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Satiation and Your Brain

  • Eating

There are times when I read new, scientific theories about the brain and food that I struggle about whether to blog about them or not. Quite frankly, more and more of the research these days indicates that eating and weight are biologically based. So, I think to myself, is it better to have the latest scientific observations even though they prove that our biology strongly underlies eating difficulties, or might it generate feelings of stuckness and hopelessness in readers. Fair warning, this is one of those blogs.

According to an article in SCIENCE NEWS (10/22/11), Brain may subvert efforts to diet by Janet Raloff, “In obese people, even when the brain knows the body isn’t hungry, it responds to food as if it were. In normal-weight people, a neural reward system that reinforces positive feelings associated with food turns off when levels of the blood sugar glucose return to normal after a meal—a signal that the body’s need for calories has been sated. But in obese people, that reward center in the central brain turns on at the sight of high-calorie food even when blood sugar levels are normal.” Those of you who carry a good deal of weight may have sensed this intuitively.

Some of you may be greatly relieved to hear, finally, that you don’t lack “willpower” or “self-control,” but that your body may be mismanaging your appetite. Others may feel bummed out and want to give up attempts to become a “normal” eater because biology, well, is biology. First off, this study was done with a very tiny sample, nine lean and five obese adults. Rather than say this is what’s happening to you, think of it as indicating a possibility which still needs to be proven with a larger sample. Second, recognize that you have an amazing brain whose higher order thinking can override biological urges. Sure, you may have to work harder than others, but there are millions of people who’ve become and stayed healthier and reduced excess body weight by retraining their brains around food--and you could be one of them.

The article goes on to say that the regulatory role of glucose may explain why some obese people feel the need to eat in spite of having taken in a substantial amount of calories. Although you may not be pleased to think of yourself as having a faulty glucose regulatory mechanism, at the very least, this kind of scientific information will hopefully put to rest, once and for all, the belief that you have some kind of mental deficit that makes it hard to say no to food. There is no character or personality flaw here, but simple biology at work. I blog about this in the hope that such information will make it easier for you to be self-compassionate about your eating and your weight.