Why You Always Go Back For Seconds And Thirds: High-Fat/High-Sugar Diet Hacks The Brain
There is a great character in the sci-fi comedy “Men in Black,” who appears to be a normal, little old man who runs a jewelry shop. Only later, after he is mortally wounded is it revealed that the man is but a bio-mechanical suit, being “driven” by a tiny alien operator whose cockpit is inside the human head.
It’s a strange and funny image, but it brings up an interesting concept that has bedeviled philosophers and medical researchers since the time of the ancient Greeks: who is really in charge?
We have all kinds of language that references this notion of separateness, of being in your body but not of it–we say someone is not “feeling like themselves,” we say “I don’t know what I was thinking,” heck, the whole notion of a soul that is somehow separate from the body it inhabits is a rather grandiose way of expressing this feeling that we are not what we demonstrably are.
And along comes a study that indicates that what we eat can actually alter our brain in ways that prevent us from ceasing to eat when we are actually full.
It’s something you take for granted: after you eat, you should feel full. But there are actually complex processes going on that tell us whether or not we’re full. The body releases hormones to tell us when we’re full, and the message center that receives these signals is the hippocampus.
But new research seems to indicate that a high-fat/high-sugar Western diet can actually hijack these signals, leaving us feeling as though we are still hungry after we’ve eaten.
It has long been known that rats and mice who are fed a high-fat/high-sugar diet show hippocampus damage, as evidenced by memory damage, another area the hippocampus is responsible for.
But the National Institutes of Health study looked at two groups of people, one of which ate a typical western diet, while the other ate food low in sugar and saturated fat. They were then given memory tasks and asked about their feeling of fullness after eating.
Not only did the high-fat/high-sugar diet group consistently score more poorly on the memory tests, they had a harder time recalling exactly what they had eaten and how much. They showed reduced feelings of fullness for the same amount of food eaten, and they ate more the next chance they got to eat.
So it may not be just the number of calories of your diet preventing you from maintaining a healthy weight; it could be the fact that your brain is tricking you into thinking you’re still hungry because of the types of foods you eat.
The good news is the healthy diet group showed signs that the effects on the hippocampus may be reversible, once you make the switch to healthier foods.
Time to trash those potato chips and hit the farmer’s market!