We have all heard the mantra: just eat less and exercise more. But, in my experience, people and their bodies are a little more complicated than that. In our weight loss program at Thrive, we are committed to getting to the root causes of excess weight. Hormones, inflammation and other factors contribute to metabolism, appetite regulation, and fat storage. One of these important and often overlooked factors is brain chemistry. Our brains are controlled by chemicals called neurotransmitters. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.
A neurotransmitter called serotonin is responsible for helping us feel good. When serotonin is up, we feel great! It is our natural anti-depressant. But when it drops we don’t feel as happy and we, naturally, want to feel better. One of the ways we unconsciously boost serotonin is to reach for carbohydrates. The insulin surge created by eating sugar and other carbohydrates elevates serotonin, but the affect is temporary, so we reach for carbs again…and again. It’s like a roller coaster.
Another neurotransmitter called dopamine is an important part of our “pleasure and reward” center. It is a major player in addictions, including food. If eating particular foods lights up the dopamine centers in the brain, we will want those foods more. And, let’s face it, it is usually not celery that does this trick. It is more likely to be sweet, salty or fatty foods.
Anxiety is a trigger for many people who eat when they are not hungry. We consider two other neurotransmitters with this emotion: norepinephrine and GABA. Norepinephrine is our stress (or fight/ flight) hormone. If we burn it out with chronic stress, our body feels anxious. In addition, GABA, which calms us, does not work as well after lots of stress. The result is feeling worried and cranky, and craving sweet or salty foods.
So, one of our goals with patients is to help their “feel good” chemicals attain a steady state. We achieve this balance with nutritional support in the forms of amino acids, vitamins and minerals, as well as Ideal Protein (a low carbohydrate, protein rich meal replacement) and whole foods in order to reduce our insulin surges and curb cravings. When a patient experiences wellness in brain chemistry, eating behaviors reflect it: more control, more moderation, less hunger and less reaching for addictive or unhealthy foods. Sigh of relief!
- Dr. Amy Bader
At Thrive Aesthetic and Anti-Aging Center, we are always happy to answer your questions through our blog, Facebook, or Twitter. For more information please visit our website at http://www.thriveportland.com.