What’s the key problem that nobody talks about with weight gain? Genetics? No – it’s your brain! That’s where we make the decisions and that’s what drives our behaviour. Genetics loads the obesity gun but its our behaviour that pulls the trigger.
In his book “The Hungry Brain: outsmarting the instincts that make us overeat” Stephan J Guyenet considers developments in neuro science that help to explain our current obesity epidemic and offers solutions for lasting change. In this short article we will take a quick look at one of Guyenet’s tips to help you on your journey toward weight loss and sustainable change.
“Where there is tasty food, people eat more”
Why? Dopamine signalling is key. Dopamine is often dismissed as the pleasure molecule but neuroscience tells us that it is much more about learning and reward. It’s like this. Tasty food tends to be high in caloric density. It is also easy to chew and eat. This type of caloric density is particularly rewarding to the brain – think sugar doughnuts, cake and bread. Aha! Less chewing for more calories:? SIGN ME UP!
When dopamine signalling reaches a certain level that behaviour becomes a habit. This is also known as addiction – that point where the learning and reward loop has become so powerful that is overwhelms useful decision making and constructive behaviour.
The Bliss Point
The problem is that through super technology and experimentation we have created “bliss point” technology in food. Super stimuli that artificially create flavourful food so intensely rewarding we fall down the rabbit hole of oblivion and become powerless in their control. Look at this somewhat disingenuous You Tube video from Howard Moskowitz, the man credited with inventing the "Bliss Point". Call me cynical ...
Is it hopeless?
We think not! We may be helpless in the fact that big food industry has the upper science hand but we are never without hope! The answer is glaringly obvious – simple, never easy. When our food tastes really, REALLY good, we will eat and overeat and carry on consuming til we experience stomach ache and pain. That is what our brain tells us to do. That is what we are programmed to do through the learn and reward loop deep within our brain. The super stimuli (created artificially) and found in super tasty fast and over processed food keep the reward loop circulating till we figure out how to make a change. So, what if we choose instead for simple, bland natural real food? Ditch the bliss point and take the power back?
According to Guyenet, it really is that simple, that obvious and that tricky! Understanding the learning and reward loop and the system of dopamine signalling in our brain is key to making lasting change.
“There are many ways to lose weight, but all else being equal, a diet that is lower in reward value will control appetite and reduce adioposity more effectively than one that’s high in reward value”
Do you concur?
Is that hunger?
If you need more convincing, try this. Have you ever stood at the fridge and looked inside for something? And when there is nothing in there that will satisfy, you have walked away? When that happens, ask yourself: is that hunger?
Me want more tasty!
And more? Michel Cabanac a physiology researcher at Laval University created a bland liquid diet study. He reported that the participants in the bland diet group were “always in good spirits”. Meanwhile the control group in the same experiment were not! They ate reduced portions of their usual diet of tasty food and were always hungry and always wanting more. Not, Cabanac surmised, because they were starving but because their brains wanted more of their tasty (caloric dense) food options. Its that crazy dopamine reward signalling loop at work again – did you catch it?
Sometimes in the face of the big food industry we can feel powerless and out of control. Equipping ourselves with some basics around what is triggering our unhelpful behaviours and how to make a change when the odds feel wholly stacked against us, is key.
How best could you implement this change in your way of eating to effect sustainable and long-lasting change?
Remember, when the fun is only in the eating and the food, may be you’re missing the point of your life?