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December 11, 2006

Learning When to be Hungry

A recent study published in Nutrition and Metabolism suggests it may be possible for people to learn when to be hungry.  Study subjects were trained to estimate their blood glucose at meal times by associating feelings of hunger with glycemic levels determined by standard blood glucose monitors.  They were told to eat only when blood glucose dropped below a specified level.

And this worked!  Subjects did learn to accurately predict their blood glucose levels.  An untrained control group could not make the same predictions.  Here's the good part -- the trained subjects also experienced less hunger than the untrained.

<p><em>abstract: </em></p><blockquote dir="ltr"><p><span class="subBHead" style="font-size: 1.2em;">Background</span></p> <p class="xfull" xmlns:m="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML">The will to eat is a decision associated with conditioned responses and with unconditioned body sensations that reflect changes in metabolic biomarkers. Here, we investigate whether this decision can be delayed until blood glucose is allowed to fall to low levels, when presumably feeding behavior is mostly unconditioned. Following such an eating pattern might avoid some of the metabolic risk factors that are associated with high glycemia.</p> <p><span class="subBHead" style="font-size: 1.2em;">Results</span></p> <p class="xfull" xmlns:m="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML">In this 7-week study, patients were trained to estimate their blood glucose at meal times by associating feelings of hunger with glycemic levels determined by standard blood glucose monitors and to eat only when glycemia was &lt; 85 mg/dL. At the end of the 7-week training period, estimated and measured glycemic values were found to be linearly correlated in the trained group (r = 0.82; p = 0.0001) but not in the control (untrained) group (r = 0.10; p = 0.40). Fewer subjects in the trained group were hungry than those in the control group (p = 0.001). The 18 hungry subjects of the trained group had significantly lower glucose levels (80.1 +/- 6.3 mg/dL) than the 42 hungry control subjects (89.2 +/- 10.2 mg/dL; p = 0.01). Moreover, the trained hungry subjects estimated their glycemia (78.1 +/- 6.7 mg/dL; estimation error: 3.2 +/- 2.4% of the measured glycemia) more accurately than the control hungry subjects (75.9 +/- 9.8 mg/dL; estimation error: 16.7 +/- 11.0%; p = 0.0001). Also the estimation error of the entire trained group (4.7 +/- 3.6%) was significantly lower than that of the control group (17.1 +/- 11.5%; p = 0.0001). A value of glycemia at initial feelings of hunger was provisionally identified as 87 mg/dL. Below this level, estimation showed lower error in both trained (p = 0.04) and control subjects (p = 0.001).</p> <p><span class="subBHead" style="font-size: 1.2em;">Conclusion</span></p> <p class="xfull" xmlns:m="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML">Subjects could be trained to accurately estimate their blood glucose and to recognize their sensations of initial hunger at low glucose concentrations. These results suggest that it is possible to make a behavioral distinction between unconditioned and conditioned hunger, and to achieve a cognitive will to eat by training. </p></blockquote>

December 11, 2006 in Behaviorism, Dieting, Obesity, Scientific studies | Permalink

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