- Hardcover: 291 pages
- Publisher: Flatiron Books (7 February 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 125008119X
- ISBN-13: 978-1250081193
- Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2.8 x 24.4 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 499 g
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 50,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hungry Brain Hardcover – 7 Feb 2017
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"No more a diet book than 'Anna Karenina' is a romance novel, but for those interested in the complex science of overeating, it is essential."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Many people have influenced my thinking on human nutrition and metabolism, but one person stands out as completely altering my understanding of why we get fat. That person is Stephan Guyenet."
-- Robb Wolf, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Paleo Solution
"I have followed Stephan Guyenet's career as a researcher and blogger for over five years and have been impressed with both his objectivity and ability to distill complex information into easily understood explanations."
-- Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint --Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint
"In a world of increasing information overload, Dr. Stephan Guyenet's research and writing is like a gem in the rough. He has a remarkable ability to distill the latest scientific research and communicate it in a clear and engaging way, and his level-headed, evidence-based approach sets him apart from the pack."
-- Chris Kresser, author of the New York Times bestseller, Your Personal Paleo Code
"A remarkable book that approaches health and weight management not through diet or fitness, per se, but by understanding and combating the urge to overeat. This fun, insightful, and important text will appeal to both science-lovers and fitness fanatics."
-- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Following in the footsteps of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, Guyenet looks to the structure of the human brain and how it has evolved over time... A helpful guide offering encouragement to those looking for ways to lead healthier lives."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"Blending detailed attention to the neurobiology of appetite and genetics with a sweeping view of human evolutionary biology, Stephan Guyenet provides an exceptionally complete understanding of why, despite the prevailing desire to be lean, so few of us are. The lessons of science, spanning decades, are presented clearly, interpreted fairly, and used as the basis for an eminently sensible set of responses. Illuminating, entertaining, and empowering, The Hungry Brain is highly recommended."
-- David L. Katz, M.D., Director of the Yale Prevention Research Center and author of Disease-Proof
"The Hungry Brain explains how a modern diet turns us into leptin-resistant junk food seeking zombies. Everyone with an interest in metabolism will enjoy Stephan Guyenet's engaging and sometimes witty walk through the fascinating world of neurobiology."
--Catherine Shanahan, M.D., author of Deep Nutrition
"Stephan J. Guyenet does a wonderful job explaining what triggers our food cravings and how we can best manage those impulses. The Hungry Brain is necessary reading for anyone interested in optimizing their health and fitness, and for those who consult people on those topics. I highly recommend this book, and commend Stephan Guyenet for this exceptional work."
--Doug Brignole, Bodybuilding Champion / Former Mr. America and Mr. Universe; Co-author of
Million Dollar Muscle and author of The Physics of Fitness
"If you want to understand why we get fat and how to stay slender, go no further than Stephan Guyenet's The Hungry Brain. Untangling the vast knot of nutrition science using the clear lens of neuroscience, he explains where hunger comes from and why the Western world has been plagued with an epidemic of obesity in the last 40 years. Forget gluttony, forget behavior problems or weakness...we're facing eons of evolutionary pressure leading to unique pressures to overconsume. Guyenet reveals science-based methods to undo this modern trap of overeating and obesity."
-- Emily Deans, M.D., Harvard Medical School instructor of psychiatry and author of the Evolutionary Psychiatry blog
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“When Wilson’s team feeds its monkeys healthy, unrefined, high-fiber chow, stressed subordinate monkeys eat less and lose weight while dominant monkeys maintain weight. Yet when the researchers give the monkeys a choice between standard chow and a very rewarding high-fat, high sugar diet, the monkeys’ eating behavior changes dramatically. First of all, not surprisingly, both dominant and submissive animals prefer the rewarding diet and eat it at the expense of the healthy diet. Yet the dominant animals keep eating the same amount of food as before. In contrast, the stressed subordinates double their daily calorie intake. So in the context of a strict healthy diet, stress makes monkeys undereat, whereas when they have a choice between healthy fare and junk food,” (my conclusion) the stressed subordinate monkeys overeat a lot.
The equivalent among humans are that some humans feel overwhelmed by stress (like the subordinate monkeys feel) and some just find stress challenging (like the dominant monkeys).
So for us humans there are two possible behavior changes we could make. One is that we can manage stress so as to keep it in perspective e.g. through thinking about things more constructively (cognitive psychology) or by lowering the emotional temperature through meditation and/or exercise which helps to keep things in perspective.
In addition, if we choose to avoid junk food when we are stressed, we may find ourselves feeling less hungry and actually losing weight. It’s difficult to make that choice because stress causes our body to send more fat and sugar into our bloodstream, probably creating a feeling that we should replenish our reduced supplies of fat and sugar so we naturally reach towards chocolate or some such food. However if we stuck with healthy food, we would probably be able to eat enough for our real needs without overeating as we do with fast food. It’s apparently harder to judge when enough is enough if you are overstressed and eating junk.
This is just one of the fascinating insights I’m gaining as I read this interesting book. Time will tell whether I can incorporate these insights into any lasting behavior changes.
In his fabulous book, The Hungry Brain, Dr Guyenet explains the complex computations and instructions performed by my brain around the simple act of choosing what and when I’ll eat.
Turns out I’m hard-wired to maximise food reward for minimal effort. That’s how my ancestors survived scarcity long enough to have babies. Rational decision-making focused on some slim and healthy future self was of no use to them and no match for this ancient drive.
And here I am a modern human, living in an environment of plenty (stacks of easy meals at the local supermarket, cabinets full of delicious delights at the cafe, a well-provisioned pantry at home) - all perfectly designed to satisfy that primal need to accumulate body fat.
Reading Dr Guyenet’s book reminded me of an article I read in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2006 by Ross Gittins, called The Mind Has an Elephant of its Own, it discussed work done by psychologist Jonathan Haidt. That was the first time I’d heard of the brain’s ancient reptilian core, which is capable of overriding our most sensible, reasoned intentions. He likened it to riding an elephant - you can direct things by pulling the reins but the elephant will comply only if it wants to. If the elephant chooses another, more compelling direction, the tiny rider has no power to persuade it otherwise. That perfectly described how I felt about my own body.
The Hungry Brain has given me the basics to understand what drives my elephant and to work with her.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Guyenet combines neurological expertise with an accessible writing style to explain clearly why so many of us lack the ability to choose otherwise. In simple terms, our brains are finely tuned to an ancestral environment where food was hard to get and much less palatable than it is today. Extremely palatable foods combining sugar, salt, fat and similar ingredients simply didn't exist until recent generations, and consuming them wreaks havoc with our otherwise robust metabolisms. Instincts that normally prevent starvation drive us instead to chronically overeat.
You'll learn about the various structures and chemicals in the brain that govern decision-making and learning in general, and how these apply to food. You'll read one of the most competent descriptions of the fat-storage hormone leptin, how it works and how we become resistant to its effects. Most valuably, you'll learn practical tips for controlling one of life's most difficult challenges: chronic hunger.
Perhaps the most profound and useful insight is that just as overly stimulating foods inexorably drive fat gain, bland foods inexorably drive leanness. Guyenet makes the crucial point that it is not those who are accustomed to a bland diet who suffer from cravings and binges, but those who are accustomed to hyperpalatable foods. Those of us who are serious about controlling their body composition will find that this agrees with our experience, and will make the most of this insight, helped along by Guyenet's memorable explanations and recounting of key experiments.
Guyenet unfortunately wastes a chapter on ill-conceived public policy recommendations. He suggests coercive measures such as increased taxation based on the premise that giving people correct information is not enough to result in healthy choices. He then segues without irony into a chapter of information that you, the reader, can use to make healthy choices.
He also focuses on the brain to the exclusion of the enteric nervous system -- the gut -- and its resident microbiome, where all the neurotransmitters found in the brain are also produced, often in much greater quantity. This is a rapidly emerging field of study, and it is disappointing that he does not even mention the seminal experiments demonstrating obese mice spontaneously becoming lean when populated with gut flora from lean mice. Microbiology is not his specialty, but then neither is sleep science nor the psychology of stress control, topics which he ably summarizes.
More detail on the neural effects of exercise on adiposity would have been welcome. Why, for example, are sprinters lean and muscular but distance runners skinny-fat? What about the hormones ghrelin and orexin and their effect on stimulating appetite? How about insulin resistance and its effect blunting fat metabolism and possible role in Alzheimer's? What about micronutrient deficiency and its roles in promoting hunger even when a satiating amount of calories have been consumed?
But it is not fair to expect him to cover all these topics, and in fact a credit to his skill that we wish he would. This book is not the final word on controlling adiposity, but represents a large and underappreciated piece of the puzzle.
If Whole Health Source is a little treasure trove of ancestrally-motivated diet and lifestyle advice built on nuggets of rigorous science, then this book is the full gold mine. It also brings neuroscience front and center, whereas on the blog I feel like the inner workings of the brain make important but only occasional appearances. And the material goes deep. For a neuroscience beginner like me, the amount of information borders on overwhelming, mitigated only by the fact that our author writes in almost obsessively clear prose. I am looking forward to digging through the book again, this time with Wikipedia open in the next tab. For those not already familiar with the material, it definitely gives you enough for a few pass-throughs.
As for the inevitable question: Will this book help you lose weight? It is not a diet book. That said, it does contain a lot of advice for weight control that is rather different than the usual stuff out there. In particular, it focuses on “neural quirks” that persuade your body to naturally want less food, no willpower required. Best of all, you’ll know exactly why each tip works.
Absolutely recommend! Please write more stuff, Stephan! :)
If 95% of obese people aren't able to sustain lasting weight loss, clearly there are pieces that we're missing--something we're just not getting. The author provides an opportunity to better understand the mechanisms that work against us. Only by understanding these inner workings of our bodies and brains can we possibly have a chance to conquer this problem.
My biggest takeaway is that eating hyper-palatable foods increases your body's "set point" for adiposity, so for me this calls into question the popular notion of having one "cheat day" per week. It might work for someone who's lean and has always been a healthy weight, but for someone who is lean but has a history of obesity, it simply might not be feasible.
Unfortunately, I think most people are very much in the dark about the complex biological underpinnings of obesity. Hopefully that will change as a result of this book!