I weigh more than I want to. About 30 pounds more. Turns out, in part, it’s a brain wiring problem; but then, isn’t everything? It’s also an environmental problem – too much bad food easily accessible – but then, isn’t everything affected by our surroundings? Overeating is also an emotional problem, which – no surprise – is actually a brain wiring problem: the inability to adequately process the energy and information of the immediate moment. Like … having my brain get the message from the neurons in my stomach telling me that I’ve eaten enough already. I can stop now. Stomach is full. If I stop, I really won’t have to go for days without eating, the way my Serengeti ancestors did.
Turns out that brief description above actually lays out how the mechanism works, at least in part. Taking in too many carbs in my diet surrounds my brain cells with fat which works as an insulator. Similar to how insulation in my house works to keep out the cold, insulation in my brain works to choke off the signals transmitted from my stomach. I become a Fathead first, which then leads to a fat body, which leads to “cellular senescence.” Which is mostly why the good and fat die young.
Those Yummy Cognitive Biases
I sometimes consider myself obese, but “medically healthy.” That’s a great self-fooler. Here’s another one: I have “hypofunctioning reward circuitry.” I really like that one. It has just the right amount of credible scientific research and jargon, along with the power of dopamine attached to it such that I can confidently explain my struggle with lack of discipline and awareness around eating. Except that “understanding” and “explanation” don’t really do much to address my condition. I’m still a Fathead with a fat body.
The good news (I guess?) is that I am not alone with this challenge. The US is projected to have 75%! of its population significantly overweight by 2020. Seventy-five per cent is a lot of people. It’s 50% more than half the American population. Which means it’s currently roughly 232 million people with less than optimal brain wiring and supportive surrounding environments where nourishment and appetite are concerned. More than enough viewers to make TV programs like The Biggest Loser, Dr. Phil’s Ultimate Weight Solution and Honey, We’re Killing the Kids huge hits with advertisers like Papa John’s and Pizza Hut.
Whatever part of this Obesity Pandemic isn’t due to too much light at night!, seems to be a social neuroscience problem. But then, isn’t everything? When I think about it, it actually seems more like a national social neuroscience health emergency involving us and our children. How will we continue to send our kids off to war in the world anywhere and any time we want to if three quarters of them could never get up off the couch to go through Basic Training ? (One in four men applicants and one in three women applicants are already being rejected for weight issues by the military). Perhaps it’s the brain’s indirect and complex way of superceding war, since fat killed 75,000 people in America in 2008 while firearms only killed 30,000.
Turns out there are two ways for us and our kids to get fat. One is to expand the size of the fat cells in the body. That’s the bad way. The less bad way is to increase the number of fat cells in the body. That apparently leads to lower risk for metabolic disease. So, a first step for me and 75% of America’s kids might be to be more selective in how we gain the weight we gain.
But if being overweight is a social neuroscience problem, then perhaps what we most need for ourselves and our children are some social neuroscience solutions. Weight Watchers is sort of a social neuroscience solution: people gathering together regularly to support one another, working to slim down the brain cells and change the wiring required to lose weight. But getting people to attend meetings consistently has always been a challenge. Perhaps the four billion corporate dollars they rake in annually serves as a bit of a disincentivizer? Or perhaps they just don’t have enough fun at their food point-rating meetings?
I’ve noticed several things about my food consumption beyond the conventional ones of eating when I’m lonely, bored or anxious. One thing is when I go off on a spiritual retreat and everyone around me is eating less, I eat less. The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience at work? I also sleep more, which is ironically also better for weight loss. When I’m sleeping, I’m not eating. Another thing I’ve noticed is when I’m deeply engaged with people doing fun things, I often don’t get hungry and frequently forget to eat. It happens as well when I’m out building things or rustling/ cutting firewood.
So, hanging out with fun people doing fun things is apparently good for weight loss. Here’s one example of such fun… who among us would not choose to forgo the escalator and take these Piano Stairs that play notes with each step we take? It was installed by The Fun Theory in Stockholm, Sweden. I think we could use a few American Fun Theories where addressing this national health emergency is concerned.