Why We Overeat: The Case of the Calorie Detecting Gut

Apparently, deliciousness is not just tongue deep. Jonah Lehrer on The Real Culprit in Overeating

In recent years, neuroscience has begun to solve the mystery of overeating. It turns out to have little to do with our taste buds, or even with our conscious desire for certain foods. Instead, the impulse to overeat depends on the pleasures of the stomach and intestines, which have an uncanny ability to detect the presence of calories. When we reach for that third helping of turkey, we are obeying the wishes of the gut, following a bodily desire that’s difficult to resist.

Consider this 2008 experiment, led by a team of scientists at Duke University. The researchers began by testing a mouse strain that, thanks to a genetic mutation, can’t taste sweetness. As a result, these mice showed no immediate preference for sugar water.

But then the scientists discovered something odd, which is that the mutant mice gradually came to prefer the sugar water, even though they couldn’t taste the sweetness. How could this be? How could an animal prefer what it couldn’t even perceive?

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