Fall is here and with it comes numerous holidays (Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur for us Jews, Thanksgiving, etc), football games and celebrations (Oktoberfest, renaissance festivals, etc). Fall is then followed by winter which brings eggnog, potato latkes and LOTS of parties. Needless to say, the opportunities to overeat run rampant. Unless you are seriously committed to eating well (as some of you are), you will likely overindulge.
But all is not lost! I just read a blurb of an article written by Dr. Weil on a study who found another biochemical reason for why we overeat. Basically, in this study from Yale and the Univ of Southern California, study participants had their blood sugars medically lowered by IV medication (yes, we can do that) and then underwent functional MRIs (fMRI) of their brains while being shown pictures of foods. Specific sites in the brain known for encouraging eating, called the insula and striatum, lit up on fMRI and ignited a desire to eat. Another area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is known for its inhibitory functions on desires and cravings, appeared to lose its ability to stop these impulses while blood sugars were low. Fascinating!!
What's even more, this action played out time and again with subjects of normal weight who's blood sugars were dropped. Interestingly, this action occurred at all times in obese subjects, regardless of their blood sugar levels. In other words, the brains of the obese subjects sabotaged their bodies! This is an extremely important finding as it shows that people with food impulse problems cannot, single-handedly, just quit eating. It doesn't work as the cravings take on a life of their own.
But how, then, does one go about undoing the sabotage? For one, by keeping only fresh fruits, veggies and a handful of nuts at home (or the office) handy, one can avoid caving in to their more calorie-laden cravings. Secondly, mind-body therapies, such as hypnotherapy or Mindfulness-Based Eating (an accredited mind-body program) can help deflect these cravings by bolstering the prefrontal cortex's ability to inhibit the impulses. They teach you to think about and savor every morsel of food you place in your mouth. Slowing down to savor each morsel CAN AND WILL change your life! These therapies are widely available throughout the U.S. and in most developed nations. Be sure to check out the following website on mindful eating and try to locate a practitioner near you - http://www.tcme.org/mindfulness_practices.htm. Or call me and I can help you locate one or recommend some relevant resources.
I hope this helps those of you who, like me, have intense food cravings understand what's going on in your brain/bodies. The more enlightened we are about these processes, the more easily we are able to change them.
Happy holidays to those celebrating and thanks to Dr. Weil for the write-up of this article. It was featured in the Sept. 19th edition of Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Have a fantastically mindful weekend,
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.