivity to food smells. However, my sister lost her sense of smell after a serious brain injury 30 years ago. We have talked about the fact that she is aware that some of our reaction to foods is emotional because although she can't taste Italian sauces, red wines, or chocolate, the mouth feel heightens her level of enjoyment, and she is aware of an emotional connection to those foods. From these experiences, I know that there is more to our reactions than the simple answers above. Years ago when fen-phen and Redux came out, my doctor prescribed the Redux. While I was taking it, my sensitivity to foods was so toned down that I lost 30 pounds without formally going on a diet. That is another clue to me that there is more to overeating than a simple emotional reaction. Report