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Why We Eat Like Pigs: Tips for Controlling of Compulsive Eating

Controlling compulsive eating disorder

In the mid-1970’s, the term “pig-out” was coined to describe overeating or a food binge as pigs are often seen as gluttonous or greedy. Interestingly, we can learn from this association as to why we as humans also sometimes have a compulsion to eat beyond our needs.

A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, lead by Professor Haja Kadarmideen, studied 1,200 Danish pigs over a period of four years, monitoring how much they eat and mapping their overall weight gain. Pigs are a well-known animal model for studying human obesity because of similar genomes and digestive systems.

Each of the pig’s DNA was assessed using a genomic chip technology that created a genetic profile at 60,000 locations. Kadarmideen then linked the genomic profile and eating behavior observations on all pigs to detect certain genes responsible for overeating.

The researchers found that pigs with certain genetic variants caused them to eat more food than the others.

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"This is the first study in the world looking at pig to human comparative genetic mapping to reveal key genes on the human genome (e.g. on chromosomes 6 and 17) that are known to be involved in human obesity and some new genes; together they may explain why we crave for (more and sometimes unhealthy) food and why some of us overeat, so consequently developing obesity and diabetes, both of which are key societal and public health problems," explains Dr. Kadarmideen.

The research could potentially lead to a blood test that would determine whether humans have a genetic predisposition to overeat so that lifestyle and behavioral changes could be implemented early to offset the actions of the “obesity” genes.

“Knowing what’s driving our overeating behavior is the first step to changing it,” says Dr. David Kessler MD, former FDA commissioner (not involved in the study).

Here are some of Dr. Kessler’s tips for changing how you approach food to prevent compulsive eating:
• Structure your eating -- knowing when and how you're going to eat. That plan helps you avoid the situations or foods that trigger overeating and establishes new eating patterns to replace destructive ones.
• Set rules, such as not eating between meals. If you know you're not going to eat something, he says, your brain won't be as stimulated to steer you to that food.
• Change the way you think about food. Instead of looking at a huge plate of french fries and thinking about how good it will make you feel, he advises saying that it's twice as much food as you need, and will make you feel bad. "Once you know you're being stimulated and bombarded," Kessler says, "you can take steps to protect yourself."
• Learn to enjoy the foods you can control.
• Rehearse how you'll respond to cues that set you up to overeat.

Journal Reference:
Duy Ngoc Do, Haja N Kadarmideen et al. Genome-Wide Association Study Reveals Genetic Architecture of Eating Behavior in Pigs and Its Implications for Humans Obesity by Comparative Mapping. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (8): e71509 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071509

Additional Resource:
WebMD, “Compulsive Overeating and How to Stop It”