“Obesity is a disease of the brain.” According to the Sagol School of Neuroscience, in Tel Aviv.
When our bodies are working correctly, appetite is automatically controlled by the brain. The brain interacts with a number of hormones to regulate hunger, but many obese people have impaired function of these hormones. Psychologists from Michigan State University carried out tests that suggest that obese people are more likely to overeat, even when they’re full. This seems to occur predominantly in the presence of foods laden with processed carbs and sugar. Gaining weight changes the brain and “makes you forget to stop eating – even when you’re full.”
Obesity, as well as a diet rich in processed carbs and sugars, seems to affect two areas of the brain, the part that controls hunger, and a part that triggers memories and cravings. This is the mechanism that drives the overweight and obese to have very little ability to control their cravings.
“In humans, where calorie-rich diet is normally excessive in terms of both fat and carbohydrates, a mixed deleterious hypothalamic derangement may therefore evolve.” In lay-terms a fatty, high-carb diet can have a detrimental effect on the hypothalamus, according to the study by the Sagol School of Neuroscience.
The study concludes that the “obese brain” is also functionally modified over time, resulting in a vicious downward cycle: poor control of eating leads to increasing harmful peripheral signalling, and this leads eventually to a cognitive imbalance. The brain of an obese person changes over time to such an extent that the individual has poor control over what they’re eating, resulting in even further damage to the brain.
But how did we get this way? To investigate, let’s first look at the appestat.
What is the appestat?
The appestat is the part of the brain that regulates hunger and is found in the hypothalamus. With proper eating-habits, the appestat tells us when we’ve had enough to eat. It prevents us from overeating, which in turn regulates digestion and hormone-secretion. Messages are sent to the appestat as soon as blood sugar levels fall below a certain point. When the appestat receives these messages, hormones are secreted to make us feel hungry. Once we have eaten enough the messages reverse, as do the hormones, which makes us feel full and is the signal for us to stop eating.
The appestat is linked to the areas that control how much activity you do; it makes sure that you eat exactly the right amount of calories for your body; if you exercise less, you’ll eat less, and you won’t put on weight.
If you’re lean, it means that your appestat is functioning perfectly. If you are overweight, it’s because your appestat is not working properly and isn’t able to signal you when to stop eating. And as you eat more and become more overweight, the broken appestat actually supresses your desire to exercise.
What breaks the appestat?
The appestat was working perfectly fine until 1977, because that that was when populations around the globe started to get fat.
Research shows that the appestat gets hijacked by eating a diet high in sugar and carbs. Eating processed carbs distorts the appestat, and tells you to eat more than you should, which makes you put on weight.
An excess consumption of carbs leads to massive fat storage in the fat cells, which leads to leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone released by the fat cells, which tells us when the fat cells are full, and makes us want to stop eating. The more fat there is in the fat cells, the more leptin they produce. People with obesity produce a huge amount of leptin, but this excessive over-production of leptin causes leptin resistance, so the brain never gets the signal to stop eating, and still thinks the body is starving. The brain is designed to prevent the body from starving, so it sends out signals to increase hunger. We become constantly hungry and don’t know when to stop eating, which causes more and more weight gain.
In another study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, it was found that mice with leptin resistance displayed obesity, insulin resistance, and hyperphagia, which indicated the huge impact that leptin had on feeding behaviour.
From “bliss point” to addictive eating.
Since 1977 corporations have been controlling our “bliss point,” the exact amount of sugar, fat or salt needed to trigger the pleasure centre of our brain that tells us to eat more. By replacing fat, which keeps us satiated, with sugar, our bodies have been tricked into overeating. Our bliss points have been overstimulated into wanting more and more, and we have therefore been compelled to overeat. The bliss point is linked to our hippocampus, which is the memory centre of the brain. According to new research, sweet fatty junk food impairs our memory’s ability, so that even after eating plenty, the smell and sight of food still provokes pleasant memories and triggers cravings. We remember how good we felt when we ate those foods, so we want to eat more. This then turns into an addictive-cycle as we start to think constantly about food, forcing us to eat every three hours or so.
Does this strike a chord? Indeed! Obesity is definitively a disease of the brain. It is not simply due to being greedy, lazy or having no will power. Banish that myth!
The first step to overcoming obesity is to fix the appestat, the only way this can be done is to eliminate the foods that broke it in the first place, that’s why the Banting lifestyle is such an effective tool for weight loss and improved health.
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