What is food noise? How drugs like Ozempic can help

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Amelia Willson 

last updated: Jul 21, 2023

7 min read

Do you find yourself constantly thinking about food, planning your next meal, or trying to ignore cravings? Say hello to “food noise,”: an often incessant, bothersome, and distracting stream of consciousness about food. Some amount of food noise is normal and healthy, but when it gets to be too much, it can stymie weight loss efforts and be exhausting to deal with.

Read on as we explore what food noise is, exactly, and share tips for silencing it.

What is food noise?

Food noise is an unofficial term doctors and patients have been using to describe intrusive, frequent thoughts about food. Some food noise is normal, like a craving that might pop up around mealtime. But for people who live with food noise, they aren’t just thinking about what they might make for dinner, they’re facing a constant chatter even when they’re full. They may find themselves constantly planning their next meal or snack, ruminating over their eating behaviors, or obsessing over whether what they’re eating is healthy or not.

And while the presence of food noise may be looming for some, it’s actually the absence of it that’s been making headlines. The New York Times and others have reported the silencing of the phenomenon as a welcome but unexpected side effect among people using medications like Ozempic and Wegovy: two drugs used for treating diabetes and spurring weight loss. 

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How does food noise impact weight loss?

To put it simply, food noise makes it hard to lose weight. People who have a lot of food noise tend to be occupied with food even when their body isn’t sending hunger signals, which can make it difficult to lose weight and keep it off. Studies show that people who think more about snacks are more likely to snack more often, particularly on high-calorie foods.

Food noise is more common among people who are actively dieting, as well as people with higher body weights. People who are overweight or obese tend to have more food cravings, as well as thoughts about food and their body weight or shape. Women are also more likely to report trying to suppress food noise.

Unfortunately, trying to suppress food-related thoughts only makes you more likely to experience cravings, binge eat, and engage in other disordered eating behaviors.

Why you need some food noise

As frustrating as it can be, food noise comes from a good place. It’s your body’s way of telling you you need more fuel, an essential part of staying alive. Food noise becomes a problem when the gut-brain connection gets out of whack. 

Your brain and your gut communicate constantly and a complex network of digestive hormones plays a crucial role in helping you feel hungry or full. These include ghrelin (the “hunger” hormone), leptin (the “fullness” hormone), gut peptides like glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP). 

Together, these hormones regulate your appetite as well as how your body stores or burns fuel in the form of fat. But sometimes, these hormones can be too high or too low. Or, they may not signal as well as they should to the brain, due to an underlying condition like type 2 diabetes, or radical ups and downs in blood sugar levels that can be more common when eating processed foods. This can lead to increased food noise even when you aren’t hungry, cravings, and unavoidable weight gain

Some medications target these pathways specifically, like GLP-1 medications Ozempic, Wegovy, and others. Originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes, some GLP-1 medications are now also prescribed for weight loss. GLP-1 agonists lead to weight loss by slowing down digestion (so you feel full longer). But, GLP-1 drugs also appear to affect the gut-brain connection. Not only do you feel full because digestion is slower, you feel full because the medication tells your brain you’re full

Indeed, people who take GLP-1 medications often report fewer cravings for junk foods, and increased satiety, or fullness. Some research suggests that GLP-1 may even affect your dopamine levels in response to food. By making food less rewarding, people may be less likely to overeat. 

Studies show that these medications can change your feelings about food quickly. Within 12 weeks of taking semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy), people with obesity reported eating less, while experiencing a reduced appetite and fewer cravings — in particular less of an affinity for calorie-rich foods.

How Ozempic affects food noise

Though scientists still aren’t exactly sure how, it appears that Ozempic and other GLP-1 agonist medications like it, may be able to actually put that pesky food noise to rest. People using the drugs report a sudden silence in their otherwise constant thoughts around food, allowing them to focus on other tasks and enjoy other things without constantly snacking (or thinking about it). 

GLP-1 agonist medications were initially designed and prescribed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes for their ability to regulate blood sugar, but doctors and patients alike couldn’t help but notice their added bonus: the drugs made people feel fuller longer by slowing the transit of food through the digestive system. This helped people reduce their food intake and lose weight––an added benefit since the vast majority of people with type 2 diabetes also have obesity. Also, weight loss is a proven way to help control type 2 diabetes for people who have overweight. 

And while the precise way in which Ozempic and similar drugs put a stop to food noise may not be clear yet, there’s no doubt that the drugs’ effects on this often all-encompassing background chatter is another welcome discovery for patients and their doctors looking for ways to get a handle on their weight. 

Ozempic Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

Other ways to help silence food noise

Trying to shut out food noise is a lot like trying to forget the spoiler you just read for the next Marvel movie: it doesn’t work. Mentally trying to drown out food noise is exhausting, and can actually backfire, leading you to eat in an attempt to quiet the thoughts.

Try a different approach instead. If you’re tired of hearing food noise, these tips can help.

1. Manage your stress

Feeling stressed is linked with overeating. Chronic stress of daily life is pervasive but finding ways to manage it may have a serious effect on weight. Research shows a significant correlation between stress and BMI, and stress can make us reach for calorie-dense foods that may be tasty, but aren’t so great for us. Think super salty or sugary junk foods. 

Stress can also mess with your hormone levels and affect your brain’s reward processing center, further increasing food noise, appetite, and cravings.

If you notice you tend to hear more food noise when you’re stressed, consider any lifestyle changes you can make to feel more balanced, such as getting better sleep or letting go of some commitments. If that’s not possible, explore different stress management techniques, such as yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises.

2. Sleep well

Speaking of better sleep, the more well-rested you are, the better equipped you are to ignore food noise. You may even be less likely to hear it. 

When we don’t get enough sleep, our body tries to make up by finding energy in other ways — namely, eating. This was a good adaptation to keep us alive when we were living in the wild, but it doesn’t account for the modern availability of food. As a result, we tend to eat more than we need to, especially later at night, which may make it harder for us to fall asleep, creating an unfortunate cycle where we don’t sleep enough and we eat too much.

On the flip side, the same researchers found that when you switch from sleeping too little to getting enough sleep, you tend to eat less, and may even experience a little weight loss!

3. Avoid processed foods

What you eat can also affect how much food noise you hear. In particular, processed foods are associated with overeating and weight gain. Processed foods tend to have a lot of empty calories from refined carbohydrates, salt, sugars, and fats that make them super palatable, but not so nutritious. Researchers suspect they may disrupt the gut-brain connection, overloading our brain’s reward center and making us want to eat more.

In one study, half of participants followed an ultra-processed diet, and others followed an unprocessed diet. Those who followed an unprocessed diet for 2 weeks lost weight, while those who followed an ultra-processed diet gained weight.

So, do what you can to limit your intake of processed foods. When possible, opt for whole foods instead. 

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4. Eat more protein

While processed foods and refined carbohydrates can crank up your appetite, protein can make you feel more full, helping to quiet food noise. Studies show that protein helps strengthen GLP-1 brain signaling and increases feelings of fullness. In a study of rats, those that ate dairy or soy proteins tended to eat fewer calories

And, in a study of adult men, those who ate protein-rich diets had a stronger GLP-1 response after eating. Moreover, those who were obese but followed the protein-rich diet had even lower levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) after they ate.

Increasing your protein intake, and incorporating more protein into your meals, may relieve food noise.

5. Exercise regularly

Exercise offers many health benefits, from stress relief to improved mood and energy. For those dealing with food noise, appetite reduction may be another benefit to add to the list. 

While the effects can vary based on the individual and the type and intensity of the exercise, research shows that people who engage in exercise more regularly tend to be less likely to overeat. Specifically, research suggests that regular exercise balances out your appetite control system. Instead of overeating when you hear food noise, you are more likely to eat an amount in line with what your body needs. 

While any kind of exercise can yield benefits, aerobic exercise does seem to reduce appetite to a greater extent than resistance exercise, especially when performed at a vigorous intensity level. Find an exercise routine you enjoy, whether it’s walking your dog, going for a bike ride, or taking a class at the gym.

6. Talk to a therapist

For many people, our relationship with food goes beyond it being an energy source. We form different attitudes around food based on our upbringing, learn to associate different cues with food or develop eating behaviors in response to stress or other emotions. By speaking with a therapist, you can work out what’s behind your food noise. 

Therapists can also offer targeted strategies for silencing your food noise. For example, multiple studies have found that guided imagery, mindfulness-based body scanning, and thought suppression techniques can help reduce cravings and thoughts about food. 

The key is learning to listen to your body. Whatever techniques you use from this list, you’re already one step ahead by acknowledging the food noise in your head. The more you come to understand your food noise, the better you’ll be able to distinguish whether you’re really hungry or if it’s just a passing thought. One study even found that being able to name food noise as a passing thought can reduce your likelihood of eating in response to a craving.

DISCLAIMER

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

July 21, 2023

Written by

Amelia Willson

Fact checked by

Yael Cooperman, MD


About the medical reviewer

Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.

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