UC research: To lose weight, train your brain
With summer around the corner, many of us are thinking about losing some weight. UCSF Associate Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine and Pediatrics Laurel Mellin recently wrote an intriguing article about a different approach to losing weight. Here’s an excerpt, with a link to the full article below if you wish to read more:
If there is ever to be a “pill” – a solution to weight – it will be changing the brain, particularly the primitive areas of the brain, the “emotional brain” or mammalian and reptilian brain. These areas house circuits that control stress and our stress-fueled emotions, thoughts and behaviors. These circuits can be rewired in humans so by changing them, we have a chance to address the root cause of stress-related problems, including obesity. While some overweight and obesity are caused by genetic make-up, more and more research is indicating that stress plays a big role in weight gain. Many people under stress turn to food for comfort.
My colleagues and I have set out to develop a neuroscience-based approach to weight management and dealing with the common excesses we all face, through emotional brain training. The idea was to use neuroscience-based tools to change the brain so that the whole range of common excesses would fade. The method has shown promising results.
The emotional brain is command central for weight and common excesses. It includes the fear, reward and starvation centers. When that brain is in stress, all three centers promote overeating and weight gain. We have strong drives to do exactly what we know we shouldn’t do. We can’t help it! Our emotional brain is in stress.
That stress ramps up the reward value of food, increases hunger for carbohydrates and decreases metabolic rate, almost ensuring weight gain. The stress-obesity link has been well-documented. Our thinking brain (neocortex) goes off line, and the extremes of our emotional brain calls the shots.
Read the full article to learn how to counteract the five levels of stress and avoid unhealthy eating.