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Eating Behaviour

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Eating Behaviour

Eating is a daily occurrence for most, a background habit that, while not central to our lives, occupies a portion of our time. Eating behaviour has evolved with culture and society, and thus evolution, culture, and societal beliefs have an impact on how and what we eat.

Eating behaviours are the motives and processes associated with dieting and eating habits. Research has examined the role of neural and hormonal mechanisms involved in controlling eating habits and food preferences related to healthy eating behaviours. However, poor eating behaviours have been linked to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and diet-related problems such as obesity.

What influences food preferences in eating behaviour?

Many theories and explanations exist of how food preferences can cause healthy eating behaviours. Some examples include an evolutionary explanation, behavioural explanations, and cultural influences.

Evolution

Evolutionary theory explains that food preferences are rooted in what our ancestors ate. Evolutionary theory states that food preferences are innate, and their purpose is to increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction of offspring with the same 'successful' food preferences.

Eating Behaviour [+] Evolutionary theory [+] StudySmarter

Representation of the theory of human evolution, Pixabay

Cultural influences

People from different cultural backgrounds tend to consume different types of food, which may be due to:

  • Religious beliefs Eating habits can be influenced by religious beliefs.
  • Food availability – In some countries, certain foods are available, influencing eating habits.

Behavioural influences

The behavioural approach assumes that the individual's environment influences the psychology of eating behaviour. Some behavioural theories of eating behaviour are:

  • Classical conditioning Individuals may develop associations between certain foods and specific response.
  • Operant conditioning If parents positively reinforce their children when they eat something, it increases the likelihood that they will eat it again.
  • Social learning theory An individual may mimic the response of others, such as a peer's response to a particular food, which may prevent or increase the likelihood of eating that specific food again.

What are healthy eating behaviours?

Research has examined the role of neural and hormonal mechanisms involved in maintaining healthy eating behaviours. Typically, healthy eating behaviour consists of eating only when hungry and stopping eating when full to maintain a healthy weight.

Neural and hormonal mechanisms involved in controlling eating behaviours

Changes in hormones and activity in a brain region such as the hypothalamus regulate eating behaviour. The activation of the hypothalamus and the release of certain hormones signal the brain when we are hungry or full.

The lateral hypothalamus essentially triggers hunger in response to internal and external stimuli (e.g., a low glucose level). The ventromedial hypothalamus tells you that you are full after you eat, so you stop eating (rising glucose level).

Think of the lateral hypothalamus as the 'Go' button and the ventromedial hypothalamus as the 'Stop' button.

High leptin levels, low ghrelin levels, and the activation of the ventromedial hypothalamus signal the brain that we are full.

Eating Behaviour [+] Leptin and ghrelin hormone levels when full [+]  StudySmarter

Leptin and ghrelin hormone levels when we are full, Sharon Thind, StudySmarter Originals (images from Pixabay)

High ghrelin levels, low leptin levels, and activation of the lateral hypothalamus signal the brain that we are hungry.

Eating Behaviour [+] Leptin and ghrelin hormone levels when hungry [+] StudySmarter

Leptin and ghrelin hormone levels when we are hungry, Sharon Thind, StudySmarter Originals (images from Pixabay)

Proper regulation of these hormones and functional activation of the hypothalamus leads to healthy eating behaviours.

What are unhealthy eating behaviours?

Unhealthy eating behaviours are associated with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and diet-related problems such as obesity. Researchers have proposed several explanations to explain how unhealthy eating behaviours can cause the onset and development of eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder that causes a person to maintain a deficient weight by exercising too much or suppressing their diet. People with anorexia often think they are overweight, even though this is not the case.

There are several theories to explain how poor eating behaviours can lead to anorexia nervosa, such as:

  • Biological explanation The irregular activity of neurotransmitters, such as high dopamine levels, has been linked to anorexia (Per Södersten et al., 2016). Similarly, abnormal serotonin levels can affect a person's mood enough (e.g., by causing anxiety) to trigger eating disorders (bingeing and purging).
  • Psychological explanations Dysfunctional families may be the cause of anorexia. For example, family systems theory states that people raised in an overly critical environment are more likely to develop anorexia. Body dysmorphia (the belief that you look different than you do) can also contribute to anorexia.
  • Social learning theory – People may engage in poor eating behaviours because they imitate their role models.

    If a celebrity promotes a particular diet culture, the person may imitate it, leading to anorexia.

  • Cognitive behavioural model People may develop maladaptive thought processes about their weight due to low self-esteem or unrealistic expectations of themselves. These irrational and maladaptive thoughts can cause the onset of anorexia.
  • Evolutionary explanation Some evolutionary theories exist, such as an adaptive advantage by delaying the onset of puberty (the reproductive suppression hypothesis by M.K. Surbey, 1987). This means that females can wait until the optimal time to produce offspring, which increases the survival rate of the offspring. Other species are known to do this when the environment is inadequate for reproduction. In times of high migration, those who could survive with limited food could migrate, whilst others that could not became extinct (adapted to flee famine hypothesis).

Obesity

Obesity is when a person is severely overweight and has too much fat in the body. Obesity is associated with many severe health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, etc.

There are several theories to explain how poor eating behaviours can contribute to obesity, such as:

  • Biological explanations – Individual genetic predisposition and disruption of hormone regulation can lead to obesity:

People who are obese may have inherited the gene from their parents.

People who cannot regulate leptin properly may not know when they are full and overeat, leading to obesity over time.

  • Psychological explanations Maladaptive psychological processes can cause a person to overeat, which in turn can lead to obesity:

Restraint theory Refusing certain foods for a while and then binge eating.

Disinhibition Overeating in response to a negative stimulus, such as emotional stress.

The boundary model – People who exercise restraint through dieting set boundaries/rules around their eating rather than listening to the biological signals of hunger and satiety. Over time, they become less sensitive to these signals and overeat, leading to obesity.

Ironic process theory – When trying to suppress thoughts about hunger and restriction, they are more likely to occur.

Eating behaviour - Key takeaways

  • Eating behaviours are the motives and thought processes associated with dieting and eating habits.
  • Evolutionary, cultural, and biological explanations have been proposed to explain differences in the psychology of eating behaviour among individuals.
  • Healthy eating behaviours are associated with proper activation of the hypothalamus and regulation of hormones such as ghrelin and leptin.
  • Unhealthy eating behaviours are associated with anorexia nervosa. Irregular neurotransmitter activity, dysfunctional families, or irrational thoughts that create a distorted image of oneself can cause anorexia.
  • Unhealthy eating behaviours are also associated with obesity. Inheritance of the gene from parents, disruption of leptin signalling, and maladaptive psychological eating patterns can lead to obesity.

Frequently Asked Questions about Eating Behaviour

Eating behaviour are the motives and thought processes related to diets and eating habits.

The psychology of eating is the feeling that people experience when eating or thinking about eating.

Typically, ‘normal’ eating behaviours involve eating only when an individual is hungry, stopping when full, and maintaining a healthy weight.

The importance of having eating behaviour is that it ensures that an individual remains healthy and can survive.

Some examples of the psychological reasons for eating are:

  • Restraint theory – Refusing certain foods for a while and then binge eating.
  • Disinhibition – Overeating in response to a negative stimulus, such as emotional stress.
  • The boundary model – People who exercise restraint through dieting set boundaries/rules around their eating rather than listening to the biological signals of hunger and satiety. Over time, they become less sensitive to these signals and overeat, leading to obesity.
  • Ironic process theory – When trying to suppress thoughts about hunger and restriction, they are more likely to occur.

Final Eating Behaviour Quiz

Question

Who created restraint theory?

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Answer

Herman and Mack (1975)

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What does restraint theory suggest?

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The theory suggests that people who restrict their food intake are actually more likely to overeat than those who do not.

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What is binge eating?

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Binge eating is eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time, which can cause stomach pain and distress.

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How do Herman and Mack describe restrained eaters?

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Restrained eaters are characterized as individuals who deliberately attempt to limit their food intake. These individuals tend to categorize foods into black and white categories of 'good' and 'bad' foods and create rules about how, when and what they will allow themselves to eat.

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What kind of control do restrained eaters aim to have over their food intake?

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Cognitive

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Why does attempting to control weight in this way lead to weight gain?

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Due to the individual's food consumption no longer being controlled by physiological factors but rather by cognitive ones, the restrained eater is less able to tell when they are hungry and when they are full, which often results in overeating or binging.

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Define disinhibition

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A lack of ability to control behavior, often characterized by an individual acting on impulses and disregarding consequences.

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What cognitive distortion is disinhibition a result of?

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Disinhibition is caused by a type of cognitive distortion known as 'all-or-nothing' or 'black-and-white' thinking. This means that restrained eaters will often hold the belief that eating any amount of 'bad' food will ruin their diet, meaning that they may as well eat as much as they want since the damage is already done.

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Define cognitive distortion

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An irrational or illogical pattern of thinking that often exacerbates negative thoughts.

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How can disinhibition cause obesity?

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By repeatedly experiencing episodes of disinhibition, individuals can end up consuming large amounts of calories, which can cause them to gain weight. Due to this, disinhibition can be a factor in the onset of obesity.

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Who created the boundary model?

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Answer

Herman and Polivy (1984)

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What does the boundary model suggest?

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The boundary model suggests that our food intake is on a spectrum, from hunger to satiety, upon which we have certain boundaries of how much and how little we will eat. When we enter the far ends of this spectrum, we are motivated to either eat or stop eating.

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According to the boundary model, how do we know when to eat?

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If we have not eaten enough, we pass the hunger boundary on the spectrum, which triggers biological motivation to encourage us to eat.

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According to the boundary model, how does satiety work?

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As we're eating, we should pass the satiety boundary once we have eaten enough, which encourages us to stop eating before we become uncomfortably full.

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According to the boundary model, what happens when we have not yet crossed either of the boundaries?

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In the middle of these boundaries are zones of biological indifference, wherein we do not experience any biological motivations regarding food. This means that whilst in this zone, eating is mostly controlled by cognitive factors.

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How are boundaries different for restrained eaters than non-restrained eaters?

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Restrained eaters are likely to place their own boundaries based on their intake restriction, which is usually some distance from where they would be comfortable satiated. Once they surpass their restriction boundary (or diet boundary), restrained eaters experience the 'what the hell effect', where the individual will eat way past their satiety boundary once they have passed their restriction boundary.

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What is eating behaviour?

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Answer

Eating behaviours are the motives and processes associated with dieting and eating habits.

Show question

Question

According to the evolutionary approach, what is the purpose of food preferences?

Show answer

Answer

Evolutionary theory states that food preferences are innate, and their purpose is to increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction of offspring with the same 'successful' food preferences.

Show question

Question

What cultural factors influence the preference of food? 

Show answer

Answer

  • Religious beliefs – eating habits can be influenced by religious beliefs.
  • Food availability – in some countries, certain foods are available, influencing eating habits.

Show question

Question

According to social learning theory, how can peers influence food preferences?

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Answer

An individual may mimic the response of others, such as a peer's response to a particular food, which may prevent or increase the likelihood that they will eat that specific food again.

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What is the role of ghrelin? 


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Answer

Ghrelin increases the appetite. 

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What is the role of leptin?

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Leptin decreases the appetite.

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What has been linked to healthy eating behaviours?

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Answer

Healthy eating behaviours are associated with proper activation of the hypothalamus and regulation of hormones such as ghrelin and leptin.

Show question

Question

What is anorexia nervosa? 

Show answer

Answer

Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder that causes a person to maintain a deficient weight by exercising too much or suppressing their diet.

Show question

Question

What are the biological explanations for anorexia? 


Show answer

Answer

Irregular neurotransmitter activity such as high levels of dopamine has been linked to anorexia

Show question

Question

What are the psychological explanations for anorexia? 

Show answer

Answer

Dysfunctional families may be the cause of anorexia. For example, family systems theory states that people raised in an overly critical environment are more likely to develop anorexia.

Show question

Question

According to the social learning theory, what may be the cause of anorexia?

Show answer

Answer

People may engage in poor eating behaviours because they imitate their role models. If a celebrity promotes a particular diet culture, the person may imitate it, leading to anorexia.

Show question

Question

According to the cognitive behavioural model, what are the traits of people who may develop anorexia?

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Answer

  • Maladaptive thought processes concerning their weight.
  • High levels of self-doubt.
  • Having had exposure to cultural and media norms of the ‘ideal, successful thin’ person.

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What is obesity?

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Answer

Obesity is when a person is severely overweight and has too much fat in the body.

Show question

Question

Why is obesity a big problem? 


Show answer

Answer

Obesity is associated with many severe health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Show question

Question

What are the biological explanations for obesity?

Show answer

Answer

  • People who are obese may have inherited the gene from their parents.
  • People who cannot regulate leptin properly may not know when they are full and overeat, leading to obesity over time.

Show question

Question

What are the psychological explanations for obesity?

Show answer

Answer

Maladaptive psychological processes can cause a person to overeat, which in turn can lead to obesity:


  • Restraint theory – Refusing certain foods for a while and then binge eating.
  • Disinhibition – Overeating in response to a negative stimulus, such as emotional stress.
  • The boundary model – People who exercise restraint through dieting set boundaries/rules around their eating rather than listening to the biological signals of hunger and satiety. Over time, they become less sensitive to these signals and overeat, leading to obesity.
  • Ironic process theory – When trying to suppress thoughts about hunger and restriction, they are more likely to occur.

Show question

Question

What are food preferences?

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Answer

Food preferences are an expression of a personal liking or disliking of a particular food or food group.

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According to evolutionary psychologists, what is the purpose of food preferences?

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Answer

The evolutionary theory argues that food preferences are innate, and its purpose is to increase the likelihood of survival and reproducing offspring with these same ‘successful’ food preferences.

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According to the theory of evolution, humans evolved from apes. How have diets changed throughout evolution? 

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Answer

The diets of apes consist primarily of fruits and nuts. However, the evolution of humans through ‘successful’ genes has led humans to have a more complex diet, e.g. including carbohydrates and proteins. The more complex diet provides more nutrition and gives us more energy, thus increasing humans’ chances for survival.

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What is taste aversion?

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Taste aversion refers to avoiding certain food after having a negative experience.

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What is an advantage of the evolutionary approach to food preferences? 

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Answer

It can explain why pregnant women may have morning sickness (remove things in their body that may potentially harm their child) or heave when they smell certain things.

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What are the disadvantages of the evolutionary approach to food preferences? 

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  • It is reductionist because it ignores the impact of cultural influences on food preferences. There are apparent differences between western and eastern diets; however, the evolutionary approach does not explain why this happens.
  • This approach is very simplistic as it assumes the purpose of all human actions and processes is to ensure survival.

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How do associations cause people to dislike certain foods?

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Answer

This happens when the individual eats something (unconditional stimuli) and has a natural, negative response to it, such as gagging (unconditional response). If the individual repeatedly eats it, the individual will form an association between the food (conditional stimuli) and gagging (conditioned response). Therefore, they will try to avoid it.

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How does positive reinforcement affect food preferences?

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Answer

If a parent positively reinforces their child, such as praising their child for eating the food, they are more likely to eat it again.

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How does negative reinforcement affect food preferences? 

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Negative reinforcement deters people from eating a particular food. For example, if a parent tells their child off when they eat sweets, this may stop them from eating sweets.

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What are the advantages of the behavioural approach to food preferences? 


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  • This approach may be better than the evolutionary theory to understand why people may suddenly stop liking a particular food.
  • There is plenty of evidence that shows the views of close ones or role models easily influence humans. These findings provide supportive evidence for the behavioural approach to food preferences.

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What are the disadvantages of the behavioural approach to food preferences? 

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  • Biological psychologists would disagree that the way we are nurtured influences our food preferences. Instead, they consider that humans’ genetic makeup (nature) influences our food preferences.
  • This approach is reductionist, as this account only considers experiences; instead, the biopsychosocial model may provide a better explanation. This explanation combines the major approaches in psychology and takes a more holistic approach to understanding the psychology of humans, such as food preferences.

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Are food preferences genetic?

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Answer

Biological psychologists argue that humans’ genetic makeup (nature) is what causes food preferences. For instance, certain receptors respond to a particular food, e.g., glucose has a specific receptor that responds to when someone eats something sweet, which may explain why humans eat sweet food.

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How can culture influence food preferences? 

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Answer

  • Religious beliefs – religious beliefs can influence eating habits. For example, religious Indians are less likely to eat beef.
  • Food availability – certain countries may only have certain foods available. Therefore, these individuals may prefer local ingredients that are available to them.
  • In some cultures, there are certain ways to eat food. For example, cultures where food is eaten communally may influence people’s food preferences. People may prefer to eat lots of easily shared dishes in this instance.

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Which statement suggests that cultural preferences do not influence food preferences?

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Answer

Globalisation

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What is the purpose of the system that regulates diet?

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Answer

As humans have preferences towards certain foods, these need to be regulated to try and maintain a ‘healthy’ lifestyle.  

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What is homeostasis? 


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Answer

Constant, optimum body condition.

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What is the role of the sensory nerves in the hypothalamus in terms of regulating food preferences?

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Answer

There are sensory nerves in the hypothalamus that respond to changes in glucose. These send signals to the brain that encourage people to eat or stop eating.

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What are the changes in the hypothalamus activation, glucose and hormone levels when someone is hungry?

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Answer

When someone is hungry, they tend to have low levels of glucose and ghrelin, activating the LH. This process sends a signal to the brain that they are hungry.

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