Overeating: 'Tis the Season. Again.
(November 27, 2018)
There’s something about this time of year (the period after Thanksgiving’s food marathon and before the Christmas goodie onslaught) that brings the subject of overeating to the mind of all but the most sickeningly self-disciplined.
Knowledge is power. So it might be helpful to remember at this point that overeating is something that your body likes to do. It's not a failure of will, or proof of moral inadequacy, or any of those other little sneers that we are so free with these days when it comes to the subject of food. Overeating is a consequence of physiology and psychology. Really, really OLD physiology and psychology.
It's not your late-to-the-evolution-party, much-overrated frontal lobes that decide when and how much you eat. They are barely players. The shots in the eating game are called by a kind of biological screaming that comes from beneath and behind the cerebrum. From the very old parts of the brain that,your body will always give the floor to whenever they try to speak. And according to your Old Brain, you should be eating some more, right now.
You don't overeat because the food is so good. Most traditional Thanksgiving dishes are eaten only at Thanksgiving simply because no one wants to eat them any other time. Who says, “gee! I can’t wait till November for some of those green beans in cream of mushroom soup!"? NO ONE. Plus your stomach often hurts afterwards. And you might even feel nauseous from all the eating. It's pretty obvious that it isn't your Smart Brain that's setting the agenda here.
Think about it from the viewpoint of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. For those folk, having enough food was always an issue. Agriculture almost certainly came about because of its tremendous potential to ensure a regular food supply. Humans were willing to work much harder than they did before, compromise their general health, and put up with things like next-door neighbors who let their dogs bark all night in order to have some assurance that there would always be food around.
Your brain evolved with “food scarcity” as a dominating drive. Food scarcity is STILL an issue in much of the modern world. So if perchance on occasion there is so much food around that you are actually able to OVEReat, your body says “hey! Choke down some more of that. I’ll store it on your butt and belly so we can have it some day when there isn’t enough. Which might be tomorrow. Who knows?”
It doesn’t actually say that in words, of course. It says it in brain talk, by releasing dopamine, melatonin and serotonin. So even though your stomach might hurt and you might feel nauseous, you're still happy, calm and relaxed. Because you ate too much, and your brain rewarded you accordingly. Good human!
You can deploy your frontal lobes as much as you want, and use all the logic at your command. In the end, your body is making its decisions based on the blood levels of a few wee molecules you have no conscious control over. Disheartening, isn't it?
People eat to relieve stress because eating DOES relieve stress. The particular kinds of food people choose when they are stress eating, are the just the foods that will kick up their happy neuro-transmitters. Whatever we rational animals (or rationalizing animals, as George Bernard Shaw would have said) do, we do for a reason. It's just that that reason may not be what we think it is.
So are there ways to control those stubborn little chemicals that dictate so much of our behavior and body function? That is rather a big subject to tackle here, but it's true that we do finally have a pretty good idea of what it takes to control body weight. There are two factors in particular that are involved.
But that is for another time. Probably in January, when we all wake up from our food comas and steel ourselves to face the new year. For today, just keep in mind that if you are Bad with food this season, it isn’t because you’re Bad yourself. You’re just human. Who woulda thunk it.
P.S. If you’d like to read one of my old newsletters on the subject of tricks to help you through the current Holiday Eating Season, you can find it at http://www.drdianeholmes.com/surviving-the-holiday-food-onslaught.html
--dr. diane holmes
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