Hey folks this is the second blog in our series on how your brain is making you gain fat. If you haven’t already read Part 1 HERE so you can understand today’s post.
In Part 1 we discussed the idea of an optimal foraging strategy and how it used to be an advantage to consume calorically dense food while expending as little energy as possible. Not so much these days though.
We also discussed how cyclical eating with the seasons prevented palate fatigue and allowed us to eat a wide range of nutrients, and lowered our potential of being poisoned.
Because food wasn’t guaranteed and we lived through famines, and it was an advantage to gain body to ensure survival.
Today we discuss the reward mechanisms in our brain that drive our behavior around food, how hyper palatable foods are hijacking the reward system and why easy calories are killing us these days. Read more below!
Your Brain Seeks Rewards
To help with the process of gaining body fat our brain has a reward center that is stimulated by the flavors we crave most: sweet, salty, fatty.
Whenever a food was consumed that contained a salty, fatty or sweet flavor in nature, it was always attached to a quality source of nutrition which was rewarded with dopamine to encourage more of that behavior, in this case eating more of that food.
In our past consumption of a food that had a fatty, salty or sweet flavor signaled nutrient density, and would let us know that it was safe to eat with the threat of being poisoned.
While we would like to believe that we are very highly evolved, the software and hardware in our skull is the same as our ancestors.
This reward center and dopaminergic system in our brain is what drives a lot of our modern behaviors around food choices, no different than it did for our ancestors.
With the modern food industry we have tricked this reward center in our brain into overeating while being undernourished.
We can now consume foods that hit on the reward center, but contain zero nutrition and are extremely calorie dense.
This leaves the satiety signal in the brain and hunger both turned on even though we are physically full.
The foods we encounter in our modern environment of the grocery or corner store are much stronger in flavor profile than we would encounter naturally.
Because many modern foods flavors are crafted in a lab they can engineer the tastes to be much much stronger, and cause a larger bump of dopamine to be released.
Many people find themselves physically full but keep dipping their hand back in the cookie jar, and can’t explain why. Your brain is encouraging this behavior!
Some people tend to overeat these salty, fatty and sweet food not because of hunger, but because they are looking for that dopamine hit to keep their mood elevated.
Not only are the flavors in many of our modern foods extremely strong, but multiple flavors are combined in one food, that wouldn’t exist together in a natural environment.
As an example, in nature you would find a sweet potato, and kill a pig to bring back to camp to eat. Those flavors of sweet and fatty were consumed in separate foods.
By combining these flavors into one food, not only can you stimulate the dopamine pathway in a much stronger fashion, but you have multiple flavors stimulating that pathway at one time.
We are hardwired to crave these flavor profiles because for most of our existence they were a sign of a nutrient dense food, that was non poisonous and helped us survive.
It was an advantage to gorge on these foods and gain body fat as an insurance policy against food food scarcity, and ensure survival.
The times when our ancestors gorged on foods and gained body fat was balanced out by times of famine.
The famines and gave us periods of time where we needed to tap into those fat stores and use them to live off of, otherwise we would starve to death.
Today we have the opposite problem where people are eating so many of the wrong foods that it is making them sick and killing them.
Our Modern Calories Are Easy To Come By
In today’s environment for the first time ever people are suffering from undernutrition, and obesity/metabolic disorders at the same time.
This undernutrition and obesity problem couldn’t exist in nature. Foods that tasted good were always attached to nutrient density, and required hard work to obtain them.
Nowadays food is so readily available that we can have it delivered to our front door and barely have to get up from the TV for dinner.
While some foods in nature are definitely calorically dense, they were few and far between compared the foods available in the grocery stores.
These natural foods that were calorically dense would require us to work for them, and contained sources of high quality nutrition.
The food we eat it is an undeniable part of the health and fat loss equation that our society is currently dealing with.
I ask you to consider though that your food choices are controlled by the signals and reward center in your brain, which drives your dietary choices.
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