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The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat Hardcover – February 7, 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
About the Author
Stephan J. Guyenet, Ph.D. is an obesity researcher and health writer whose work ties together neuroscience, physiology, evolutionary biology, and nutrition 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 is a frequent speaker on topics of obesity, metabolism, and nutrition.
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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! :)
He's written about some of the most compelling nutrition topics over the past decade or so, and this book fleshes out one of the most interesting: why the non-conscious brain plays such a big part in overeating, and how we can address that. The "we" includes you, your family/friends, clinicians, and public health decision-makers.
Here are some reasons why this book is especially good:
1) It's written clearly
Some well-meaning scientists write books that are overly long, repeating themselves over and over and not having a central thesis or practical recommendations. Stephan has always been a clear writer, and this book reflects that. Plus the language isn't too technical for a layperson. For example:
"The hypothalamus doesn't care what you look like in a bathing suit next summer, and it doesn't care about your risk of developing diabetes in ten years. Its job is to keep your energy balance sheet in the black, and it takes that task very seriously because it was essential for survival and reproduction in the time of our distant ancestors"
2) It discusses actual experiments, in-depth
You cannot truly understand a topic this complex without knowing the history of evidence behind it. This book covers a range of evidence, from bench science experiments, to randomized trials in the US, to observational evidence in indigenous cultures, like the Yanomamo of the Amazon and !Kung San of the Kalahari desert.
3) It has pictures!
The illustrations are actually really well-done and useful.
Overall, this is a great read. If you're a nutrition nerd, I'd highly recommend taking a gander.
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.