3 Ways to Persuade a Hungry Brain
I recently finished reading the book The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat by Dr. Stephan J. Guyenet.
It. Was. Awesome.
He answers the question:“Why does our behaviour betray our own intentions to be lean and healthy?”
Dr. Guyenet begins with an overview of the current state of things. Here’s some stats:
Before the 20th century, the rate of obesity in middle aged white males was 1 in 17.
In 1960, this climbed to 1 in 7 adults having obesity.
In 2010, the number climbed even further to a staggering 1 in 3 American adults being obese. (alongside another 1 in 3 being overweight)
What the potential future looks like:
The book then dives into research behind the power of the brain. Talking about how the brain operates in our closest ancestors, current hunter-gatherer populations, and in our current industrialized environment.
The author references the book Thinking Fast, and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This book covers how the brain processes information and how it is essentially divided into two parts. A conscious brain (where you’re thinking and rationalizing) and an unconscious brain (processes your brain computes before you even realize it).
When integrating the two-part brain into nutrition and comparing our current state to our closest ancestors you find some cool stuff.
Our brain, and our genes, are the same as our close ancestors. Our brains have been wired, through evolution, to value high-calorie foods.
*About obesity genes: “In most cases, they don’t actually make us fat, they simply make us susceptible to a fattening environment. In the absence of a fattening environment, they rarely cause obesity.”
Now, in the lives of our ancestors, having the brain value high-calorie foods was an asset. Food was difficult to find and when you were lucky enough to come across a beehive or an antelope, you would chow down everything you could because there was no guarantee of a next meal.
Our current brain operates the same way, constantly seeking out calories. The difference is that in our current environment, it’s a liability. We have constant access to high-calorie foods and our brain loves it.
Think: alcohol (90-180 calories), or pop (140 calories) or a fancy coffee (300-400 calories). It’s not usually hunger that drives us to these things.
After realizing the super-high calorie content of foods like these, our brain learns the textures, colours, scents, and tastes. You’re not necessarily craving a food just because you think it tastes good, its because your brain has put a high value on that food as it’s loaded with both fats and carbs (which is a very rare thing to have both in one food in the wild). We can eat this stuff even if we’re not hungry, even if we don’t need the energy.
With that being said. Even though our brains aren’t designed to live in an environment where food is readily available, at our finger tips, with minimal effort, there is good news.
The good news is, we can control our immediate environment.
If we control our immediate environment we can nudge our unconscious brain closer to wanting the same goal as our conscious brain (to be lean and healthy).
Aligning the motivations of both parts of your brain are essential to longterm success.
3 ways to do this starting right now
Pay attention to your current environment
- “a healthy food environment is one that effortlessly guides your eating behaviours in the right direction”
- Think: clearing your apartment/house of tempting foods (no more chips on the counter) or changing your route to work so you don’t pass by that McDonalds.
- Set yourself up for success
Move your body more
- Anything you can do to move more throughout the day is good!
- it doesn’t have to be a specific training regimen or super heavy bodybuilder workouts to add to your health
- People eat more than 300 calories per day extra when sleep-deprived
- Sleep restriction increases the brains response to food
- Spend more time in bed. Leave your phone and laptop in another room, the lights will keep your brain running while you’re trying to turn it down
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