Controlling our appetites: Does biology defeat reason?

LIFE is full of mystery, some interesting, some just quirky.

How can two people with little or nothing in common, on the face of it at least, sustain a solid, life-long, fulfilling relationship? Is there life on Mars? Where are the Irish crown jewels? The third secret of Fatima? Marmite?

And, as so many of us, unfortunately, have had to accept, what drives an individual’s appetite? What makes someone who has already enjoyed a good meal eat more than is prudent? Is it a kind of insecurity, a need for some deep, visceral reassurance during the shortening days of early winter?

Not so long ago these questions were seen as matters of self-discipline, of self-control. Gluttony is, after all, regarded as one of the seven deadly sins in the Christian tradition. They were seen through a moral prism that suggested human weakness was at the root of over-eating and, later, obesity.

Not so any longer. Science has come to realise that each of us has a different biology and reacts to stimulus in different ways — one man’s tripe and drisheen is another man’s chocolate fondant.

Science also suggests that there has been an overemphasis on personal responsibility and blame. This will appeal to those of us who cannot sustain a diet beyond two days — or at least so their detractors will argue. Understanding what drives an appetite to excess remains a mystery and its resolution will be a huge contribution to improving human health.


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