What Does the Neuroscience Research Say?
PART ONE: Research
This month, we take a side trip from the classroom and go directly into your kitchen or dining room. Many will celebrate school being out soon (unless you’re year-round or living in the Southern hemisphere). All of you will be, of course, eating. This month, I thought I would give you the science behind eating and over eating.
If you know me, you know I am skinny as a rail. But, while I might make it look easy, it’s NOT! I watch what I eat. I rarely eat desserts. I try to avoid artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and preservatives in my food. On top of that, I go out of my way to avoid so called “natural sweeteners” like high fructose corn syrup. I often eat 8-10 pieces of fruit a week PLUS loads of vegetables. All I’ve told you so far is a “no brainer. But I haven’t told you the most shocking thing yet…
How to Get the Body You Really Want
Sometimes, once a week or so, I DO eat like a pig. The question is…”How can I get away with it?” For one, I eat great 90% of the time, so I can afford to splurge. Yes, genes do play a part. But, DNA is not your destiny.
So, what can you do to keep the waistline where you want it? I’ll get to the answer in a moment. First, you should know the science behind the weight gain many adults experience.
At each developmental and maturation age, the body and brain are trying to help you survive. As a female you don’t need a bit of extra fat at age 10, but by puberty (just a few short years later) your body tries to add some, since childbearing is becoming a real possibility. Extra fat helps ensure a food source for the pregnant mom.
So why would your body try to add fat when you’re over forty, past the likely childbearing years? The answer is…it doesn’t try to do that! If anything, your body is trying to get leaner as you grow into middle age. Baloney you say! So what’s happening? Here are the top 5 myths and the 5 truths to help you get back to your slim and sexy self.
1. MYTH: Sleep is laziness and bad for your weight. TRUTH: Get more sleep. As you age, hormone fluctuations mess with your sleep schedule. But three hormones, (ghrelin, leptin and cortisol) influence appetite. When you do not get enough rest, ghrelin rises, which increases hunger. Leptin, which promotes feelings of fullness, drops. But wait – – – it gets worse! Less sleep promotes increases in cortisol, which promotes a lust for “comfort foods” – those high fat bombshells that sink your day. Get 6-8 hours of sleep a night and your weight will begin to re-regulate itself. (Motivala SJ, Tomiyama AJ, Ziegler M, Khandrika S, Irwin MR. 2009)
2. MYTH: Stop snacking. TRUTH: Make healthy snacking easier. WHAT??? Yes, it’s true. You can eat nearly all you want… but only of certain foods. So make them easy to get and easy to eat. It’s much more expensive to buy a package of pre-cut celery and carrots. They charge DOUBLE the price compared to raw celery or carrots in bulk. BUT, if you actually eat them for snacking, you’ll end up saving the money by eating less junky, pre-packaged, high fat convenience foods. Eat small servings of mixed nuts as a snack. Why? You get better satiation and you’re likely to eat less at mealtime. Plus, the artificial sweeteners (like high fructose corn syrup) are well known to be linked to obesity, not getting skinny! (Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. (2004) and Bowen J, Noakes M, Clifton PM. 2006)
3. MYTH: Eat desserts at home, not in a restaurant (to save money) TRUTH: Saving money makes you fat–eat desserts exclusively out at restaurants. Now, bear with me on this next one…. A recent study sheds light on this. Fatty or sweet foods (those hedonic foods, including desserts and other foods you consider a treat) trigger the numbing, mindless action-pathway to eat even more. (Foo H, Mason P. 2009). Your brain makes overeating tasty foods so irresistible even in the face of opposing cognitive and motivational forces. Have a plan of what you’ll eat, even if others around you eat the high calorie or high fat foods.
In short, “comfort foods” keep you well above feeling badly and put you in a numbing euphoria. Plus, when you’re around others while out in a restaurant, social pressure plus higher serotonin or dopamine might induce one to eat more! How can you combat that? You can’t easily do it, so make your meal out your one treat for the week or month and enjoy!
But at home, never keep big sweets (ice cream, pie, cake, cobbler, etc.) around. NEVER buy hedonic foods for home storage. Make ice cream (Dryers, Bryers, Ben and Jerry and Hagen-Daz, etc.), as well as every other goody, something you have to go out for. It’s OK to treat yourself weekly or monthly. But any more than that and you have got a problem! Do not store any comfort foods in your home.
(Confession: I do buy and eat just one of those separately wrapped micro Hershey’s chocolate miniatures for dessert occasionally. I also keep a tub of little hard candies in the house because they give the mouth the sweet taste with very little calories).
4. MYTH: The feeling of hunger is physical. TRUTH: In the short term, it’s all in your brain! Re-train it to ignore or postpone hunger. Start using mind over body strategies. There are three nasty things that happen in your brain that make you eat too much. One, I just mentioned in the myth above: hedonic foods make you desensitize to eating MORE hedonic foods. Second, eating can be just as addictive as drugs or gambling. The signs of eating addiction? They are a “loss of control” over your eating and it starts to affect your overall well-being.
Third, when you get slightly hungry (plus a little stressed), your brain says, “Search for food and eat!” The next time that happens, say to yourself, “I do notice I’m a bit hungry. But I won’t die. Maybe a glass of water would be good. I can wait until I can eat some healthy foods later.” Do this over and over and over, week after week. The more you train your brain, the better you’ll get at ignoring your hunger signals. It’s brain training, like an Army boot camp.
5. MYTH: It’s all about SELF-CONTROL. You may wish you had better “self-control” over your eating habits. Actually, many of the new researchers tell us it may be more a matter of strategy instead. Read “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal.
One strategy is MAKE IT EASY TO SUCCEED.
For example, do you currently have 3-4 healthy snacks in your fridge or cupboard? If not, you’ll eat junk foods. Have you cleaned out all your junk foods? If not, why not? In short, make it EASIER to eat well, than it is to eat badly.
Have you made it easy to exercise? For example, I love to swim and surf. If the surf’s down, I swim. But I have noticed that a 2 degree difference in the pool temperature is all it takes for me to say the water’s either too chilly or just right. Now, I know it’s all in my head, but I have made it easy for myself to swim (and I do it 5-7 days a week) when I am at home. I keep the pool just warm enough for me to NEVER hesitate getting in. Make exercising so ridiculously easy, you don’t mind doing it 5-6 days a week. And remember, you don’t have to exercise for an hour (unless you are just having fun). Do 10-15 minutes of intense exercise, then cool down and call it a day. Intensity is as, or more, important than duration (unless you’re a marathoner or athlete).
BONUS: Avoid ever, ever feeling GUILTY for making food mistakes or failing to exercise. That’s the worst emotion for making changes. If you mess up, forgive yourself and MOVE ON. Jessie Jackson said: “You may not be responsible for being knocked down, but you are responsible for getting back up.”
GET LEVERAGE on yourself. In other words, get help in succeeding. Here’s how: go to the website www.stickk.com (notice the spelling, with 2 “ks” in the word). This site will help you set up rewards and, yes, even consequences for messing up on this summer’s health plan. Make this a “no excuses” summer. Why? You can have the “body of your life” if you make it important enough.
So, my question is, “When will it be important enough to feel younger, look good and have the energy of a monkey who just escaped from the zoo?” How about now?
NOTE: So, is it really my genes that make me skinny? I’m sure they play a part in it all. But let’s review. I am fanatic for getting my 6-7 hours of sleep every night! I snack like crazy. I eat fruits and nuts for snacks. I avoid ALL artificial sweeteners. I have learned to notice my hunger, then to postpone my eating. I work out nearly every day. I don’t feel guilty when I don’t obey my rules. This all puts me back in charge of my health.
Have a good month.
Bowen J, Noakes M, Clifton PM. (2006) Appetite regulatory hormone responses to various dietary proteins differ by body mass index status despite similar reductions in ad libitum energy intake. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Aug;91(8):2913-9.
Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. (2004) Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Apr;79(4):537-43.
Foo H, Mason P. (2009) Analgesia accompanying food consumption requires ingestion of hedonic foods. J Neurosci. 2009 Oct 14;29(41):13053-62.
Kähkönen S, Wilenius J. (2007) Effects of alcohol on TMS-evoked N100 responses. J Neurosci Methods.
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Motivala SJ, Tomiyama AJ, Ziegler M, Khandrika S, Irwin MR. (2009) Nocturnal levels of ghrelin and leptin and sleep
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