Shape and Noise of Motorcyclist

Food Noise: All in the Ears of the Listener?

We are hearing a cacophony lately – lots of noise about food noise. Part of what we hear is a celebration. Some people are finding blessed relief from it when they take advanced medicines for obesity like semaglutide or tirzepatide. Others see a threat in the relief that those people are finding. They deny that food noise is even a real concern. We should all think of it as music, not noise, they say.

More impressive to us, however, is the work of scientists to better define this phenomenon that has so many people buzzing. This is scientific curiosity at work.

High Sensitivity to Food Cues

Daisuke Hayashi and colleagues recently published a conceptual model for high sensitivity to food cues. They relate this to the rising reports of food noise and explain why this is important:

“As GLP-1 receptor agonists, like semaglutide, emerge as effective treatments for weight management, anecdotal reports from patients and clinicians alike point to a reduction in what has been colloquially termed “food noise,” as patients report experiencing less rumination and obsessive preoccupation about food. In this narrative review, we discuss concepts used in studies to investigate human eating behavior that can help elucidate and define food noise, particularly food cue reactivity.”

Real and Troubling Experiences

The relentless prompts to eat that we (with the help of resourceful food marketers) have built into contemporary life are very troublesome for some people. They may find these intrusive thoughts themselves to be a big problem. Or the eating behaviors they prompt may be most troubling because they contribute to obesity and its effects on their health.

Regardless, there is no denying that these people have very real and distressing experiences with food noise. Increasingly, they report that obesity medicines have given them great relief. Wendy Gantt describes this for the New York Times:

“It was like a sense of freedom from that loop of, ‘What am I going to eat? I’m never full; there’s not enough. What can I snack on?’” she said. “It’s like someone took an eraser to it.”

Respecting Diverse Experiences

Even though our food environment is more full of food cues now than in the past, this phenomenon is not a problem for everyone. Writing in the Times, philosopher Kate Manne dismisses the idea of problematic food noise altogether:

“Food noise should not be treated as pathological and medicated away. Rather, we might call it ‘food music,’ and dance to it.”

Maybe that works for her. But one size does not fit all. Respecting that different people have different experiences and thus face different problems is essential for living together in harmony and good health.

For the folks who are distressed and harmed by food noise, we are grateful for scientists with curiosity driving them to explain it. We are grateful, too, for effective options to deal with it.

Click here for the paper by Hayashi et al, here, here, and here for further perspective.

Shape and Noise of Motorcyclist, artwork in paper and tempera by Giacomo Balla / WikiArt

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January 6, 2024

4 Responses to “Food Noise: All in the Ears of the Listener?”

  1. January 06, 2024 at 10:07 am, Allen Browne said:

    When your energy management system is working properly, “food noise” is not a problem. The question is what makes it go awry, drive the accumulation of an unhealthy amount of adipose tissue and then protect that unhealthy amount of adipose tissue. Anti-obesity meds are making it possible to control the problem for many, but we still don’t know why the system goes out of whack in so many people. Sounds like essential hypertension – we can treat it for most but we are not good at prevention.


  2. January 06, 2024 at 10:12 am, David Brown said:

    Is food noise a euphemism for the discomfort people experience when appetite is deranged due to imbalanced essential fatty acid intake? Excerpts: “Endocannabinoids and their G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR) are a current research focus in the area of obesity due to the system’s role in food intake and glucose and lipid metabolism. Importantly, overweight and obese individuals often have higher circulating levels of the arachidonic acid-derived endocannabinoids anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) and an altered pattern of receptor expression.”

  3. January 06, 2024 at 2:48 pm, John Dixon said:

    Food noise?
    It appears some have finally become aware of the common symptoms of the chronic disease “Obesity”.
    Yes, effective treatments do work and control these common symptoms.
    They treat the disease. Now we must seek the keys to prevention.

    • January 06, 2024 at 4:05 pm, Ted said:

      Amen, John.