Tag Archives: neuroscience

The Science Behind Overeating

Many of my clients and readers who are seeking treatment for Binge Eating Disorder, Obesity, or Bulimia ask the question “Why do I overeat?” There are numerous factors that drive us to overeat. But first let’s identify the five main types of overeating; compulsive overeating, impulsive overeating, impulsive-compulsive overeating, anxious overeating and emotional overeating.  The following are possible causes, and ways to decrease the tendency to overeat.

The Science Behind Overeating

Compulsive Overeating

Compulsive Overeaters tend to obsess over food and are compelled to eat with very little self-control.  The condition characterized by low serotonin in the brain, which causes the portion of the brain known as the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus to overwork. The Anterior Cingulate Gyrus is the portion of the brain that is responsible for allowing us to move from thought to thought, co-operate, and see errors; it’s the brain’s gear-shifter. An overactive anterior cingulate gyrus can be caused by genetics, emotional trauma, or poor diet.

Your serotonin levels may be too low if you get thoughts stuck in your head, you worry excessively, you are easily upset, you obsess over food, or you tend to be a night time eater. Serotonin can be raised through aerobic exercise, and supplements (5HTP, saffron, inositol, vitamin B6).

Impulsive Overeating

Impulsive Overeaters often have good intentions when it comes to eating good foods, but have a hard time controlling urges when they see a not-so-healthy food.

Impulsive Overeating is characterized by low dopamine in the brain. Low dopamine decreases the function of the portion of the brain known as Pre-Frontal Cortex. The Pre-Frontal Cortex is the front third of the brain, responsible for allowing us to focus, control impulses, to be emotional organizers and planners, be empathetic and insightful, and to learn from our mistakes. You can think of it as the “then what?” part of your brain; if I eat this, then what will happen? If I say this, then what will happen?

When the function of the Pre-Frontal Cortex is decreased (either through injury or a condition like ADD), it makes it very difficult to think ahead, to focus, etc. Functionality of the Pre-Frontal Cortex is improved by raising dopamine levels. Dopamine may be raised through aerobic exercise and supplements (L-tyrosine, green tea extract, ginseng, rhodiola).

Impulsive-Compulsive Overeating

Impulsive-Compulsive Overeaters constantly think about food and have a difficult time controlling themselves around food.  This condition is characterized by low dopamine and serotonin.  Impulsive-Compulsive Overeating is commonly seen in those suffering from eating disorders, as well as children and grandchildren of alcoholics.

Impulsive-Compulsive Overeating can be improved by increasing both dopamine and serotonin. This can be accomplished through aerobic exercise and supplements (5HTP and L-Tyrosine in the right proportions).

Anxious Overeating

Anxious Overeaters typically use food in an attempt to alleviate feelings of anxiety and fear.

Anxious Overeating is common in those with overactive Basal Ganglia. The Basal Ganglia is a large collection of cells that are located deep within the brain. It’s the portion of the brain that integrates thought with movement; clapping our hands when we’re excited, jumping when we’re frightened.

Symptoms of overactive Basal Ganglia include anxiety, nervousness, tension, the tendency to predict the worst, the tendency to use food as a way to medicate, and physical symptoms of stress (headaches, stomach aches, irritable bowel syndrome etc). Functionality of the Basal Ganglia can be improved through hypnosis, meditation, learning to correct negative thinking patterns, limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption, assertiveness training, and supplements (gaba and magnesium).

Emotional Overeating

Emotional Overeaters tend to use food to alleviate feelings of negativity and hopelessness.

Emotional Overeating is characterized by low levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. Low levels of these neurotransmitters cause the Deep Limbic System to become overactive. The Deep Limbic System sets our emotional tone; when it’s working at a normal level we tend to be more hopeful and positive.

You may have low levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine if you experience a lot of negative thoughts, are sad or depressed, have trouble sleeping, and/or experience a lack of motivation.  These neurotransmitters can be increased though aerobic exercise, learning to replace automatic negative thoughts with healing, rational thinking, and supplements (fish oil, DHEA, S-adenosyl methionine aka SAMe).

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Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship.

© 2012, Dr J Renae Norton. This information is intellectual property of Dr J Renae Norton. Reproduction and distribution for educational purposes is permissible.

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Sources:

KNOW YOUR BRAIN: One Size Does Not Fit Everyone — Targeted Interventions Just For You

Amen, D. G., & M.D., F. (2012). Change your brain, change your body, use your brain to get and keep the body you have always wanted. Three Rivers Press.