Months ago I was interviewed for a British television show called Weird Connections. I recently received a copy of the program on DVD and have posted my segment below. Take a look if you’d like to see me at my most unintelligent and nonsensical (note my annotations) and then read on for what I would have said if I wasn’t a complete moron.
Essentially, this show was reporting on connections between overeating and various factors, ideally creating important insights into the nature of obesity. The program was broken down into five segments, each dedicated to a not necessarily obvious connection.
Although not based on a large-scale study, the first segment noted how visual cues play an important role in eating. In an interesting experiment, two young women sat down to eat a bowl of tomato soup. One woman’s bowl was rigged so that soup was funneled into the bowl from below the table. In other words, she could never finish the bowl of soup; it was virtually bottomless. That woman continued eating long past her counterpart (who had stopped when her bowl was empty), thinking that she was just a slower eater. In reality, the visual cue of seeing the food prompted her to eat more. This phenomenon is related to this post I wrote about the horrible parenting philosophy of “eat everything on your plate.” The results of the bottomless soup bowl were supported by a second study which demonstrated that people tend to eat less when blindfolded. These people seemed to be more in touch with their inner feelings of satiety when not distracted by a plate with food on it.
In the third segment, Italian Psychologist Ricardo Pinyati noted similarities between overeaters and those with pathological gambling. He reported that both groups of people tend to seek out immediate rewards, to the detriment of their health (by impulsively overeating) or finances (by excessive betting). In other words, food can act as a drug, a way to self-medicate, not unlike drug use, drinking or smoking. Dr. Pinyati’s work supports the idea that if people can control urges for immediate gratification, some may be able to combat their own obesity.
In part four, Psychologists here in the states found that chimpanzees were able to distract themselves from the urge to eat candy from a machine. When the chimps jumped at the chance to eat the sweets, they only got a small amount. However, they were able to learn that by using toys and pictures to distract themselves – thereby controlling the urge to grab the candy from the machine – they could get larger rewards later. The chimps essentially inhibited their cravings, so perhaps humans could do the same?
Part five is where the “expert” (me) came in.* Without knowing about these other studies, my job was to simply comment on the idea of using food as a form of self-medication, as well as distraction as a means to inhibit urges to eat. In other words, if time/space can be created between the craving for food and the action of eating, perhaps people would be able to make more sound choices about their food intake. In short, is it worth trying to replicate the study of the chimps with people? Could it lead to a decrease in overeating and/or obesity?
This isn’t rocket science which, sadly, makes my incoherent ramblings all that much more pathetic. I’m usually quite comfortable in front of small groups, but like my mother always says to her friends, “Oh yes, my Rob is quite the attention whore, but put lights and a camera in front of him and he turns into a nervous sack of imbecility.”
That said, the moral of the story is that the connections in the studies suggest that the psychological component behind overeating/obesity is pronounced. This promotes a more positive outlook on the problem, given that we have much more control over our minds than other factors involved (e.g., genetics, metabolism). If these small-scale experiments are the real deal, those struggling with weight will have more treatment options at their disposal.
So there it is. I got my wish to be on television and you hopefully learned something about overeating and obesity. If you own a gun, please mail it to me so that I may shoot myself in the head.
* Before the Cornell police show up at my door, let me clear up a few issues that the producers missed. I’m not formally affiliated with Cornell University. I did my post-doctoral fellowship at New York University/Cornell Medical Center, but I don’t work there currently. I’m also not a formally trained expert on eating disorders. As you may know, I work with a lot of obese patients who are having weight loss surgery, but this video paints me as a researcher who is on the pulse of the latest breakthroughs in weight loss. So why did they pick me for this topic? My guess is as good as yours, although I suspect it has something to do with no one else being interested.