In the latest research conducted and published in the Nature Neuroscience Online Journal, scientists conducted studies on the brain’s complex neurocircuitry and its role in maintaining energy balance that leads to weight gain and weight loss.
News like this is very beneficial for many to understand, as today 2/3 rds of Americans are overweight or obese!
Millions of dollars are wasted by many each year as they struggle with various diets. But to truly find an effective, long term solution you must really understand some basic biochemistry about your body. If you are unsatisfied with your weight, you must also realize that over 75% of the food out there is not suitable for maintaining a healthy weight and body. Hence, some major changes are needed in re-wiring our life style and eating habits if we are to be at an appropriate and healthy weight.
But for today, let us find out what the latest research has found.
According to scientists working on the latest correlation between how our brain and our body communicates in terms of maintaining energy balance, like the paper’s senior author Bradford Lowell, MD, PhD, an investigator in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at BIDMC, they have identified 3 basic stages that control body weight.
So let us now take the science and translate it into practical terms.
3 STAGES OF BODY WEIGHT MAINTENANCE
1. The brain receives sensory input from the body
For those of you who are not too comfortable with the biology of the human body, the brain is indeed used as our body’s control center. It regulates everything inside of you and tries to maintain the happy, healthy, balanced state your body functions best in. However, as hard as the brain tries, this is not always possible.
As stated, the brain has to receive information from the rest of the body. Well how is that going to happen? They do not text message or phone each other. Instead they have to rely on another communication system - one of which is known as “hormones”.
Hormones are like little chemical messengers that circulate throughout the blood and hence can take messages to and from the brain and other body parts. In this case since we are talking about weight control and eating, the main hormones involved here are leptin and ghrelin. You may recognize the name of the hormone ghrelin from a previous article I wrote entitled “Hungry? Your depression may be to blame!” This is of course your famous “hunger” hormone – it signals your body to take action when it is hungry.
Again, as explained in the above listed article, various conditions may cause the release of this hormone, like stress or depression, to initiate an eating sequence and hence result in undesirable weight gain.
Other messages your brain relies on are fuels that your body uses to work, such as glucose and fatty acids. Based on the concentrations of these in your blood stream or lymphatic vessels, your brain will send its own messengers (neurotransmitters). These will either signal for the packing up of these excess fuels if at high concentrations, or unpacking of the stored fuels or stimulation of eating if at low concentrations. But we will get to these in the next two stages.
2. The brain incorporates this sensory information with cues it has received from the environment (such as aromas and other enticements) along with information gathered from the organism’s emotional state
This point is easy to understand.
From an olfactory point of view, picture yourself the last time you found yourself near a restaurant or someone baking and you had the urge to eat based on the smells and scents in the air, even though you may not have been necessarily hungry to begin with.
This also works from a visual point of view. Each day we are bombarded with ads upon ads of various food items: burgers, wraps, salads, chocolates, ice-cream and the list goes on. When our eyes see these ads, we have to understand that our brain is processing these images in several ways, one of which is an association with the senses of what this item tastes like and how it makes us feel. So you have to give it to the big fast food giants as they literally know “how to mess with our brain”.
Now don’t get me wrong, you are not necessarily under their hypnotic trance here and totally helpless when you see pictures of food. It all depends on what association you have personally made with that picture. For example, when I see ads of fast food, it does nothing to me one bit as I associate it with “junk”.
Hence that is why education is key when it comes to understanding food and how it works in your body as it can instantly release any hold these images may have on you. The same tactic by the way works for smoking and drinking alcohol. If we all clearly understood what these substances do to us inside of our bodies, we would never touch them again, at least not if you love or at least like yourself.
Finally, the last point to explain here is your emotional state. This is the reason why depression and obesity are strongly interconnected. If and when you feel bad, down, sad, etc., you are evolutionarily speaking wired to find something to offset this feeling and make yourself feel good. After all, your brain does not want you to suffer and everything works better when one is in a “happy state”. So your brain quickly correlates items that will make you feel better and unfortunately food is the easiest and quickest way many of us have to get to feel better. For others it may be shopping, drinking, gambling and so on, but for the purpose of this article, we are only focusing on food and weight control.
3. The brain’s neurocircuitry takes over
When this occurs, it allows the brain to make appropriate alterations in food intake and energy expenditure in order to maintain energy balance and prevent weight gain and obesity.
In the perfect world, generally speaking, you would burn most of the fuel that you ingest. Biologically speaking, animals in nature use 90% of their available energy for everyday life functions and only hold on to about 10% of their available energy.
With humans the idea should be the same and generally was for thousands of years. Unfortunately what changed was that today we burn way less fuel than what we put in and your body never disposes of fuel. To it that would be as crazy as you emptying the remainder of your full gas tank after say a 10km trip.
So bottom line if you are going to eat more, you have to move and use it up more. If you are not going to move and burn that fuel than you have to eat less. There is no other magical, secret way around this if you want to maintain a healthy weight.
But let us go back to our brain. In the studies that these researchers did, they used mice as naturally experimentation on human subjects is a big no-no. The researchers understood the first 2 stages explained above well and wanted to focus more on how the brain will react and respond through its messengers, the neurotransmitters to signal where hunger and energy metabolism was concerned.
One famous neurotransmitter that they used in their manipulation was GABA, which is normally associated with excitatory nervous system cell activity and regulating muscle tone.
When the researchers disrupted the normal release of GABA from a specific site in the brain, they found these mice to be lean, have higher energy expenditure and show resistance to diet-induced obesity. These mice also showed reduced food intake in response to ghrelin – the hunger hormone.
Although these findings may not excite the average person battling their weight, they did excite the researchers as discoveries like these will ultimately help to design an efficient strategy to tackle the current epidemic of obesity and metabolic disease.
What this means for us in practical terms now, is that our brain cannot do it alone. Yes it will respond and try to balance out and repair any situation it is faced with, but we can help or hurt this process too through our actions or inactions where food type and amount, emotions and exercise are concerned.
Ultimately, aside from the obvious, eating the wrong food, over-eating and under-exercising, we know that there are still people who despite doing everything right may still have problems when it comes to maintaining healthy weight. That may even be you.
It is in those instances that we turn to the brain and its complex functions for clues as to what is going on in our system and thanks to studies like the one described in this article, look for clues as to what can influence the sensitive balance that our body operates based on.
So if you or someone you know is suffering from problems associated with healthy weight maintenance be sure to get to know your body first, before you reach out for any artificial, costly and unhealthy dieting methods that may in the long run be doing more harm than good to you and your health or the ones you love.
Remember – a healthy body starts and is maintained through healthy eating, thinking and movement, there is no other secret method out there where that is concerned.