Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Psychology of Starvation

as my AP psych class has been going on through the school year, i've noticed a lot of aspects of it that relate to ana, explaining hunger and other aspects that challenge us, or explaining why we do the things we do. because that's psychology: the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes. ana is ALL ABOUT behaviors and mental processes. so i've compiled a little essay with my findings, after doing a little research out of the textbook...

"The Psychology of Starvation"


It's a cold winter in Poland, 1942. Inside of Auschwitz, a boy's father has just been killed. This murder was not committed by a Nazi, but in fact by his own son. The cause: a single piece of bread hidden under the man's pillow. In these camps, where food was scarce and many starved to death, people fought like wild dogs over the smallest morsel. Without thought of the emotional consequences, they would do anything for food. We become, simply, desperate. Whether forced or self-inflicted, the psychology of starvation is relatively universal.

But what makes us hungry? What makes us crave? How, exactly, is appetite spurred? And, more importantly, how can we manipulate these processes to work in our favor in the quest for perfection?

Scientific studies have proven that the female neuron is more capable of surviving starvation. Perhaps this helps explain why so many more females starve themselves and have eating disorders than males, along with social and cultural gender/appearance expectations. So why not take advantage of this, ladies? If we can make it, why not do it?


Several biological factors contribute to hunger and appetite, including many in the brain. One of the most important components of the Limbic System in the brain is the hypothalamus. Located just below (hypo) the thalamus, the hypothalamus is controls autonomic functions such as heartbeat and breathing, and is involved in emotion, sleep, and, most importantly, appetite. It controls all of our drives, including our drive to eat. There's not much of a way to get around this drive, but, unlike heartbeat, the drive to eat can be ignored with a little willpower.

Several hormones also play roles in appetite. Some increase appetite: insulin comes from the pancreas and regulates blood glucose levels; orexin is produced by the hypothalamus, which enduces appetite; ghrelin is produced by your empty stomach, telling your brain to eat. To regulate blood sugar levels, stay away from artificial sweeteners (the chemicals tell your brain to absorb more fat, anyway!) and use natural sugars. Natural sugars are healthier than table sugar and have less disastrous impact on your waistline. Eat sweet fruits like apples to boost your blood glucose levels and reduce appetite. To fill your stomach and keep it from producing more ghrelin, DRINK WATER! Just like in the Cannon-Washburn Experiment, in which Washburnaair and feel no hunger, water works the same way. Just fill your stomach; it doesn't matter what you fill it with.


Food is a choice. Every human has the universal drive to eat, because in the long run we need calories to survive. But we choose when to eat, how much, what to eat. It's all in the mind. Some things we cannot help, but many things we can control.

One of the most simple and dominant psychological factors in desire to eat is when food draws our attention. The sight or smell of food hits our sensory receptors, causing neurons to fire and getting our brain to start thinking about food, imagining the taste, and eventually wanting it.

The power of suggestion is also very powerful. Commercials take advantage of this to the fullest extent, displaying the food, showing people eating the food, talking about the food, etc. After seeing a PopTart commercial, even if we weren't hungry before, we want one. Seeing others eating also demonstrates the power of suggestion. Just like some people want to smoke a cigarrette if others around them are smoking, even if they've just put one out, we feel hungry when we see other people eat. The solution to the Power of Suggestion: stay away. Skip commercials when you have conrtol of the remote, or distract yourself when you're watching TV with others by finding something else to occupy yourself with or finding an excuse to leave the room. Avoid situations where other people are eating. Skip lunch to go to the library, or, if you need a pass like at many schools to go to the library for lunch, sit in a bathroom stall during lunch. And remember that the power of suggestion also works in our favor, such as looking at thinspo and reading thinspo quotes.

There is also a universal attraction to sweet and salty. Have you noticed that most of your cravings fall under one of these categories? Think about amusement parks and movie theaters. What kinds of foods do they sell? Popcorn, ice cream, pretzels, chips, candy... all the sweets and salts. You really want to avoid placing yourself around these foods. If you really feel a craving coming on, try 100 Calorie Smartpop bags by Orville Redenbacher for salt cravings, and kiwi fruit or a single bite of candy (such as a single Starburst or Jolly Rancher) for sweet cravings.

We also feel hungry according to our routine. If we normally eat breakfast before school, lunch at noon, snack after school and dinner at five, we become hungry around these times. If we keep these times sporadic, we don't have a regular time to become hungry.

One last tidbit: blue is said to be an appetite suppressant, because so few blue foods exist in nature. So if you're thinking about redecorating your room, consider adding blue to the color scheme.


Always remember: our stomach controls short-term hunger, and our brain controls long-term hunger. Because of our brains plasticity (ability to adapt), both can be manipulated into full-on starvation mode. Our stomachs become accustomed to a fast in a matter of days, and as we fast more frequently our brain reduces the feeling of hunger. Hunger is all about science. There are ways to manipulate it, change it, and control it. Food, on the other hand, is always a choice. It's not the endurance of starvation that causes us to fail during a fast, but the inability to make the right choice. It's always a choice. And those who choose to say "No," to food, are saying "Yes," to thin.


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