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Discover Your Eating Brain and Find Your Wobble


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The Basal Ganglia
The basal ganglia are a group of structures mainly associated with movement. Located deep within the brain, they control our physical response to anxiety. One structure, the caudate nucleus, is especially associated with the physical signs of stress and anxiety, such as trembling or fi dgeting. The neurochemical imbalances brought on by anxiety or any emotional bump can trigger cravings and overeating as means of soothing and compensating for pleasure shortages.
The Cingulate Gyrus
This area runs along the middle upper part of the brain. Think of it as the brain’s gearshift. In order to work smoothly and comfortably, the brain must shift gears according to the task at hand. If you are balancing your checkbook, it shifts to the attention gear, but if you are resting after a long day, it must shift to a lower, relaxation gear. The cingulate is the brain’s mechanism for shifting gears from one activity to another. What happens if
your brain gets stuck, if the cingulate malfunctions and uses a single gear too often? Your behavior gets stuck. If you are stuck on repetitive worries, your cravings and eating are affected. But the cingulate gyrus infl uences eating in another way: it creates rigid, strong circuits that connect eating with certain activities, such as driving. Since everything that affects eating has to do so via the hypothalamus, let’s learn a little more about it.

The Hypothalamus
Research fi ndings show consistently that the hypothalamus is the head honcho when it comes to eating. Its function is to regulate metabolic processes, so it’s closely connected to the body’s ongoing energy needs. When it senses that the body’s nutritional requirements are at a low, it signals for food, and because it is connected to the brain’s reward system, memory, and motor system, it can get you to move quickly. The hypothalamus has strong connections to the other structures in the limbic system. Thanks to these networks brain high ways your brain can interchange shortages in any emotional need with eating (we will talk more about this strange brain tendency later in this chapter). Who on this planet hasn’t eaten just to feel a little pleasure or to mend a broken heart? The two may seem unrelated to you, but if you were to glance inside a brain
in action, you would see the massive, powerful highways that allow it to do so easily—and often.
The Pleasure Arc
We know from studies that track brain neurons that the hypothalamus receives input from the amygdala, the hippocampus,the insula, and the caudate nucleus to prompt eating. This quartet is also involved in eating pleasure; the reason we keep on eating to satisfy our desire rather than nutritional needs. Not coincidentally, these are the same areas that drive cravings for drugs, designer shoes, or endless reruns of The Sopranos. These
fi ndings suggest that to control your eating, you must invest your time and effort to increase the pleasure and satisfaction in your everyday life from noneating experiences. Extrapolating further, these fi ndings suggest that when it comes to eating some of you would be better off looking at yourselves as recovering addicts. As such, you may fi nd it easier to abstain
from certain foods altogether rather than trying to limit foods to which you feel “addicted.”


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