By Heather Hamilton, PhD., LMHC, NCC, DCC | ©2022BreakThrough!
Our brain hates diets and weight loss because the basic role of the brain is to preserve life and maintain an equilibrium supporting physical, intellectual, and emotional functioning. Unless something goes wrong, we’re generally pretty unaware of the millions of interactions occurring between the brain and other body systems. To put it another way: most of our brain is doing for us (or our body) what WE don’t have the time, knowledge, or capability to manage for ourselves.
WE don’t really control the autonomic functions of the brain that allows us to walk, talk, and breathe effortlessly. However, in order to self-regulate eating behavior, WE do have to develop some awareness of what our brain is doing to satisfy its immediate desires to achieve short-term balance (homeostasis). For those who have the workbook, I’m talking about the interaction of the PFC, BETTY (Amygdala), and BRIAN, (the hypothalamus-pituitary axis).
Author’s note: Throughout Breakthrough! the use of WE or US or OUR refers to the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) area of the brain. This is where our identity, perception, planning, thought, and executive functions reside.
In broad terms, our brain seems to have unique set points and preferred operating range determined by BRIAN who hates diets with a passion. Left alone, BRIAN will do whatever he needs to in order to stabilize or maintain his desired comfort level. This does not mean, however, that BRIAN takes into account what’s healthy for us in the long run – that’s OUR job! For example, BRIAN will try to overcompensate for negative reward deficits and encourage addictive consumption until we relapse. Is relapse inevitable then? The answer is no! A primary concept from behavioral therapy is that if we have the right information, we can make healthy choices. When we combine this with the concept of allostasis, we realize that with consistent healthy choices, set points and range can be shifted.
Now, Let’s BreakThrough!
In Session 2 of BreakThrough! we talk extensively about four parts of the brain: the Prefrontal Cortex, Amygdala (emotions), Hippocampus (memory), and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (control) and how they impact our diets. When we understand the interactions between these then it’s easy to identify why certain mood states, cues, and triggers lead to emotional eating. This awareness coupled with new skills and CHOICE Δ points gives us the ability to take charge of Brian and move past emotional and unhealthy eating habits. For more on Brian, Bitching Betty, the Hippo, and US please see this short video.