Posts Tagged ‘dopamine’

Is it dangerous to skip breakfast?

Posted 08 Dec 2014 — by Todd
Category Diet, Health, Hormesis

empty_plateThere is increasing evidence from recent human and animal studies that intermittent fasting — refraining from food or caloric beverages for at least 12 hours a day, several days a week — reduces the risks of cardiovascular diseasedementia and cancer.  Those benefits are well-documented in the hyperlinked articles, so I won’t repeat them here.  Yet many nutritionists hold that skipping breakfast or other meals and snacks can lead to weight gain and metabolic imbalance.  Several recent articles have suggested that IF and breakfast skipping is a particularly bad idea for women. Much to my chagrin, this view been even embraced recently by a number of ‘Paleo’ advocates whom I respect, such as Chris Kresser and Mark Sisson.

In this post I’d like to address three main objections that have been raised against skipping breakfast and other forms of intermittent fasting:

  1. It spurs hunger cravings, leading to compensatory overeating and obesity
  2. It causes cardiovascular disease and metabolic dysregulation of blood glucose and hormone levels
  3. It’s bad for women, leading to hormone imbalance, disrupted menstrual cycle, and heightened stress response

I believe these concerns with breakfast skipping are overblown, based on an incorrect interpretation of a few animal and human studies, and flawed personal implementation.  To the contrary, adaptation to meal skipping can actually help boost stress tolerance and improve blood sugar control. If practiced correctly, intermittent fasting (IF) can actually be a powerful tool to overcome hypoglycemic symptoms, and regain control over a harried lifestyle.   And it can be particularly useful for women who are struggling with cravings, weight management and stress management.

Opposition to intermittent fasting arises from both published research and anecdotal reports.  I’d like to address both in this post.  I’ll first point out some significant flaws in the interpretation of several recent studies purporting to show negative effects of reduced meal frequency on women and other groups.  And I’ll end by pointing out how to avoid common mistakes made by many who try intermittent fasting find it to be unpleasant and unsustainable.

Approached correctly, IF can provide major health benefits for most us.

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Hormesis and the limbic brain

Posted 02 Jan 2012 — by Todd
Category Health, Hormesis, Psychology

There is a powerful way to re-program your brain that has been largely overlooked.  A way to change your relationship with eating, sleep, sex and basic emotions like fear, love and aggression.  While cognitive therapies can modify behavior, they are of questionable help in altering these basic drives.

Our drives are largely governed by two small primitive brain structures, the hypothalamus and the amygdala — shown in red in the drawing at right.  Remarkably, these two tiny structures are respectively the size of a pea and an almond — representing less than 1% of the brain’s three pounds of neural matter. Together, they constitute the control center of the paleomammalian brain–the “limbic” brain that governs our basic urges and desires as well as our homeostatic “set points” for temperature, sleep, body fat and behavioral urges like sex drive and aggression.

You can attempt to change your behavior by conscious determination and cognitive therapies.  But most attempts at intentional change are temporary and are doomed to fail in the long term because they are strongly resisted by powerful homeostatic processes encoded in our limbic brain.  Modern medicine recognizes the importance of homeostatic drives, and has developed pharmaceuticals to override them with diet pills, sleeping pills and antidepressants.  In fact, these medications do shift the balance of neurotransmitters and neural activity — at least in the short term.  But such chemical interventions are short-sighted “crutches” that promote dependency and come with side effects.  Often they exhibit  a “tolerance” effect: the brain’s control system fights back and weakens the impact of the medication.  To maintain the benefit, doses are increased, but this strategy may not always work.

This article will explain how the hypothalamus and amygdala contribute to the regulation of basic drives like eating, sleeping and sexuality, and how the amygdala can actually override the hypothalamus by enhancing the reward value of foods and other stimuli. (As I will explain, however, my take on “food reward” is different from that of Stephan Guyenet and other advocates of the Food Reward Hypothesis). This dual-control model can help explain anomalies such as obesity, addiction, and disordered sleep.

Finally,  I will provide suggestions on effective and natural ways to re-program the hypothalamus and amygdala and change your homeostatic set points, using the principle of hormesis.

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Does tasty food make us fat?

Posted 09 Sep 2011 — by Todd
Category Diet, Psychology

Are we getting fatter because there is just a lot more irresistibly delicious food around us?  Does that explain the obesity crisis?

That theory has been around the block but it is in fashion again.   In 2009, David Kessler’s book, “The End of Overeating” put forward the thesis that food in contemporary American food has been deliberately engineered–by adding fat, sugar and salt–to exploit our neurochemistry and hijack our free will.

More recently, one of the luminaries of the Paleo movement, Stephan Guyenet, has formulated his own version of this theory, in a compelling series on his Whole Health Source blog, arguing that  “food reward” is a main driver of obesity. His prescription:  eat a bland diet. Guyenet’s talk about this at the Ancestral Health Symposium last month is the buzz of the paleosphere.

But I think the theory is wrong, for the simple reason that it too blindly takes correlation for causation. And in doing so, it gets the causal direction mostly wrong. We don’t get fat because food has become too tasty. Rather, to a large extent, it is the metabolism and dietary habits of the obese that make food taste too good to resist, leading to insatiable appetites. And the good news is that we are not consigned to blandness.  If we eat and exercise sensibly, we can eat flavorful, delicious foods and enjoy life, without packing on the pounds.

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Change your receptors, change your set point

Posted 25 Oct 2010 — by Todd
Category Diet, Fitness, Hormesis

Why is it so hard to make permanent changes to your habits, your health, and your happiness?  Some of the most difficult struggles in life involve losing weight (and keeping it off), overcoming addictions, and recovering from depression. Many diets and therapies deliver great short term results, but the most common pattern appears to be relapse.  It often seems that you are destined to fulfill some biological program — that you are stuck with a high body weight set point or an addictive or depressive personality that cannot be escaped in the long run.

This pessimistic message is prevalent among those who have investigated the track records of the “helping” industries: the weight loss companies, the addiction recovery centers, and the various schools of psychology and psychiatry. Unlike the advocates, those who investigate them often find the results are less than what the practitioners might want you to believe.  In the arena of dieting and weight loss, books such as “The Dieter’s Dilemma” (Bennett and Gurin, 1982), and  “Rethinking Thin”  (Kolata, 2008) echo the original set point theory first propounded by Gordon C. Kennedy in the 1950s; they conclude that your body weight is largely predetermined by a biological set point that is handed to you at birth, plus or minus about ten pounds. I do agree that sustained weight loss cannot be achieved through sheer will power alone, or simply by using diet and exercise in order to create a calorie deficit. Yet, while there is some plausibility to the set point theory, I am convinced that it is wrong because it overlooks some important factors. I’ve already given some of my reasons for my disagreement with set point theory in other posts on this blog (Flavor control diets, How to break through a plateau). But in this post I’ll present some strong evidence for an alternative theory, based on the homeostatic regulation of cellular receptors for hormones and neurotransmitters. This is a variable set point theory which I call the receptor control theory. This theory proposes a mechanism that controls appetite and body weight, as well as regulating the balance of  energy and pleasure in your life. It provides practical tools to lose weight and keep it off, overcome addictions without relapse, and move out of depression into happiness.

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Overcoming addiction

Posted 14 Apr 2010 — by Todd
Category Psychology, Rehabilitation

One of the most difficult challenges to overcome in life is getting out from under the grip of an addiction, whether it be drug, alcohol or nicotine dependency, a food addiction or eating disorder, or compulsive activities such as gambling, shopping, pornography or Internet addiction. Taken to the extreme, addictions can become highly self-destructive, antisocial or criminal activities such as self-mutilation, kleptomania, or pyromania. At the other end of the scale are ordinary activities, such as exercise or work, which in normal degree are healthful but when excessive can become addictive. There are also minor compulsions which might best be considered bad habits rather than addictions, such as nail biting, hair pulling and the like. Broadly speaking, an addiction can be any habitual behavior which takes over one’s life, interferes with social relations and personal achievement, and threatens one’s autonomy. There are many ideas about what addiction is and how to treat it, but unfortunately success rates are low and relapse rates are high. However, there is a recent approach to snuffing out addiction based on the emerging sciences of neuroplasticity and behavior modification, which holds out the promise of lasting change. The approach is called cue exposure theory, and it goes against the conventional wisdom. I will discuss it after first reviewing the more conventional approaches. And I’m going to do something else unusual at the end of this particular blog post: I will apply this methodology to an “addiction” of my own and follow my progress in the Discussion Forum associated with this blog.

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