Are you someone who thinks about food all day long? Has it gotten to the point that you only feel good when, and for a short stint after you eat? Do these constantly craved comfort foods considerably consist of concentrated carbohydrates? (Do you also like alliteration?) You know; the breads, pastas, pizza, desserts, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE food and the ritual that goes along with its preparation and consumption. What I’m referring to here actually comes along with a chemically addictive explanation. We are speaking of those of you who frequently binge or automatically resort to the aforementioned food items as a way to cope or boost your spirits. In turn, you may have put on unwanted excess pounds, created a poor self-image, taken a giant step closer to a myriad of health problems headlined by diabetes, and actually even induced depression.
When it comes to our health, we each need to step up and take personal responsibility for our lives and the choices we make, but it always helps to have an actual physiological explanation for the state we find ourselves in. Provided with this, we can effectively identify the problem and begin to address it with an educated approach.
In our bodies we have chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These chemicals are derived from the dietary proteins we consume. Basically, these neurotransmitters can be looked at as chemical messengers that enable the proper communication between nerves. They are responsible for major physiological responses, including the way we feel, and their presence (or lack thereof) can be at the root of many issues, including binge eating and depression. Let me explain.
It has long been known that sugary carb-laden foods are the “feel good foods.” When we are feeling down or sick, we constantly turn to these pro-inflammatory foods which actually perpetuate the problem at hand. The physiological explanation behind this is that they indirectly increase the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
Amongst other things, serotonin is one of the feel good chemicals produced in our bodies. Its levels are commonly targeted when addressing depression. We get serotonin from the dietary amino acid tryptophan (smart sources include turkey, chicken, tuna, salmon, spinach, asparagus, nuts, etc.) If all is working correctly, when we consume food with tryptophan it is eventually converted (with the help of co-factors like oxygen, magnesium and B6) to serotonin in the brain.
(Another interesting fact is that the formation of serotonin is actually facilitated when sun light enters through the eyes. Hence, we tend to feel uplifted on a sunny day and more melancholic on those rainy days. To take it a step further, serotonin is the precursor to the sleep chemical melatonin. Adequate sunlight not only makes us feel good, but actually aids in the proper sleep cycle as well; but back to the serotonin-carbohydrate relationship.)
When we consume carbs, we see a rise in insulin levels to transport the carbs as glucose, to our tissues. Insulin also sends amino acids out of the blood as well. Even though tryptophan is an amino acid, it remains relatively unaffected by insulin due to the fact that it is tightly bonded to another protein. This leaves the tryptophan with a clear path to be converted to serotonin in the brain.
Normally, the various amino acids (including tryptophan) compete to be transported through the blood brain barrier into the brain. This creates a natural and healthy balance within the brain of the amounts of serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, etc.
The problem arises when we spike our blood sugar and subsequently our insulin levels by way of these carb-heavy meals. The burst of insulin rushes to clear out the glucose and all the other amino acids (which normally compete with tryptophan as far as uptake into the brain), but not the tryptophan. The tryptophan now has an unimpeded path to the brain and conversion to serotonin, leading to that temporary high experienced after devouring that meal.
The nasty part occurs when that serotonin spike drops and we lose the food induced euphoria. Now, just like any addict, we are susceptible to chasing that high, in this case, provided by the carb-heavy meal.
So what does this all mean for you? Well, first off it provides yet another reason to seriously take a deeper look into the lower carb diet. Secondly, it provides you with some comfort in knowing that there is a chemical imbalance here taking place that heavily influences your mood and subsequent behavior. Armed with this knowledge, you can begin to make changes to your lifestyle that created this snowballing imbalance in the first place.
If you or someone you know would benefit from investigating this further, please give me a call and we can begin to get you back on track today.