Marco's Blog

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Change Your Brain - Change Your Body

2010-03-02 3 min read marco

I just happened to channel surf last night and stumbled across a weight loss information segment on PBS. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist telling his audience how he used brain scans to determine pattern and causes of overeating. All in all, an engaging two hours, and I would advise buying the DVD from the PBS site.

Aside from he shock and awe-inducing pictures of brain scans of old people, football players, and alcoholics, and from the constant references to chemical imbalances that cause overeating, the focus of attention was on the notion there are different kinds of personality profiles that tend to overeat.

That’s a great notion, since anyone who’s ever watched people trying to lose weight realizes that while the war is the same for all, the battles are all fought in different places and at different times.

I really paid attention only to the first two personality descriptions, the compulsive and the impulsive types. I’ll discuss my recollection of the two, but you really should go and listen to the whole thing, and learn about the best strategy to fight the good fight.

The compulsive eater is the type that obsesses about food. Every waking minute is spent thinking about food, about how to avoid food, about how wonderful food is, about how horrible it is to gain weight. You’d think this kind of person is doomed to a life of obesity. Not so! Says Dr. Amen.

In his brain scans, he detected hyperactivity in compulsive eaters. Now, my first reaction was, “duh!” I didn’t think about the consequence of this finding, though. If your brain is hyperactive, thinking about food all the time, calm it down. Just making the brain less preoccupied and overactive will give the compulsive eater a better chance at not overeating.

In short, if you think too much about food, instead of focusing on something else, just think less.

The impulsive eater is the type that can’t resist. Will power is the issue, and the psychiatrist starts a lecture about the prefrontal cortex, the censor in all of us, the piece of the brain responsible for coordinating, moderating, (and hence suppressing) thought.

The piece of information that stuck in my mind is that hypoactive PFCs tend to do worse the more the individual tries to force his or her will. The more someone with weak force of will tries to control his desires, the less he or she will be able to do so.

In the end, the battle can be won only by strengthening the will in an organic fashion (the psychiatrist seeks a chemical solution, of course).

Now, don’t think for a second that my recollection is accurate. As said, I was just half paying attention. Regardless of how much I was interested, though, I completely agree that the one-size-fits-all approach to dieting just doesn’t work.