Growing up in the low-fat era it was drilled into my subconscious mind that fat was the devil and that the only way to stay slim was through counting every little calorie that crossed my lips. The emergence of the supermodel era didn’t help either.
25 years later, not much has changed.
Now we’re scared of carbs and have bought into the illusion that animal protein is just as bad as smoking (thanks to last year’s seriously flawed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). And we’re still obsessed with looking like skinny twigs, with eating lifestyles (or lack thereof) to match.
While many of my clients struggle with compulsive overeating, a large percentage of my practice is dedicated to increasing food intake for optimal brain function, cognitive performance, and weight loss.
Brain food is very important. Today I encourage you to rethink the calories in, calories out theory and set aside all the diet dogma research you come across on the almighty Google.
Here are 3 signs you’re not eating enough to support your brain:
- Your blood sugar is on the roller coaster ride from hell. If you feel jittery, anxious, fatigued, dizzy, angry and confused, you’re definitely not eating enough. Chronic blood sugar dysregulation also creates imbalances in important neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine and when these neurotransmitters are low, the body naturally seeks out sugar to increase them.
Enter the screw-it-all-binge your body is naturally drawn into to compensate for feeling crappy and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Eating enough and on a regular schedule balances hormones and keeps blood sugar in check.
- One minute you’re happy, the next you’re biting your man’s head off. To expand on point #1 above, serotonin (regulates carbohydrate cravings, sleep cycle, pain control and appropriate digestion) and dopamine (regulates focus, motivation and desire) are super important for the optimal functioning of just about every body system you have, especially those that enhance mood.
Zinc and vitamin B6 are critical for the production of these important neurotransmitters. Zinc is especially important because it is needed to create sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen, so regularly eating protein-rich foods that contain zinc and B6 in abundance, such as red meat and poultry, create a calming, mood-regulating effect.
- You’re hungry all the time and can’t lose weight. It get it. It’s terribly frustrating to work your booty off in the gym, watch every morsel of food, and see zero results. In this case, you’re not eating enough and probably overtraining. I learned this the hard way after years of pushing myself to the extreme while subsisting on little more than green leafy fluff.
Unfortunately, over time, drastic metabolic changes began to occur in my body in order to keep it in homeostasis. To compensate, it reduced my active thyroid hormones, shut down sex hormone production, and raised my cortisol levels.
When cortisol is chronically elevated, leptin and insulin resistance (zinc is needed to create them too) start to come into play resulting in weight gain that is difficult to eliminate. The connection here with the brain is that 95% of your body’s serotonin is made in your gut, which is why it is referred to as the second brain. And since serotonin regulates carbohydrate cravings and digestion, ensuring adequate and regular food intake is key to any weight loss plan.
Now here are your actions steps:
- Keep a food/mood journal noting physical and emotional reactions
- Eat on a regular schedule
- Add more protein-rich foods
As always, I’d love to know how things turn out for you in the comments below, so don’t forget to leave me a love note as to how you’re doing.