What drives you to the fridge? Is it your stomach, or could it be your brain?
Our brain sends signals to the rest of our body that catalyzes an action – any and every action – for instance, getting off the couch, grabbing our keys and going to McDonalds at 3am on a Tuesday because you can’t sleep. (I’m not talking about myself by the way. I’m not, seriously…it’s my roommate, definitely…)
Our deep brain physiology is to credit for what, when and how much we eat, as well as hormone production, fatty acids transport, glucose storage and use, and body fat.
The hunger hormone
The hormone that comes to mind is Ghrelin. It’s the “hunger hormone” that stimulates appetite; it peaks before meals, starts to drop as we begin to eat, and immediately drops off after we’ve finished eating. Ghrelin stimulates the gastric emptying process through secreting human growth hormone (HgH).
It’s also been found to be secreted based off of our regular eating schedule, so if you eat at noon every day, you’re going to find yourself naturally hungry around noon most days.
This also means that if you’ve got a bad nighttime snacking habit, it’s because you’re casually eating at that time on a regular basis.
Why do we eat?
There are two types of eating: for pleasure and for fuel. Homeostatic eating is eating to provide our body with the energy that it needs and to keep our body in homeostasis.
Hedonic regulation is reward-based; it’s our desire to eat for pleasure (hedonism), or to manage our emotions (emotional eating).
The delicious truth is that a healthy life balance is where most of our meals are a mix of both.
The delicious truth, indeed
Flavor is usually the culprit when it comes to weight gain, but it doesn’t only include food that tastes great (for instance junk food, sweet and savory foods), it also includes food that might be bitter in taste.
Hyper-Palatability is the entire pleasure response elicited by consuming food. Some other “foods” that trigger this reward response include alcohol, beer and wine.
When we combine junk food and alcohol together, you will notice that we are consuming above-average calories in much smaller portions – mostly preserved or processed foods, with little to no nutritional value.
After extensive abuse, they cause our brain to stop sending natural signals – that usually results in outcomes like leaky gut syndrome and high inflammation that could potentially injure or damage our neurological system.
This can lead to hypothalamic inflammation, which can turn into leptin resistance.
What is Leptin Resistance?
Leptin is a hormone that is released by fat tissue. It tells our brain how much energy we’ve just consumed and how much extra energy we have stored up as fat.
The more body fat we have, the higher our leptin will be naturally.
Leptin Resistance Hedonic eating (aka consuming alcohol, junk food and processed foods) will disrupt our body’s ability to regulate its energy use and storage.
When this disruption occurs, the brain starts sending signals to increase energy expenditure, food intake appetite and nutrient absorption…which means you’re storing all of it as body fat.
When the body thinks that it requires more body fat to create more leptin, a signal from your brain kick starts the production of more fat cells. This will lead to you feeling hungrier, it will be harder to be satiated and it will result in unnecessary body fat.
The reality is that we should be thinking long-term about our health. Our body is a complex system that requires a ton of nutrients and micronutrients to function optimally, repair, maintain and ward off disease or dysfunction.
We should be more considerate of what and how we eat, and try to develop a better relationship with food.
Now, I’m not saying you need to eat 90% healthy to be 90% healthy but, you do need to be aware of your body’s signals, as well as be conscious of the decisions that you make when those sensations turn into red flags (like hanger).
Three simple steps to taking care of your brain
- Incorporate more whole, fresh, and minimally-processed foods:
- Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and plant protein
- Colourful fruits and vegetables
- Slow-digesting, high-fibres, such as whole grains
- Nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, fatty fish and seafood
- Eat slowly and mindfully: allowing the food to hit your stomach before packing in more will ensure that signals are sent correctly and efficiently.
- Consider eating fewer hyper-palatable, high-reward foods. The good news: following tips 1 & 2 above will lead to a reduced desire to eat these food groups.
As always, if you’re looking for more information or guidance on nutrition and/or fitness coaching, you can click here and book your FREE CONSULTATION & ASSESSMENT.
Wes Van Hart is a personal trainer, nutritionist (and far more), located in Toronto. Wes is an advocate for constantly improving both physical and mental health, and as such, he is dedicated to advancing his knowledge base, certifications and ability to help his clients, no matter how that looks.
Wes was the very first FitIn affiliate, and is a regular contributor to the FitIn blog.