Updated: Jun 30
Before you understand the effects processed foods have on our brain, it's important you understand why our body stops eating & 'feels full' in the first place
Why do we stop eating or 'feel full'?
When we eat, 2 things happen in our body to tell us to stop eating
1. Gastric distension
When we eat, our stomach expands. As your stomach is expanding, a signal is sent to the brain to let it know how full it is & when it should stop
2. Hormonal satiation
When we start to digest that food, the gut begins to release hormones to let the brain know more about the food, different foods release different hormones
- These hormones can stick around too.This is why having a high protein breakfast can prevent us overeating at lunch, for example.
Your brain drives your food consumption over time
The body has a system for managing your long term energy & nutrient needs. It's called the Leptin Feedback Loop
My opinion: leptin is the key area the world needs to focus on to fight obesity
Leptin is a hormone that regulates your body weight. It's released by body fat. Leptin's job is to tell our brain how much energy we've consumed and how much we have spare (body fat) - it's designed to ensure we have the energy to survive
Your brain makes decisions based on leptin levels such as: Hunger, Calorie intake, Nutrient absorption, Energy use, Energy storage
Stable body fat = high leptin= Happy body, normal appetite, good energy levels etc.
Reduced body fat = reduced leptin= Increased hunger, less energy, burn less calories through exercise, metabolic rate slows
Unfortunately, high body fat does not guarantee less hunger (annoying, I know- I will explain why later)
As leptin is designed for survival, it's great for maintaining body weight. However, it does make losing weight more difficult (when we evolved, becoming overweight wasn't usually a concern for the body. Have you ever seen a fat animal in the wild?)
The Food You Eat Can Change Your Brain
If our bodies are so great at regulating how full we feel & when we should stop eating, why are so many people overweight?
This is largely due to processed food & the effects it plays on the brain (plus how easy it is to obtain).
Processed food, generally, is designed to be hyper-palatable & rewarding.
Hyper Palatable- "too good" "can't stop eating" foods
Reward value - foods such as; coffee, alcohol, high sugar, deep fried all have a high reward (fun) value
We go out of our way/will pay a lot for & make room even when we're full (think a £8 chocolate waffle at the market)
A diet filled with hyper-palatable, rewarding, processed foods can overthrow the brains "stop" signals
This type of diet prevents leptin regulating energy balance, it can even make our brains inflamed + leptin resistant
Tasty (palatable) + fun (high reward) = no off switch
These are foods that contain 1 or usually multiple of the following: Energy dense - High fat - High sugar - Salty - Sweetness - Pleasing texture - Drugs (caffeine, alcohol etc.)
We have evolved as hunter gatherers to seek these things for survival (although each of the above are usually only found individually in nature) so when a food is processed to contain multiple (or all) our brain has no chance of saying no
Too much processed energy dense food can cause Hypothalamic inflammation
Disrupting the Leptin Feedback Loop
Hypothalamic inflammation causes the brain to ignore the leptin
The brain begins to panic as it thinks it's not getting leptin, therefore doesn't have enough reserved energy to survive - so what does it do? It tries to create more
As leptin is released from body fat, guess what the body thinks it needs? More body fat - so it signals hunger until you create more body fat. It will continue to do this until it thinks it has enough leptin
High body fat + high leptin can & will become your bodies new normal & even with high body fat (plenty enough to survive) the body will still want to preserve it and 'worry' when it begins to lose any.
This is your new leptin feedback loop
Change What You Eat, Change Your Brain
Fortunately, with a little work - it is possible to fix your leptin feedback loop & reduce the leptin resistance you may have caused over consuming processed foods
3 steps to get our natural appetite regulation system back on track & do it's job better
1. Eat more whole, fresh, minimally processed foods
2. Eat slowly & mindfully
- Slowing down helps your brain & GI tract communicate
3. Eat fewer processed, hyper palatable foods
Steps 1 & 2 will help make 3 easier
- Reduce cravings, feel fuller for longer (leptin loop returns to normal), help lose body fat, feel, move & perform better
Food Intake Is Complex
Physiology, psychology, relationships + society, culture, lifestyle, individual knowledge, personal beliefs about food/eating all play a role
So don't feel guilty when you're trying to lose weight.
Toms Top Tips
1) Recognise your body is a system. Think long term.
- What you do today, can effect can effect tomorrow can
2) Eat mostly whole, minimally processed foods.
- Low calorie, hard to overeat, nutritious - no inflammation / leptin resistance
3) Plenty of protein
- Satiety superstar
4) Plenty of vegetables
- Healthy, high volume, low calorie
5) Aim for 1 a 'minimal ingredient' meal per day
- Think of foods such as: chicken, potatoes, carrots, peas, salmon, rice etc. Basically foods that when you read the ingredients it will pretty much just be the item you've bought
- If you look at a ready meal box, there could be 10, 20, 30+ ingredients on the box (very processed)
These steps may seem a little boring, but think about step 1. A little work for a few weeks now, can help you for the rest of your life.
Not a bad trade off, if you ask me!
Want to know the 5 steps I use with my clients to help them lose weight? Check out my latest free eBook '5 Steps To Successful Fat Loss' here
If you're struggling with your appetite or saying no to foods, drop me a message & let's see if together we can help you!