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Discover Your Eating Brain and Find Your Wobble


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The Prefrontal Cortex
As with almost every brain structure, you have two: left and right. The prefrontal cortex is located above your eyebrows and ends roughly above your ears. It forms the tip of the frontal lobe and is part of the refl ective
brain—the latest and greatest in brain tissue.
The prefrontal cortex helps you postpone gratifi cation. A mighty prefrontal cortex is a must for passing on seconds or walking away from the dessert table. Think of it as the brain’s equivalent of a brake system. The
human ability to postpone gratifi cation or inhibit something you desire rests primarily with the frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex. If, for whatever reason, this area is underactive, the brain’s brakes are sluggish. You may end up acting impulsively and engage in many self-defeating behaviors, or lazy brain behaviors.
But you can have a tight, ample brain brake and still behave and eat impulsively. That’s because the prefrontal cortex is connected to the visceral brain, seat of the emotional brain. A welltuned brain brake may not be able to thwart the forces of the visceral brain if your emotions are intense, or red hot. Even the best brakes are overwhelmed by the intense forces of passion.

The Limbic System
The limbic system is the home of desires and passion. It plays a huge role in emotional and unplanned eating. After all, it is part of the visceral brain, home of desires, passions, and the “I-wantit-now” cookie monster! It is located roughly in the center of the brain and is a collective name for a group of structures; key among them are the hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus. The limbic system controls appetite, sex drive, playfulness,aggression (amygdala), emotional memories (hippocampus), sleep (thalamus), and smell.It also sets the tone of the brain’s positive or negative emotional fi lters whether we tend to view the glass as half-full or half-empty and helps bonding to another person, mother and children, or
sexual/romantic partners. With so many key functions in its command and a strong connection to the hypothalamus, the prefrontal cortex, and the frontal lobe, it’s no wonder that a healthy limbic system is vital to maintaining a healthy weight. There is one more peculiar quality about this system: it sees your needs as interchangeable. This sounds simple, but
it really has far-reaching consequences for your weight. Any unmet need can be fulfi lled by eating. In brain language, your anger, sadness, chronic work or family disappointments, and painful childhood memories are translated into one message: the need for an adequate supply of dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine (neurotransmitters, or neurochemicals). Emotions reside in the limbic system, and this system uses these neurotransmitters to balance your mood and keep you comfortable.
If, for example, you are having a bad day, this part of the brain looks for a way to make you feel good by boosting the necessary neurochemicals. This often equates to eating. But the brain, even the visceral brain, which contains the limbic system, only resorts to the tactic of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” when it has run out of options. If it can’t come up with effective solutions to help you get ahead professionally, it can’t ignore your depression and frustration, so it defaults to eating comfort foods that
will deliver neurotransmitters quickly.
The limbic system wants to restore balance, to make you feel pleasant. If it tries and tries but can’t succeed, it does what you do with your cranky child“Here, eat something.” Over time, that translates into lots of extra pounds.


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