Ever open up a bag of chips planning to have a small snack, only to find yourself peering into an empty bag, just a few moments later?

 

Your brain is to blame!

 

Our rational, conscious brain thinks it’s in charge. “I eat what I want when I want it. And I stop when I want to”. But we have a lot less control than that. Behind our decision-making processes are physiological forces we’re never even aware of.

 

You see, deeper brain physiology drives what, when, and how much we eat — along with its co-pilots of hormones, fatty acids, amino acids, glucose, and body fat. For the most part, our conscious selves just come along for the ride. In this article, we’ll discuss how our brain tricks us to eating more and the physiological factors behind it, and what can you do about it.

 

 

  • HOW OUR BRAIN DICTATES US TO WHY AND WHAT TO EAT?

 

Simply put, we eat for two reasons:

 

~ Homeostatic eating:

We eat to get the energy our body needs and to keep our biological system balanced (aka homeostasis).

~ Hedonic eating:

We eat for pleasure (aka hedonism), or to manage our emotions.

Most meals are a mix of homeostatic and hedonic eating.

 

We do know that ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, stimulates our appetite. It peaks just before meals, and falls during and immediately after eating.

 

Hunger and eating are shaped by many factors, including:

 

  1. our genes
  2. social cues
  3. learned behavior
  4. environmental factors
  5. circadian rhythm
  6. our hormones

 

Once we’ve started eating, what makes us stop?

 

This is in part influenced by satiation — the perception of fullness you get during a meal that causes you to stop eating.

When we eat a meal, two physiological factors work together to tell us to put down our fork and call it quits: gastric distension (stretching and expanding of the stomach) and hormonal satiation (different hormones produced by our brain).

Together, these physiological responses (along with other hormones and signals) help you feel full and know when to stop eating.

 

Yet these still aren’t the complete picture, either.

 

Your body has a system for managing your long-term energy and nutrient needs. It’s called the leptin feedback loop.

Leptin is a hormone that’s released by fat tissue. Leptin tells the brain how much energy we’ve just consumed and how much excess energy we have stored up (as fat). The more body fat we have, the more leptin in our blood.

The brain makes decisions based on leptin levels about hunger, calorie intake, nutrient absorption, and energy use and storage. Then, it cycles back to regulate leptin production in a loop that can help keep our energy (and body weight) balanced over time.

 

  • CAN YOU FOOD INTAKE ‘CHANGE’ YOUR BRAIN?

 

As stated earlier, the leptin feedback loop helps us to feels sated and allows us to eat reasonable portions comfortably. But it can be disrupted when we eat certain types of food.

 

A diet filled with hyper-palatable (tasty), hyper-rewarding (fun), heavily processed foods can overthrow the brain’s “stop” signals.

 

In plain English, this means so-called “junk foods” that are sweet, salty, creamy, and/or crunchy (maybe all at once), and full of chemical goodness that spins our pleasure dials… but contain relatively few actual nutrients.

 

This type of diet prevents leptin from doing its job of regulating our energy balance. It can even make our brains inflamed and leptin resistant. Hence, we end up feeling less satisfied. We want to eat more. And our bodies even fight to hold on to the weight we gain.

 

Our brains love processed foods. But our bodies don’t.

These enchanting and semi-addictive foods aren’t usually very nutritious. They have more energy than we need, with fewer nutrients (i.e. vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, essential fatty acids, etc.) and fiber.

 

  • CHANGE WHAT YOU EAT, CHANGE YOUR BRAIN

 

Step 1:

Eat more whole, fresh, minimally processed foods.

This means stuff like:

 

Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and/or plant sources for your lean protein.

Fruits and vegetables, ideally colorful ones.

Slow-digesting, high-fiber starches such as whole grains, starchy tubers (e.g. potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, etc.), beans and legumes.

Nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, fatty fish and seafood for your quality fats.

 

Step 2:

Eat slowly and mindfully.

No matter what you eat, slowing down will help your brain and gastrointestinal tract coordinate their activities. It will help you feel more in control of choosing what and how much to eat.

 

Plus, since the signals are getting through properly, you’ll often feel satisfied with less food.

 

Step 3:

Eat fewer processed, hyper-palatable foods.

Step 3 can be tricky. We get it. After all, this whole article is about how appealing those foods can be.

 

 

  • WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

 

Here are a few tips to help you find the right balance and make smarter choices:

 

  1. Eat mostly whole, minimally processed foods. Whole, minimally processed foods are not hyper-rewarding or hyper-palatable. It’s harder to over-eat them. They don’t cause hypothalamic inflammation and leptin resistance.
  2. Eat enough lean protein. Protein is a satiety superstar. We’ve seen in both research and our clients: When people eat more lean protein, they eat fewer calories overall. But they feel more satisfied.
  3. Get quality carbs and healthy fats from whole, less processed foods. For carbohydrates, look for whole grains, beans and legumes, starchy tubers (such as potatoes and sweet potatoes) and fruit.
  4. Consider how you eat. Work on eating slowly. Pay attention to your own internal satiety cues. Eat without your smartphone, TV, or computer in your face.
  5. Be flexible. Recognize that it’s OK to have some of those highly-rewarding foods. Completely avoiding them, or demonizing them as “bad” or “poison” usually does the opposite of what you want: You feel like a guilty failure, and you often end up overeating or bingeing on those “banned” foods.
  6. Be aware. Cultivate an awareness of how you feel before, during and after your meals. Do you eat because you’re truly hungry, or because the clock says it’s time to eat, or because you just “feel snacky”?

 

Simply becoming more aware of your body’s cues — and how these relate to other factors — will help you better regulate your food intake. Awareness helps you make decisions that are more in line with your body’s actual needs.

 

For more, visit www.thevitamincompany.com

 

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