The Overlooked Organ – Part 3

What’s Sleep Got to Do With It?

There’s good evidence from short-term randomized controlled trials that if you restrict a person’s sleep, they will eat more calories, even though they actually may burn a few more calories as well.  You burn fewer calories when you’re asleep and more when you’re awake. However, this additional calorie burn doesn’t make up for the higher calorie intake. People will eat about 300 extra calories a day when sleep deprived which is quite substantial.  What is clear from the long-term observational studies is that there is, in fact, a strong association between insufficient sleep and weight gain over time.

Brain Activity

When you put someone in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine you can look at their brain activity—if they haven’t slept enough, their brain acts like they’re starving.  That same response is evident in the brain of someone who has recently started a diet and their brain has initiated a starvation response.  They may be feeling hungry, or more tempted by food, maybe they’re feeling a little bit sluggish and cold, those same responses or at least very similar ones occur in the brains of people who are sleep restricted. Inadequate sleep activates some of these same circuits that cause us to be more seduced by food and require more food to feel full. That’s one way it can work.

Impaired Judgement

Sleep restriction also seems to significantly impair your ability to have sound judgments. Also, you often develop what’s called an “optimism bias” which means you’re not very sensitive to the downsides of making a decision.  Instead, you are paying more attention to the potential upsides. How that can play out with food is that normally you might say, “Hey, well, you know this donut looks tasty, but I know it’s not good for me.  Therefore I’m not going to eat it.” However, if you haven’t slept enough, you justify your choice to eat it because you “need the energy,” or because you’re apathetic towards your goals and you don’t think you’ll make it without a little sugar pick-me-up.

The Overlooked Organ – Part 2

How Do You Avoid Foods with High Reward Value?

Disclaimer: This one is going to be a challenge.

The actual definition for Reward value is “the motivational value of the food for you individually.” RV is typically measured in research on a scale of 1-10. The reward value of food is different for everyone. For example, I don’t particularly like cake or pastries, so the reward value of those things is not high for me. For someone who loves pastries, the reward value (RV) is much higher. Ask me about pizza though? RV 10 – off the charts!!

Calorically dense foods (donuts, chips, cookies, etc.) typically contain appropriate amounts of sugar, fat, and salt to make them higher in reward value and harder to stop eating. A piece of chicken (protein), or baked potato (carb) however, doesn’t tend to have a high RV. Ice cream (sugar, fat, and salt) typically has a very high RV. Food scientists know this all too well. The perfect combination of sugar, fat, and salt feeds the same pleasure center in your brain as other addictive properties such as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. That old pringles ad of “I betchya can’t eat just one” was right on.

The Sugar, Fat, Salt Equation

I’m sure you know this, but these concepts are not mysterious to food companies that manufacture processed foods. They employ food scientists that have engineered the food you’re eating to contain the perfect combination of sugar, fat, and salt to trigger your reward center to NEED more as compared to that plain baked potato we talked about earlier. Now that’s a food that would be hard to overeat!

Why does the food industry spend millions of dollars to make food so palatable that we can’t “just eat one”? Here’s a big shock for you. Brace yourself….they don’t have your best interest in mind. It’s true.

They are a business.

They want your money.

They don’t care about your health.

That’s not their line of work. When food is highly palatable, we pull out our wallets and we buy more. Also, fun fact, the more buttery they can make something, the faster you eat it, the quicker it slides down your throat, the more you eat, and you guessed it, the more you buy.

The Wrong Kind of Love

We do this in our kitchens too. We love people with food. Good food!! Not healthy food. You know what I’m talking about…I’m guessing you’ve never served a dinner party with plain steak, plain brown rice, and raw broccoli. We make fantastic food for the people we love because we equate full bellies with a happy heart. I sincerely think this is innate behavior. Think about it. We feed babies, and they become happy and giggly. Its engrained in us to love with food. Hear me correctly. I’m not scolding you for having excellent meals for people you love and delicious dinner parties. I am, however, gently reminding you that there are plenty of ways to love people in healthier ways. So maybe next time you’re going to bring your friend a pan of bars, consider a candle and words of affirmation. Conversely, foods that have a low amount of ingredients (eggs, apple, beef, carrots) don’t touch that pleasure center in the same way. I’m sure you agree. Which is why it’s nearly impossible to overconsume them and why if you eat a diet like the whole 30 (all whole/real foods for 30 days) you find that you eat more food than you could imagine, yet you tend to lose weight. Why? Because you aren’t overeating.  You are eating enough to be full and then able to stop consuming additional food and calories. I should also note that when you lose weight this way vs. calorie restriction, your brain doesn’t trigger a starvation response which leads to rebounding weight gain.