What if ‘Food Noise’ Is Just … Hunger?

Before 2022, there was barely a whisper about it. Now the concept of “food noise” is ubiquitous on social media; a quick TikTok search, for instance, finds that videos related to “food noise explained” attracted 1.8 billion views as of this summer. Coined to name the experience of thinking about food, longing for food, planning our next meal and so on, “food noise” is a slick rebrand of some of the most basic human drives: hunger, appetite, craving. But now these are being framed as bugs, rather than features. We should resist this reframing.

References to “food noise” invariably appear in connection with the new, much-hyped class of drugs that often induce weight loss, such as Ozempic and Wegovy. To be critical of the concept of food noise isn’t to doubt that some people have come to experience their former relationship with hunger this way while taking these drugs, with their powerful appetite-suppressive effects. But to call something noise is to go beyond describing it: It’s to invoke the normativeclaim that simply loving food, letting food occupy our thoughts and responding to our hungeris suspect. It isn’t.

It’s one thing to argue that the end of weight loss justifies the means of appetite suppression for some patients (alongside, of course, these drugs’ important role in treating type 2 diabetes), though there’s room to disagree with even that; as a critic of fatphobia and the relentless pressure to shrink yourself, I would stress the science showing that weight loss is not the magic bullet it’s made out to be. But regardless of how you come down on this issue, making the implicit argument — through the term “food noise” — that appetite itself is a problem to be solved should be a bridge too far for all of us.

The idea that we should not be ignoring our hunger cues is familiar from critiques of diet culture; the idea that we should not be silencing our hunger either is, to my mind, equally compelling. As someone with a long history of trying to tamp down my hunger with appetite suppressants — from over-the-counter “supplements” to prescription Adderall — what ultimately got to me was not just the side effects: It was the way trying to override my hunger was an exercise in self-alienation. When we are hungry, our bodies tell us to eat, almost literally, issuing cries and calls and pleas that constitute bodily imperatives. We silence or ignore that inner voice of need at the expense of accepting our animal nature — and with it, our humanness.

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