Rethinking Wellness
Rethinking Wellness
"Food Noise" and Diet Drugs, Not Wanting Sweet Foods, and More

"Food Noise" and Diet Drugs, Not Wanting Sweet Foods, and More

Q&A: whether diet drugs can really quiet “food noise,” and whether it means anything for your recovery if you don’t want sweet foods

In this bonus episode, Christy answers audience questions about whether diet drugs can really quiet “food noise,” and whether it means anything for your recovery if you don’t want sweet foods. 

Resources and References


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to provide a faithful rendering of this episode, some transcription errors may have occurred. The original audio file is available above.

Christy Harrison: Hey there! Welcome to this bonus episode for paid subscribers of Rethinking Wellness. I’m Christy, and today I’m going to be answering audience questions about whether diet drugs can really quiet “food noise,” and whether it means anything for your recovery if you don’t want sweet foods. 

Now, without any further ado, let’s get into this week’s first question, which does contain the names of some diet drugs. It’s from Alexia, who writes: 

I have heard about the new weight loss drugs (Mounjaro, Wegovy, Ozempic) reducing "food noise." As far as I can tell "food noise" refers to persistent obsessive thoughts regarding food. I first learned about this from a friend who said she started taking one of these drugs to help her with her binge eating disorder. She first learned that it could be taken this way from TikTok. After watching some of the TikToks, I couldn't help but wonder if these might have been placed by the drug companies to encourage off-label prescribing of these drugs. I am starting to wonder if "food noise" might be a new way to describe food anxiety in order to medicalize it and encourage prescription drug use. There seems to be some suggestion that a hormone imbalance is at the heart of "food noise," but I don't think there is actually any scientific evidence. At the same time, I want people to have the tools they need to help them with their food issues. Do you have any insight into this question?

So thanks, Alexia, for that great question. Before I answer, I’ll just give my standard disclaimer that these answers (and this podcast in general) are for informational and educational purposes only, aren’t a substitute for individual medical or mental health advice, and don’t constitute a provider-patient relationship. 

I’m glad you’re thinking critically about this question, and I agree that the drug companies using this concept of “food noise” is very problematic. First, I’ll talk about the term food noise and how it’s being used to rebrand a normal response to restrictive eating. Then I’ll address what you said about some of the TikToks being placed by the drug companies. 

So first, what they’re calling “food noise”—persistent, obsessive thoughts of food—is really a sign of hunger, of not eating enough. Many people think that hunger is just your stomach growling, but really there are many subtler, non-stomach signs of hunger, and thinking about food all the time is one of them. 

People often will argue that they’re NOT actually hungry when they’re thinking about food—they’ll say “but I’m thinking about food even when I just ate, how could I possibly be hungry?” And I get that. But here’s the thing: if you have a longstanding energy deficit from dieting or restrictive eating, you’re probably going to experience persistent signs of hunger even when you just ate. It might not *feel* like the classic empty-stomach hunger, but it’s your body telling you that you need to eat more. 

What about people with binge eating disorder, like your friend? In those cases too, binge eating is largely driven by restriction and food deprivation. People who binge tend to think of themselves as eating “too much,” but really it’s often that they’re eating too little at non-binge times. I can definitely understand and empathize with wanting to stop the constant, persistent thoughts of food that accompany binge eating disorder. But the way to do that in the long term, without any of the nasty and potentially serious side effects of these diet drugs, is to eat enough food. 

Now of course there are people who might have started binge eating for emotional reasons and not because of deprivation initially. But at some point, pretty much anyone who binges also starts restricting, because diet culture pushes people who binge to start thinking restrictive thoughts and engaging in restrictive behaviors as a response to bingeing. So even if the bingeing began for reasons that had nothing to do with diet culture to start—like as a response to childhood trauma—eventually people feel pressured to diet in order to “make up for” having binged, and so they start restricting, too, even as the bingeing continues. The restriction just makes the bingeing worse, because it tells the body that it’s in a famine and needs to get all the food it can now, otherwise it will starve. 


So for anyone who binges, whether they have binge eating disorder or some other form of disordered eating, it’s really important NOT to restrict in response to bingeing, so that the body and the brain can start to feel more regulated and trust that food is always available. Once you’ve really and truly stopped the restriction, then you can start to work on any underlying emotional issues that may have driven the bingeing in the first place and start to learn new coping skills for them in addition to eating.

This post is for paid subscribers