Fatness. Its all in the brain.

Posted by & filed under Health and Fitness.

For anybody battling to do up the zip on their jeans, how wonderful it sounds to lose the desire to eat.  We could be as skinny as our dreams!  In truth, if we lost the will to eat, we would also lose the will to live and indeed, in due course will be skeletally thin – in a hole in the ground.  For when we eat we reward the pleasure centre of our brain, fire up our dopamine and for a little while, feel fabulous.  For yes, its my favourite neurotransmitter dopamine up in the spotlight, the neurotransmitter of get up and go, of desire, of anticipation of good things to come.  And we humans have it in abundance.  The following comedy clip says it all:

Saleem Muhamed talks about loving chips/fries, about just holding them, about their aroma just before he eats them.  About going to the gym and getting a personal trainer, which I’m certain was a nightmare experience for him, as we’ll see.

Yesterday I went on a short conference in Oxford University held by the Food and Behaviour Research team or FAB.  The subject was sugar and addiction and there were four different speakers all doing research into this.  Here are some interesting points from the afternoon.

Professor Robert Lustig was the principal speaker, and he it was who was talking about the mechanisms of sugar addiction.  And one of the mechanisms involves dopamine. He showed photos of the dopamine receptors in the brain.

Dopamine D2 Receptors in the brain.

Dopamine D2 Receptors in the brain.

The brains on the left are of normal people, those on the right, addicts.  The brains of a fat person are like those on the right: the dopamine receptors down regulated.  This means that it takes more and more food to get the reward.  So a person on the way to becoming a complete lard arse is very happy whilst they are eating.  Once they have diabetes, a heart condition, need two chairs to sit on and so on, there is no pleasure to be gained from eating any more.  Saleem, in the above video makes the joke about smoking crack cocaine until he isn’t hungry any more.  I would be interested to know if he too has seen photos like the one above.

Apart from the above comments about eating and dopamine Prof Lustig also made the following interesting points.

If you give an ordinary child a cookie/biscuit, the child will rush off in a frenzy of energy.  The brain knows it has enough easy energy, it excites the sympathetic nervous system -SNS1  -and we get a fidgety energy rush. This is a normal response to the blood sugar surge from the sweet ‘treat’.  A point worth pondering on if difficulties are had getting a child to bed at night.  However, give a fat child a biscuit and its in the cupboard looking for more.  The brain no longer responds to sugar energy by increasing the SNS; the fullness hormone, leptin, no longer responds.  And as the leptin gets less responsive, research has shown us that we increasingly want ever sweeter food.  So as we get fatter and fatter, the body stores its food instead of burning it up for energy, for the same is true for adults as for children.  And then the poor adult or child is told it has to exercise to lose the weight – how on earth can it?  They literally have no energy for anything other than the next stroll to the fridge.

Prof Lustig said much more than this.  If interested, he has published a book: Fat Chance: the bitter truth about sugar.  And you can find him on Youtube.

As is often the case; it seems it is wise to get a grip on things before it is too late.  I have known for quite a while just how hard the obese find long term weight loss difficult to sustain.  Saleem stresses that whatever method is chosen for weight loss, the important thing is to be consistent.  To make any change requires energy.  I ask that clients take an extremely powerful multi vit to give them a burst of energy to help them start to make changes.  It also seems vital to me that everybody get enough sleep.  How on earth can we get a grip on what we are eating if all we can think about is how to survive until bedtime?



  1. We have a sympathetic and a parasympathetic nervous system.  Easy thing to remember: parachutes come down and so the parasympathetic nervous system is the calming relaxing one, what we need to rest, digest and procreate.  The sympathetic nervous system is exactly the opposite. []

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