Blame Your Brain For Weight Gain This Christmas

The Connection Between Overeating And The Brain

The festive season is renowned for indulgence, gluttony and the age old tradition of ‘The Stuffing of the Faces.’ Most people seem to have 1 thing which they find irresistible and need to consume ferociously and in abundance. For this sugar-free writer that includes Ferrero Rochers by the dozen and a gallon of Baileys complete with floating Ferrero Rochers. The next few hours will be spent feeling nauseous and will be written off completely.  

We’ve uncovered scientific evidence that has explained the reasons for our gluttony, not only during the festive period, but also throughout the rest of the year. And most of the evidence is pointing the finger of blame at the brain

Group mentality and that tiramisu 

There are many psychological pressures during the holidays and one of which includes overeating. Dr Daniel Glaser states that the average weight gain in the UK is 6lb between December 25th and January 1st, as we “consume three times as much as usual.” It’s not surprising considering the amount of parties, gatherings and treats dotted here, there and everywhere. But why can’t we resist just one more bite?

Glaser explains that it’s due to the brain’s mechanisms. The mechanisms that make us hungry are “driven by the levels of salts and sugars in our bloodstream” and they are not connected to the brain’s system that “makes us stop eating. If we carried on eating until our blood sugar levels returned to normal, we’d probably explode as it can take over half an hour for the effects of a meal to reach the bloodstream.” 

He goes on to explain that the brain also uses past knowledge and experience to predict when to stop eating. But, and it’s a big but after all those Christmas pies, this neurological system “works better for some people than others, depending partly on our genes.” Plus, other factors can interfere with the brain’s prediction of when you’re full, such as alcohol, social conformity, psychological pressures to eat and drink at events and emotions like “boredom, anxiety or excitement.” All of which can lead to face stuffing and overindulgence. Also, it’s that ‘everyone’s doing it’ mentality, which makes us feel less guilty, as our gluttony is part of a wider group activity. Lethal. 

The noradrenergic system and that 6th ball of stuffing 

study by J. E. Ahlskog et al., looked at the association between overeating, obesity and damage to a noradrenergic system (connected to your emotions) in the brain. It found a clear connection between destruction and manipulation of the areas associated with the noradrenergic, such as the hypothalamus, leading to hyperphagia (an abnormal desire to eat excessive amounts of food) ultimately leading to obesity. ‘Fluorescence histochemical analysis showed that loss of noradrenergic terminals in ventral bundle termination areas such as the hypothalamus was necessary for hyperphagia.” And “the lesions that produced hyperphagia also reduced the potency of d-amphetamine as an appetite suppressant.” Meaning that the “I want to eat more” feeling is stronger if the brain’s “appetite suppressant” is off kilter. 

Stress and that 4th slice of cheesecake 

Stress throughout the year can cause you to gain weight. And as some of us know, Christmas can be laced with not only whisky, but stress too. Take for example divorced families. Many travel long distances ensuring everyone on the Christmas list is kept happy. It is this calibre of stress, along with being forced to spend time with people you may loathe, which can ignite your brain’s cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that has been linked to weight gain. One of numerous studies found that “psychophysiological response to stress may influence subsequent eating behavior. Over time, these alterations could impact both weight and health.” Another report confirmed that “many studies have been published supporting the concept that long‐term maladaptation to chronic environmental stressors may have an important impact on the development of human obesity, particularly in women, who are more responsive to stress exposure.” This doesn’t bode well for keeping weight off over the Christmas period. But we have some tips to help.

So what can you do to help punch the pounds away this festive season?

  1. Try and stick to a rough eating routine by keeping mealtimes around the same time each day. And avoid snacking in between. 
  2. Go to bed at whatever time you want, but make sure you wake up at the same time each day to stay in some sort of sleeping pattern routine. 
  3. Keep up your exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk through the park for 10 minutes. 
  4. Meditate to keep a cool head this season, so you avoid tapping into those cortisol traps! 

When it comes to the brain, we’ve got so much to be grateful for. However, there are a few chemical responses our brains emit if we misbehave, that can cause quite a bit of bother. So adhere to our 4 easy steps this Christmas to ensure a healthier brain and body. 

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Sources Cited:

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/182/4108/166

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/27/why-cant-we-stop-over-eating-during-festive-period

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306453000000354

All information featured in Peak – Brain Training articles are provided for informational purposes only and are not substitutes for medical or physician advice.

Maisie Bygraves

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