The Story of the Great Eater

In a far away village a long time ago there was a circus that was going out of business. The circus manager was at his wit’s end. The clowns’ antics fell flat. No one wanted to see the jugglers anymore and still, others avoided the circus on the basis of animal cruelty. Then a friend suggested that he bring in the Great Eater to entertain the audience. The Great Eater was a village simpleton who had a reputation of being able to eat vast volumes of food so fast that anyone who watched him will burst out laughing. The circus manager decided to try him for one show. To his surprise, his show was a fantastic success. People flowed in to watch the Great Eater gobble plates full of cake and drink gallons of juice. Overjoyed as money jingled in his pockets, the manager requested the Great Eater to do two shows a day. The circus manager was ecstatic as people from nearby cities came in hearing of the feats of the Great Eater. The circus manager then increased the number of shows to three a day. The Great Eater obeyed willingly. Consequently, the circus became very famous. Then one day, the greedy circus manager asked the Great Eater to perform four shows a day. Hearing this he became pale. ‘Sir,’ he said hesitantly ‘if you make me work so hard four times a day, when will I eat?’

Whaaaaat??? Precisely my reaction when I read this story years ago. The story of the Great Eater might be a humorous exaggeration but the fact is that such behavior is not uncommon. The human motivation to reach out for food is not always because of hunger pangs. According to a national survey conducted in the United States of America, an estimated 2.8 million people have binge eating disorder which is a form of food addiction. Unlike our good old Great Eater, people with binge eating disorder have a feeling of extreme guilt after such episodes. Coupled with the environment we can conveniently blame this on our genes. Of course. DRD2 a gene that encodes for a biochemical called dopamine receptor is the primary culprit. In a study published in 2016, 24% of Asian Americans who carry the risky form of this gene have greater carbohydrate and fast food cravings leading to their consumption irrespective of their energy needs. Interestingly this gene also induces people into common forms of addiction like alcohol, smoking, and drug abuse. A simple explanation for this is that dopamine invokes a sense of satisfaction in the person. The same kind of satisfaction you feel when you are rewarded for good work. Food addicts will commonly find themselves saying that they feel safe when they eat and that the food does not “judge” them. In the Kardashian era, that seems fair enough.

Good news is that food addicts generally go to great lengths to become free of their ailment, compared to other forms of addiction where the victims are chained to their addictive behavior. Psychologists believe that this active pursuit to be relieved is primarily due to the society’s ruthlessness towards people who are oversized. Dr. Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of the book The Search for Fulfilment, says that, though it has become an offense to make racist and sexist comments on people, it is somehow still acceptable to make fun of someone’s size. Ironically, this kind of societal pressure encourages a lot of people to change their food habits and the hit the gym more often.

The most important worry for a food addict is ‘Will I ever be able to eat a cheeseburger again?’.Well, this is logical, since smokers quit smoking and must never smoke again if they are to become free from it. So it is always a binary situation for most forms of addiction. So if I have to quit eating burgers, I can never eat even one again? Not true. You guys are in luck. Simply because one has to eat to sustain themselves. I am again going to bring in your genetics. Globally, 42% Caucasians, 5% Africans and 21% Asians harbour the risk variant of a gene called, FTO giving it its nickname the “fat gene”. This gene however has an alternative expression where, people who have one of its variant, can reduce their craving down to almost nothing only if they include a lot of protein in their meals. So that’s it! Eat broccolis for breakfast for a whole month and reward yourself with a fat soaked burger on the last day. No one told the poor old Great Eater this. The guy would at least have had more time to eat.

All this is great to hear, but getting the best out of yourself is only going to work when you make a decision to be healthy and stay healthy and take the necessary steps towards it. You have an army of soldiers inside your body dedicated to your well being. Make use of them and live a long fulfilling life!