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Juniper Journal

Silencing food noise: How weight loss medications can help

How to suppress the persistent mental preoccupation with food.

Silencing food noise: How weight loss medications can help
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When it comes to weight loss, addressing your physical health is only part of the journey.

The psychological impacts of weight management, particularly when it comes to how we think and feel about food, still remain a relatively overlooked area of study.

One such area that has gained attention recently is the concept of ‘food noise,’ a term used to explain the persistent mental preoccupation with food.

The increased awareness around food noise has grown in recent years, seemingly in tandem with the prevalence of GLP-1 medications being utilised as a clinical treatment for people who are overweight or obese.

While these medications have proven themselves incredibly effective at helping people lose weight (with one weight loss drug helping average patients lose up to 15% of their body weight in 1 year) [1], they have also emerged as an unexpected tool in helping individuals with their years-long struggle with this internal food obsession.

What is food noise?

Food noise refers to the incessant mental chatter that revolves around eating. It's often a combination of thoughts about what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat, which can overshadow other aspects of life.

Though this kind of 'one-track thinking' is commonly linked to people who experience eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa [2], it is increasingly being recognised in people who are overweight or obese.

"Essentially what it means is constantly having food on your mind," Dr Ben Condon, a specialist GP at Juniper explains. "Whether it be thinking about that next snack, or you've just eaten but you're already thinking about your next meal."

The conversation around food noise has made it to mainstream media outlets [3] and TikTok, where explainer videos now have billions of views.

TikTok user @summerthedietitian explains it in a video as "head hunger" that sounds like "food calling to you".

"You could have just had a full nutritious, satisfying meal and yet the cookies in the cupboard are calling to you," she says. "A lot of people will have to describe that they have to white knuckle against the food noise to adhere to their best intentions of a healthy diet... it doesn't shut up until you remove yourself from that environment or rely on willpower or some other strategy to avoid."

What does food noise sound like?

Food noise sounds different for everyone. It can be an internal monologue of words and thoughts about food, or a constant hum or fuzz that distracts one's thoughts, making it challenging to focus on anything beyond obtaining food.

"I explain it as a radio being on in the background," Dr Condon says. "A lot of patients say that radio has been turned off and they just don't think about food as much, which in turn means that they're able to make better and more conscious decisions about their food intake, but also focus on other things.”

Why do some people experience food noise more than others?

More research is needed, however, it is possible to identify some contributing factors. 

Past dieting

Previous unsuccessful dieting attempts can amplify food noise, particularly if the cycle of restriction and binging has been a lifelong experience.

Emotional associations

People who are overweight or obese may have emotional associations with food, using it as a source of comfort or reward. These emotions can become heightened during periods of stress, perpetuating the cycle of eating issues such as binge eating or strict rules around diet.

Societal or environmental pressure

Societal emphasis on weight and body image can contribute to heightened awareness of eating habits and one's body.

Dr Condon believes there could be some links between an individual's brain patterns and this internal food monologue.

“We know that an increased amount of food noise exists in people that are overweight or obese compared to those that are not, and we think it absolutely plays a role in their weight gain or their inability to lose weight,” Dr Condon says.

"We know that appetite and craving food has a lot to do with the reward centre in the brain, so there's how that would play a role."

How to quiet food noise

Addressing food noise can involve a combination of interventions to find out what works for you. Lifestyle adjustments, seeking out qualified medical professional advice, and where necessary, medical interventions such as weight loss medication, can all play a role.

Work out what's driving it

Begin by recognising the external cues that contribute to your food noise. Keep a food journal to track instances of overeating or mindless eating, noting the circumstances that surrounded those moments. While it may sound simple, this kind of journaling can help establish healthy behaviours [4].

Try clinically proven weight loss medication

Weight loss medications work to reduce appetite and alter the gut-brain connection, making you feel fuller for longer. This increase in satiety stops the brain from sending hunger signals, potentially causing a reduction in food chatter.

Dr Condon believes that while this food noise reduction appears to be a common experience with GLP-1 treatments, it's important to consider what this can do for weight maintenance long term.

"Having that 'turn down' while you're on medication allows you to develop better habits and have more intent around some food choices," he says. "That behaviour change that we're trying to achieve in conjunction with the medication is hopefully going to then hold you in good stead once you come off the medication."

Implement lifestyle and habit changes

  • Mindful eating: Engage in mindful eating practices to recognise fullness cues and foster a healthy food mindset that includes regular and adequate eating.
  • Reduce triggers: Whether it's no longer keeping chocolate in the cupboard or no longer driving past your favourite fast food outlet, removing food triggers can ease the mental load of having to 'white knuckle' against food constantly.
  • Professional guidance: Seek guidance from healthcare professionals who specialise in weight management and healthy eating. Juniper's medical and health coaching team can offer personalised strategies to establish a healthy relationship with food as part of the Weight Reset Program.
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  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0140673618317732
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34713460/
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/21/well/eat/ozempic-food-noise.html
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568610/
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