Let's Give Hunger a Little More Respect
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Hundreds of different types of pills are sold in the market today to suppress or kill hunger.  Hunger is beginning to appear as an unfriendly "alien' who has invaded our planet.  

We have developed a vast arsenal to attack appetite, one of the finest biological function.  Medical science has yet to understand how it works.  We simply don't know enough about how appetite is whetted or suppressed.  Those who temper with it must try to understand at both the physical and the emotional level, what hunger is, and how we come to feel the sensation. 

No less mistaken are the people who seek herbal remedies to suppress hunger.  They should ask themselves, 'Will my seeking natural means (herbs) to commit an unnatural act (killing hunger) be safe for me in the long run?"  Thirst and hunger are important mechanisms for our survival.  Numerous biological clocks, hormones, and chemicals are involved in the process of arousal and satiation of hunger.  Scientists have very recently identified a hormone, "Orexin," that is produced inside the brain, more specifically, in the hypothalamus.   

Orexin is supposed to prod us to eat.  Another hormone, Leptin, signals the brain to stop eating.  Orexin, Leptin, and many other hormones constitute a complex feedback loop between the body, the senses, and the brain to create, suppress, and regulate appetite.  These are just a few pieces of a complex puzzle.  Diet pills can profoundly disturb this delicate mechanism forever.  Diet pills shouldn't be used as the first or even the last measure for weight control.  Consider this commercial, "I lost twenty pounds and I don't feel hungry."  Does the pill industry assume that we  all suffer from a hunger phobia?  

Many cultures and religions follow the tradition of fasting.  Fasting, aside from its obvious purpose of reduced food intake, has long been used for strengthening will power.  Tolerating the sensation of hunger and denying oneself food for short periods of time helps develop self-control over biological drives.  Historically, hunger was looked as a challenge as well as an opportunity for self-control.  

In some cases, an individual's hunger may be out of control and too intense to be endured.  In such cases, the need for chemical control is justified.  Hunger is like pain.  Pain of moderate intensity has a healing function and should be borne, but severe pain needs to be treated.  Therefore, in the case of an out-of-control hunger, professionals treating it must look at the whole person as a whole and explore his or her life experiences.  An effort should be made to understand why and how the mechanism of appetite regulation stopped working.  

 In many cases, the over arousal or under arousal of hunger is related to an emotional disorder.  The connection between emotions and food is as old as life itself. The primary emotional bonding is formed through feeding.  The first person with whom a baby forms attachment is the mother, the primary feeder and caregiver.  It is no coincidence that Orexin, the hunger hormone, is produced by hypothalamus, a part of the brain that is referred to as the "emotional brain."  

When we are bored, we eat.  We are sad, we eat.  We are angry, we eat.  When we feel empty inside, we try to fill it with food. When we are having a bad day, feeling sad and lonely, we keep going to the refrigerator.  Some get to the point that they can't stop eating.  So, what should one do when the appetite regulation system goes out of whack?  Should one chemically manipulate the hormones or deal with the emotional problem underneath it? The answer is obvious.  You should learn to manage your emotions.  Find out what has been eating at you, for a change.  As you deal with the emotional problem, you can use your will power more effectively to control your appetite.  

Hunger is like the sex desire.  Acting on an urge when and where you feel it may have disastrous results.  Hunger is like pain.  You have to feel it in order to heal it.  
I hope this article serves as a food for thought who rush for those who rush to use diet pills without treating the basic problem.  

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