We’ve spent a good bit of time talking about the reward system, hormonal regulation of body weight, and how unnatural foods disrupt all of these processes and take over our eating behaviors. We’re going to spend another post talking about these hormonal processes.
The reward system in our brain is meant to promote our survival. It works off of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This neurotransmitter is associated with motivation and desire. In addition, when the reward system triggers, we get a bit of adrenaline, which creates a small rush, a feeling of stress, perhaps positive stress.
We discussed the characteristics of foods that trigger the reward system and override our control of eating. It’s important to note these foods also allow for a disruption in the hormonal processes that would control our eating. These types of foods appear to interfere with leptin doing its job of regulating our energy balance. They also may contribute to chronic inflammation in our brain which impacts our mental function and can create resistance to the leptin we secrete to naturally regulate our body weight.
Your brain regulates your energy balance and your body weight over a span of time. How this is done is complex, but a major influencer of weight and energy balance is an area of your brain called the lipostat, located in the hypothalamus. This is a non-conscious regulator of body weight and energy balance.
Your non-conscious brain influences your eating behaviors over sustained periods of time. What really makes a difference to your weight and your overall health is what you do on a consistent basis—what, and how much, you typically eat day after day.
I want to reiterate one more time our three fundamental eating behaviors that apply to all nutritional approaches. These three pillars are necessary for any eating paradigm. If you violate these pillars, you ultimately will find that you have very little control over eating behavior and often struggle with your weight or chronic diseases.
Frequently, when I’m seeing patients who have health issues that are strongly influenced by their eating behaviors, they will reflect how they just need more willpower so they can make the changes that will help them to be healthy. While it’s true that willpower is involved in any change, I think they’re misunderstanding how eating behaviors are actually regulated.
In our last two posts in the Best Diet for You series, we discussed genetics and individual gut microbiomes, two things that are very much tied to our overall health. But not everyone can afford a deep dive look into their specific genetics and the state of their microbiome. Fear not. There are still things you can learn and practice which go a long way toward finding your optimal health.