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Fat and Sugar Lead to Food High Making Dieting More Difficult

dieting, food and health

The first few days are undeniably the hardest, and science has figured out one of the reasons why. Fatty and sugary foods cause actual chemical changes within the brain, and when you stop eating them, you go through withdrawal symptoms.

Dr. Stephanie Fulton and a team of scientists from the University of Montreal's Faculty of Medicine and its affiliated CRCHUM Hospital Research Centre studied the effects of high fat, high sugar diets on laboratory mice over a six-week period. One group was fed a low-fat diet (11% of calories) while a second was given a diet made up of 58% fat.

The mice on the high fat diet, as expected, gained weight but not to the point of becoming obese. However, they also displayed behavioral changes such as increased anxiety thus leading researchers to suggest that the animals experienced physical changes within the brain.

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For example, dopamine was one of the molecules in which changes were observed. Dopamine is a chemical that makes us feel good which in turn motivates individuals to acquire particular behaviors. The functioning of dopamine was altered in the mice in the high-fat diet group which contributed to feelings of stress and depression, even before obesity occurred.

Previous research from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that overconsumption of fatty and sugary foods lead to changes in brain receptors in the area of the brain that controls food intake. Opiods that exist naturally in the brain seem to increase after eating such comfort foods, so we then continue to eat beyond the point of being full and nutritionally satisfied.

So, how can we overcome this altered reward system within the brain to begin eating more healthfully without the side effects that would cause us to “fall off the wagon”? One way is to gradually reduce the amount of fat and sugar in the diet over a period of time - versus going on a crash diet. Granted, the effort will not cause rapid weight loss, but it will give you a better chance to prevent rebound binge eating.

• Evaluate the foods that you currently eat, and pick one or two that you will either completely avoid or find a healthier substitute. For example, skip the bag of chips with your lunch sandwich and instead have a salad or a bowl of soup.
• Seek out recipes for healthy alternatives for your favorite comfort foods.
• Instead of thinking of healthy eating as always “taking away food,” try simply adding fresh fruits and vegetables to each meal and focus on eating those first. You may find you simply don’t have room for the less healthy food on your plate and eventually you’ll stop eating it altogether.
• Avoid fast food restaurants and make more food at home using more healthful ingredients. OR, find out which foods are better choices at each of your favorite locations and choose those instead.
• When cooking or baking, use less fat, oil and sugar (and salt) by gradually reducing the amount by a teaspoon or a half a teaspoon at a time. You’ll probably never notice the difference.
• It always helps to keep a journal or a food log of some kind to track what you eat and how you feel after you eat it. You can pick up ideas for patterns that you might not have been aware of, such as always feeling down in the dumps a couple of hours after eating a piece of cake.

Journal Reference:
S Sharma, M F Fernandes, S Fulton. Adaptations in brain reward circuitry underlie palatable food cravings and anxiety induced by high-fat diet withdrawal.International Journal of Obesity, 2012; DOI:10.1038/ijo.2012.197
Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (2009, August 6). High-fat, High-sugar Foods Alter Brain Receptors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2012