Outsmarting the Instincts that Make Us Overeat

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Although most of us strive to eat well and avoid weight gain, our behavior doesn’t always live up to our lofty intentions. The remarkable explanation, argues neuroscience obesity researcher and today’s podcast guest Stephan Guyenet, is that we’re betrayed by our very own brains, which drive us to crave and overeat food.

In THE HUNGRY BRAIN: Outsmarting the Instincts that Make Us Overeat Guyenet deploys his humor, wit, and extensive research experience to explain the instinctive brain circuits that compel us to overeat. He shows how those circuits expand our waistlines and undermine weight loss, and how we can use them to manage our weight more effectively. Stephan Guyenet has put his finger on a critically important explanation for our global obesity epidemic: the human brain. Although it’s indisputable that the brain is the cause of overeating – since the brain is the source of all behavior – this disarmingly simple insight has never before been the focus of a general-audience book.

THE HUNGRY BRAIN starts from the very beginning, uncovering how our (leaner) ancestors lived, both in recent history and the distant past. From there, it explores the brain circuits that kept us alive in that rugged world: those that drive our cravings, make our food choices, govern our appetites, and regulate our body fatness. And it explains how the genetic roulette that determines how these circuits are wired is a major reason why some people are lean and others are obese. Unfortunately for our waistlines, we no longer live in the world of our ancestors, yet our brains keep playing by the rules of a survival game that no longer exists.

Advances in technology and affluence let us tempt our brains with seductive, convenient food more than ever before, and willpower bows before the force of instincts honed by millions of years of evolution. And once we gain weight, the brain works to keep us from losing it again. The result is a world that’s fatter than at any previous time in human history. THE HUNGRY BRAIN explores the brain in a vivid and accessible way, weaving in illustrations, humor, and unlikely scientific discoveries to bring readers inside areas of science that have remained off limits to a general audience until now. Ultimately, it leaves you with profound insights into how the brain works, how the brain drives us to overeat, and what we can do about it.

So who is this guy? Stephan J. Guyenet, Ph.D. is an obesity researcher and health writer whose work ties together multiple fields of science to offer explanations and solutions for our global weight problem. He received a B.S. in biochemistry at the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in neurobiology at the University of Washington. He is the author of the popular health website Whole Health Source ( and he is a frequent lecturer on topics of obesity, metabolism, and diet history.

During our discussion, you’ll discover:

-Why what Stephan presents in his book is absent from all popular theories of obesity…[7:45]

-The story of the fattest man on the island…[12:10]

-Why kids like ice cream and not brussels sprouts…[18:50 & 27:00]

-How chocolate serves as a prime example of reinforcing properties that characterize modern food addictions…[23:15]

-How you can beat the “buffet effect”…[29:00]

-The three things all nonindustrial diets have in common, and how you can use these things to keep yourself from overeating…[36:05]

-Why the idea of moderation in eating is totally foreign to hunter-gatherers…[48:40]

-A simple mechanism you can use to fight your natural, ancestral tendency to overeat…[57:00]

-What lesioned rats can tell you about the mysterious “satiety factor”, and how you can maximize your own satiety factor…[64:05]

-Why the people from the Biggest Loser gain so much weight back after the competition…[75:10]

-A cortisol-like drug that causes intense, unconstrained eating, and what that means for you and your waistline…[84:45]

-And much more!

Resources from this episode:

-THE HUNGRY BRAIN: Outsmarting the Instincts that Make Us Overeat

-The book The Jungle Effect

Jack Kruse’s Leptin Reset

My podcast with Rick Rubin

Show Sponsors: 

-Oak – Meditation & Breathing –  Go to now to download the app, completely FREE.

-Kion Lean – Go to to purchase Kion Lean – Glycostat®, a concentrated extract of wild bitter melon and InnoSlim®, a blend of highly purified and fractionated Panax notoginseng and Astragalus membranaceus work in perfect synergy to support metabolic wellness, assist in weight management, and promote healthy blood glucose levels.

Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for Stephan or me? Leave your comments below and one of us will reply!

Also published on Medium.

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