“Food Noise”

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Over the past year or so, a concept has been popping up on my radar: “Food Noise.” It seems like with the growing popularity of the newish weight loss/diabetes medications Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro, there has been more discourse around how these drugs are getting rid of the “food noise” in many people’s brains. Anecdotally, most individuals who take higher doses of these medications report feeling “less obsessed” about food. In fact, they almost stop thinking about food altogether. For many of these folks, this comes as a welcome change, as previously their brains felt like they were constantly perseverating on food and on what, when, or how much they should or should not be eating. People describe feeling relieved to no longer be overly focused on food and the “noise” that their brains create around it.

On the surface, I can completely understand how getting rid of the “food noise” can come as a relief for so many people. Constantly thinking about food uses a lot of mental energy and can be exhausting. To be freed from these thoughts can feel like one is breaking out of diet prison. But, as a dietitian who helps folks with intuitive eating, I also have some concerns around this concept. A number of my patients who are on these prescriptions report having no hunger cues whatsoever, that they have to remind themselves to eat, and when they do, they do only want to eat a little and get full quickly. While this might seem like a dieter’s dream, it is in exact opposition to what our bodies were built to do. We are born as intuitive eaters from the start; babies are quite adept at communicating when they need nourishment. It is normal for us to experience hunger multiple times per day, and, in response, to fuel ourselves as the need arises. Hunger is a basic biological function that is vitally important for survival. When hunger cues are removed, we are at risk for undernourishment and malnutrition.

One of the ways that these weight loss/diabetes medications works is by slowing down our digestive process so food lingers longer in the stomach. Unsurprisingly, when our digestive system slows down, we feel less hungry and feel hungry less often, which results in eating less. This process also helps our body to improve its ability to manage its blood glucose. While smaller/moderate doses of these drugs have been shown to be helpful for those with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood sugar, doctors are now prescribing them in much larger doses to “aid in weight loss.” The higher the dose, the more likely it is that one will experience gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, and bloating, which in turn leads to a decrease in appetite and ensuing weight loss.

Is this (or any kind of intentional weight loss) healthy? I would argue not in the slightest. These drugs are basically making it easier for folks to underfeed their bodies. It makes food restriction tolerable. It can seemingly get rid of the “food noise,” but at what cost? As we have learned over the years, intentional weight loss, especially when it is rapid, takes a huge toll on one’s health and almost inevitably results in weight regain. Weight cycling is a risk factor for many health conditions that the medical community blames on weight, such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. While we do have plenty of research on these medications and their efficacy in managing type 2 diabetes, the research on using these medications for weight loss is much sparser and of shorter duration. In a way, these weight loss medications feel like the weight loss medications of the past (e.g., Phen-Fen in the 1990s), promising to be the “miracle cure” for so many struggling with weight issues, only to be eventually pulled from the market due to the serious health risks they inevitably cause.

I would argue that for those who are able to eat intuitively – listening to their bodies’ hunger and fullness cues, responding accordingly, and rejecting the diet messages we get constantly in our weight-obsessed culture – “food noise” is not really a thing. Many folks feel like they are “food addicts.” While I certainly want to validate someone’s feelings, the research we have at this point does not confirm that this is a real, physiological issue, such as substance addiction. Much of the “food addiction” research that is out there currently does not account for the subjects’ previous or current dieting behavior which has had a considerable effect. Restriction, whether it is mental or physical, begets food preoccupation.

When someone learns to listen to their body’s cues and feed oneself in accordance with these cues, and when one gives oneself unconditional permission to eat, food preoccupation lessens greatly and, in some cases, disappears. We are supposed to feel hungry several times per day; this is our body’s way of telling us we need fuel throughout the day. Our bodies are constantly giving us cues and feedback, but we are taught that our hunger cues are “wrong” and are not to be trusted.

I will be curious to see how those who are taking these medications will fare in the future, specifically around “food noise.” Many studies have shown that most people are unable to tolerate these medications for more than a couple of years (despite the medical community and drug companies saying that these drugs need to be taken for the rest of one’s life). And for those who continue with these medications, we have yet to see the long-term health effects that they will cause. My hope is that more and more people will come to realize that we do not need to be at war with our bodies and that listening to our bodies’ wisdom is the best course of action.

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