Intermittent Fasting with Potato Chips

Food Noise – in Our Heads and All Around Us

The revolution in obesity treatment has brought surprising new discoveries along with a lot of unsettling change. Among those discoveries is that food noise is a big part of living with obesity for many people. The noise of food cues all around us sets up intrusive thoughts. It can come to dominate the lived experience of a person with obesity. Jaime Fivecoat, founding chair of the Obesity Action Coalition, describes it as “the chorus” inside his head that went quiet only when she found effective treatment. Kimberly Chauche told Scientific American that silencing this noise for her was a surprising and almost immediate effect of semaglutide for obesity:

“All of a sudden it was like some part of my brain that was always there just went quiet. It felt almost surreal to put an injector against my leg and have happen in 48 hours what decades of intervention could not ac­complish. If I had lost almost no weight, just to have my brain working the way it’s working, I would stay on this medication forever.”

Does this have implications for policy to address the rise of obesity in the population?

Ultra-Processed and Ultra-Noisy

For decades, public policy related to obesity has cycled through efforts to identify bad food and steer people away from it. First it was high-fat foods. Then it was simple carbs and sugar. Now the thinking is that ultra-processed foods are the villain, perhaps because they are hyper-palatable.

But the good-food/bad-food paradigm has not gotten us very far in efforts to reduce the prevalence of obesity. We are four decades into a relentless rise in obesity. As we reach the limits of how many people are susceptible, the trend is shifting toward a rise in more severe forms of obesity.

Could it be that we are failing to appreciate the role of ubiquitous food noise in prompting this rise of ever more severe obesity?

Knock-On Effects

Already, the food industry is beginning to appreciate that shutting down food noise for people living with obesity might change their business model. For example, Nestlé has made a strategic decision to adapt. Also, Lilly CEO David Ricks is telling food companies they will have to re-shape their approach to food and its marketing. Because when more people become resistant to an eat-more food environment, it will be a business imperative.

Clearly, shutting down the food noise all around us has benefits for people living with obesity. Since about 75% of the population lives with overweight or obesity, it has implications for many people. And it may also have implications for bending the curve of obesity prevalence back down.

Click here for more on food noise from Scientific American. For our recent presentation on this subject during Nutrition 2024, click here.

Intermittent Fasting with Potato Chips, photograph by Ted Kyle / ConscienHealth

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


June 28, 2024

One Response to “Food Noise – in Our Heads and All Around Us”

  1. June 29, 2024 at 8:48 am, Michael Jones said:

    I think it will be important as we move forward in our understanding and ability to effectively treat obesity not to create a false dichotomy. It is possible, and I believe a near certainty, that there are effective therapies, such as the GLP-1 receptor agonists AND there are also types of foods that our organ systems do not best function with when being forced to use as fuel. I have had many patients on these medications with lackluster health improvements if we do not get aggressive in helping them to “clean up” how they’re fueling their bodies.