Food Cues

eyes-have-it-shutterstock_83972737-617x416By: Nikki Nies

Eating doesn’t occur when we’re just hungry, right?  I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but it’s good to reiterate that. Overeating can be due to a multitude of factors.  When there’s more than one factor at large, the odds are against someone that they’ll come out victorious.  Food cues have more power over our food choices than we may like to admit, but have found a place in our society and are here to stay!  Food cues can be contributed to classical conditioning–an unconscious  stimulus occurs, with foods associated with a logo, song or place.

Internal cues include a variety of bodily signals–hormones, sensations of hunger, satiation, nerve signals, neurochemicals–chemical messengers in the brain are released about 20 minutes after one’s done eating.  So, when one eats very quickly and doesn’t allow 20 minutes in between eating and second helpings, one can overeat since one’s not letting the body to tell the brain “enough has been eaten.”

External cues derive from the environment–i.e. lighting, aroma, work schedule, place, advertising bargains, background music, visual of tasty food, etc. A chart at provides a great chart on hidden cues that are often mistaken as hunger.

There isn’t an across the board stimulation of the brain amongst foods.  What I mean is, high sugar and fat foods (i.e. soda and french fries), are very powerful stimuli.  The intense stimuli trumps the negative feedback signals of satiety.  In essence, we’re more likely to eat larger meals and snacks when they’re higher in sugar and fat content due to their more palatable taste.   

Furthermore, studies have shown brain scans of normal weight individuals in comparison to those overweight and obese.  In obese, individuals exhibit increased corticolimbic-striatal activation in response to favorite-food and stress cues and that these brain responses mediate the relationship between food craving.


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