Göteborgs Posten: “Overweight lives in the brain”

05Jun11

The newspaper Göteborgs Posten writes: “Overweight lives in the brain”
(June 3, 2011)

Why can’t we keep away from buying candy – although we know that sugar is empty calories?
Martin Ingvar has his answer. He is a neuroscientist and professor at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet. Together with the journalist Gunilla Eldh he’s written the book “Hjärnkoll på vikten” [the title roughly translates to “Control the weight with your brain”].

– We fall for it because we like it, because it’s a habit and because we have a reward system that says that sugar probably is more valuable than it is, he says.
– A problem is that modern food is so refined, he says, that we through it get an overdose of quickly digested calories, which makes the blood sugar – and thus the insulin – rise.
– And that’s when the blood sugar level begin to sink, we feel bad and go hunting for chocolate, says Martin Ingvar.

The brain needs sugar just as much as the car needs gasoline to work. But the brain can’t store fuel as the rest of the body can, and therefore the storage needs to continually be replenished.

The dopamine levels soars
The brain can extract energy from healthier foods as beans or vegetables, but that takes longer time and the brain gets a little bit impatient. But if it gets a soda and a big cupcake the demands get a kickstart. This is because dopamine is skyrocketing, the same hormone that’s released when in love or during sex, and that’s in drugs like cocaine and amphetamine.

Modern research has shown that some people have a more sensitive reward system than others. If so a re-programming might be needed, or a “brain by-pass” as Martin Ingvar calls it. He does not favour the Plate Model or Keyhole Symbol-labeled foods. They contain too much carbohydrates which raises insuline levels.
– If you listen to those recommendations you judge people to become obese. At the same time people are getting blamed for not being thin. I think that’s a bad governmental attitude. 

A person who’s decided to change his lifestyle should learn how to level out his blood sugar curve. If you also understand how the reward system works you’ll get a good protection agains bad decisions.
– Knowledge is a great vaccine. Then you need to train new habits so that the brain do not require that you fall back in old patterns. And you need to be a bit stubborn too.

According to Martin Ingvar  you should definitely not go on diets or count calories.
– Going down and up in weight like a jo-jo with calorie restriction leads to making you fatter. It makes the body go into an energy saving mode, which gives you cravings and then makes you fat.
It may take many attempts and a lot of willpower to break old behaviors. The comfort is that the brain, just like any muscle, can be trained to new habits.

Reprogramming your lifestyle can, according to the book “Hjärnkoll på vikten”, start with avoiding all “white” foods for a period. That means eating minimal of easily digested carbohydrates like those found in candy, cookies, soda drinks, wheat, potatoes, white rice and pasta.

Link to the article in Swedish, written by Lena Ekstrand.
Read more about the Plate Model and the Keyhole Symbol here.

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