Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Science Behind Overeating

David Kessler explains why we overeat and provides the science to back up his theory in his book, The End of Overeating. Food acts in similar ways to many people as drugs and alcohol do to addicts. It stimulates the pleasure center in our brain releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that releases messages that trigger the sensation of pleasure. Kessler says that when rats were tested sugar alone was a prime driving force, but when combined with fat, the rats worked much harder to get to it. He says this makes sense since the sugar spikes the dopamine and the fat stimulates more brain activity making it seem irresistible. This presents a huge problem because in the last 20 years or so, food companies have doubled, tripled, even quadrupled the sugar and fat in many products. If you go back to comparing food to drugs, the more you take, the more your body gets addicted to that amount. So what was “normal” 20 years ago would taste bland to us now. We have developed such a high tolerance for sugar and fat that just the sight of an ooy-gooy chocolate chip cookie gets our mouths watering.

Kessler outlines 7 tips for your “Food Rehab”: (From nutrition action health letter)

1. Replace chaos with structure. Determine ahead of time what you’ll eat for meals and snacks. Block out everything else.

2. Practice just-right eating. Figure out how much food you need. (Odds are less than you think.) Put it on your plate and don’t go back for seconds.

3. Pick foods that will satisfy, not stimulate you. What satisfies you is personal, but try foods that occur in nature, like whole grains, beans, non-starchy vegetables, and fruit, combined with lean protein and a small amount of healthy fat. (think avocados, almonds, etc.)

4. Rehearse. Anticipate your moves like an elite athlete before a competition. Tell yourself, “I know there will be cake at this party, but I’m going walk right past it.”

5. Seize control. Stay alert to emotional stressors or other stimuli that trigger automatic behavior. Recognize emotions that might lead you to overeat.

6. Stop that thought. Change the channel, go for a walk, look something up online. Turn off the image of the trigger food before you start to debate whether to eat it.

7. Think negative. Pair the unhealthy food with a stream of unappealing images. Chocolate covered olives, ketchup and peppercorn chocolate get the idea.

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