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Old systems in our brain regulate appetite, eating behaviors, and manage body weight. We call this brain device the Appetite Control System (ACS). The ACS integrates information about body weight, temperature, activity level, season, reproductive cycle (in women), food availability, and expected energy needs to decide how much food is needed today. 

If you are in the weight management business you have the deepest respect for ACS. You can compare ACS programs to the programs built into computers as read-only memory (ROM). When you turn the computer on, programs are read from ROM to initiate basic computer operations. You are never of aware of ROM contents, but you experience the results. ACS programs operate spontaneously and establish your basic eating behaviors and responses to food. ACS deals in the basic patterns of life, and has a vocabulary of states such as hunger, thirst, sleep, wakefulness, flight, fight, fear, and anger to let you know why you are doing what you are doing. You cannot access ACS through your conscious mind, but ACS can access you! The way it seems to work is that you get regular messages from ACS in the form of urges, needs, desires, wants, appetites, and sometimes discomforts - "Your bladder is full now. Rush to the toilet." "You are hungry, now go and eat food." You cannot override these old programs with conscious control.

ACS establishes a weight and temperature "set-point" and tries to maintain these values even when the food supply varies a great deal. This is a complex system that is based on the oldest of life-programs. You are born with these programs in read-only-memory.

ACS works at three levels: 

Changes eating behavior

Changes metabolism

Changes physical activity 

When ACS wants you to do something, you feel hungry and are driven to find food. ACS fools consciousness most of the time to think that you have some decision-making ability, but really most of your behavior is preprogrammed and run on auto pilot. When this system says go, you are running to the refrigerator to get ice cream. You may think as your feet move you towards the goal, it would be better to have celery, but you do eat the ice cream. If ASC says "Stop!", there is no delicious morsel on earth that would tempt you enough to eat.

The appetite system is based on programs in the old reptilian brain. This system is designed to establish the most efficient path to reliably available food, then to lock in the behavior and repeat it without further modification. Our appetite system tends to run automatically at this primitive level and defies conscious attempts to alter the program. Any insightful person will be able to track the importance of food searches in their own behavior. If you watch the people around you, you will readily confirm the primacy of feeding behaviors in human social existence.

It is possible to construct a rather elaborate model of brain function in terms of the brain's attempt to regulate the molecular flow of food materials. Feeding behaviors are highly automated and seem to be designed around recursive loops, already discussed under addictive behavior. If we think of our brains as chemical processors whose first job is to steer us through a chemical soup so that we get the right stuff to function normally, a lot of human behavior makes sense or is more understandable nonsense.

If you assume the task of inventing a simple brain that self-regulates by controlling eating behavior, you might get some insight into how we and other animals operate. You would have to assume that the basic system built into old brain ROM is not very smart and could not read this book for clues as to how to modify its own behavior. You would have to start with chemical sensors (tongue and nose) and simple programs that direct food searching, eating, stopping-eating, and switching to other programs which do something else when you have had enough to eat, and so on.

The importance of Controlling Appetite