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Humans are ‘designed to eat,' says obesity psychologist

The human brain and body are “designed to eat,” says an Oklahoma City psychologist who works with obese people.
BY DAVID ZIZZO Published: May 13, 2011
/articleid/3567367/1/pictures/1417016">Photo - Jim R. Keller <strong>Provided by Jim R. Keller</strong>
Jim R. Keller Provided by Jim R. Keller

“They can't do the things they want to do,” he said. “That's where the depressive disorders are most likely to creep in.” Those include social anxiety and claustrophobia that make people uncomfortable in confined spaces or large groups of people. “Tons of people (say), ‘I just cannot stand the crowd at Walmart,'” he said.

Another misconception, even among physicians, Keller said, is that obesity is a purely psychological or behavioral problem.

“Lazy, undisciplined, uncontrolled eating, lack of willpower,” he said. “But the biology of obesity is enormous.”

There definitely is a “personal responsibility” factor to losing weight, he said. However, some people can be hungrier than others because the “biology of the machine” that is the human body actively resists dieting, he said. “Fat cells don't like to be shrunk.”

Ironically, some of the same research that guides the weight-loss industry also is used by the food industry to design advertising and marketing strategies, said Keller, who used to work in the food industry.

The industry takes advantage of psychological, biological and social factors that trigger hunger and eating, along with human instincts and weaknesses, he said. For instance, it creates commercials with tantalizing images and runs them at times of the day when people are relaxed and possibly bored, thus more susceptible, he said.

Combined with high fat, salt and sugar contents, he said, it's “just irresistible to the human animal.”

Still, Keller said, there are effective ways to lose weight and keep it off. Begin with an understanding of how the human machine works, he said, then “make this machine feel safe ... well-fed, well-hydrated.”

“That makes the psychology of decision-making (and) behavioral control easier.”


Walk planned

A Walk from Obesity will be Saturday in Oklahoma City to raise money for research, education, prevention and treatment of obesity. The event will begin at 10 a.m. at the 1.5-mile paved track at Earlywine Park, 3033 SW 119. Similar walks are scheduled in other cities during the spring. “The walk creates awareness for the obesity epidemic,” said Barry Keith, owner of Journey Clinic, a bariatric surgery weight loss clinic in Moore that is organizing this year's walk. Cost to participate is $25 for adults and free for children 12 and younger. Proceeds go to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Foundation and the Obesity Action Coalition.

To learn more

For information or to register, go to


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