Have We Finally Found the Cure for Obesity?

Harvard scientists are excited about the thunder god vine. Nutrition Diva? Not so much.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #339

"Could Chinese ‘thunder god vine’ plant be cure-all for obesity?"

That was the headline of a recent news story about a Harvard University study on a Chinese herb called the thunder god vine. Mice given an extract from this herb lost their appetite. As a result, they started eating a lot less and they lost a lot of weight. Researchers speculate that if the extract has a similar effect in humans, it could be a powerful weapon against obesity.

Except for the fact that hunger is not the only reason we eat.  

Sure, we sometimes eat because we're hungry. But we also eat when we're bored, stressed, or tempted by appealing food—even when we aren't hungry at all. In fact, I would argue that most of the calories responsible for excess weight are consumed when we're not actually hungry. 

That’s why I don’t think that a drug (or herb) that reduces our appetite is necessarily going to lead to massive weight loss. At best, it will make things a bit easier for those who are already resolved to restrict their food intake, regardless of their desire to eat. If committed dieters experience less hunger, they may find it easier to stick to their plan. But absent the plan and the commitment, I can't see such a drug making a big difference for those who are struggling to lose weight.

See also: How to Create Your Own Best Diet and How to Lose Weight Without Dieting

If you’re looking to cut calories, doesn’t it make sense to start with the ones you eat when you’re not hungry? Here are some of the most common reasons people eat when they aren't hungry—and how to inoculate yourself.>

How to avoid eating when you’re not hungry

1. Boredom. Sometimes we eat because we can't think of anything better to do. We turn to food as a source of stimulation or entertainment—regardless of our level of hunger.

(Procrastination, by the way, is a closely related trap: we eat because we’re avoiding doing what we’re supposed to be doing, like paying bills or writing that report.)

The antidote to boredom eating is to get yourself out of the kitchen and into some diverting activity, ideally something that ties up your hands. Give yourself a pedicure. Play Frisbee or with the dog or Wii with the kids. Call a friend.

If you notice that boredom eating tends to strike at predictable times, such as early evening or Saturday afternoon, sign up for a regular activity during those times—a dance class, a massage, a knitting circle, or a choir rehearsal.

(If you’re using food to procrastinate, then it’s probably pretty obvious what you should be doing instead. )

2. Habit. If you frequently snack in front of the TV or computer, your brain will quickly start to associate those activities with food—regardless of your actual hunger level. Chances are you barely notice what or how much you’re eating, because your mind is focused on something else. You need to break this association. Make the TV or computer room a no-snack zone. Chew a stick of gum while watching TV or working on the computer.

See also: How to Overcome an Unsupportive Environment


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.