Physiology Phriday: Your brain and your food


We all love certain kinds of foods and when we eat them, our pleasure quotients increase dramatically. Some recent work in brain imaging suggests that women with propensity for bulimia show “greater activation of key reward regions of the brain” after tasting a chocolate milkshake. These same individuals may also experience decreased activity in parts of the brain that control self-regulation and impulse control (as reported in the April 2009 Monitor on Psychology, pp. 48-49).

This area of research is new and so the results need replication plus interpretation. Does the brain function this way after years of bulimic behavior. Or, does the brain instigate or tempt such behavior (strong reward response plus increased impulsivity) with it’s prior functioning?

Of course, the individual struggling with bulimia cares only a little about the why. They really concern themselves with the what. How do I eat with moderation? How do I not eat for emotional reasons? Unlike alcoholics who can always avoid alcohol, everyone has to eat, and eat everyday.  So, what to do when your brain responds the way it does to food? Here’s a couple of practical ideas to start you down the right path:

1. Get a “coach” or counselor who you will be completely honest with. This coach will help you construct an eating schedule and an array of responses to eating or purging temptations.

2. Construct a realistic eating schedule that avoids avoiding food. Keep a food journal. Be honest. Keep troubleshooting with your coach until you find something that works best for you. Remember to check out your schedule (times and foods allowed) with a nutritionist.

3. Construct and use an array of behavioral responses to eating temptations. These include distractions, connections with others, ways to make the moment better, crisis call opportunities.

4. Develop mindful techniques to focus on eating, on stopping eating, on other forms of pleasure God has given you–even on the difficult emotions that you feel.

5. Identify controlling automatic thoughts and lies in your “script” that drive you in particular emotional and behavioral directions. These can be about your body image, about your relationships, etc. Begin responding to them with truth from God’s point of view. Make sure your coach and others know what truthes you are trying hard to believe.

6. As you recognize triggers, temptations, etc., also identify “ways of escape” offered you by God.

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Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling science, eating disorders, Mindfulness, Psychology

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