Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Overeating and the Amygdala

Okay, now, don't go using this an an all-out excuse to have a hot fudge sundae for breakfast tomorrow morning.... but research keeps pointing to neurobiology as a major cause for the urge to overeat.

According to Dr. David Kessler and Passamonti, et al overeating is a biological challenge, not a character flaw. For most people, when they see a tempting snack like a potato chip, the area of the brain called the Amygdala lights up with activity and sends feelings of anticipation and desire. And once they start eating, the region shuts down.

But for an overeater the Amygdala remains activated while eating, creating that feeling of want and coaxing the desire even after 5, 10 or even 50 cookies. This can explain why some who've had gastric bypass find the weight creeping back on. Why others are hungry "all the time". Or why chocoholics like me can't seem to get enough Cadbury in a week. The Amygdala is also connected to emotional regulation and addiction - suggesting that much is knotted in this brain region.

I've always marveled at my mother-in-law who can have one cookie and be satisfied. Or a forkful of cake. Or stop at one potato chip. Yes, that's right. One potato chip. Her Amygdala regulates way better than mine.

But I am way better at Scrabble than she is.

So there.

Passamonti, L., Rowe, J., Schwarzbauer, C., Ewbank, M., von dem Hagen, E., & Calder, A. (2009). Personality Predicts the Brain's Response to Viewing Appetizing Foods: The Neural Basis of a Risk Factor for Overeating Journal of Neuroscience, 29 (1), 43-51 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4966-08.2009


Xmichra said...

I am also great at scrabble.. heheh... and I guess my Amygdala likes to be lit ... *sigh*....

Lisa Marie said...

Finally. A name for my flaw! I have an underdeveloped amygdala!!!!

LOL I too find it weird for those who can eat JUST a bite of cake, ice cream or something else I find delectable.

I'm there with you Xmichra.. *sigh*

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Scrabble is what counts in life, right??? I think this is very interesting. It reminds me of years ago I'd spend every Wed. evening listening to a woman named Pat Allen talk about the different functions of the brain and how it related to our daily lives. I wonder what happened to her.

Scarlet said...

Wow. I can totally relate to this.

Deb, do you know if there is any kind of treatment for this?

therapydoc said...

So I have to wonder, since many over-eaters learn to control their cookie consumption and keep this under control, if just like emotional regulation, can't we learn to regulate this appetite, too? I think some of us do, and it helps, btw, to eat that cookie very, very slowly, and btw, she probably eats two of them. Or she should. Are these home-made?

Anonymous said...

No, therapydoc.
That´s not the way.
Taking my limited amount of food, some choc too, with me to work is what worked for my whole worklife.
At retirement I had to relearn everything, and make use of the fact that I have even less money now.
That´s how one soda in the internet cafĂ© is enough (when I have exhausted my time that binge is gone too).
But I will never be able to put away an open bag of chips - just like I will never be really thin.
Controlling my buying urges is possible for me, not for compulsive shoppers, they have a different disorder.

srose said...

Amygdala transplant anyone? Seriously, there is something to this. If your amygdala is not regulating properly, it may be hard for a person to know when to stop eating and it may even become an obsession.

I have also marveled at the people who could just take one bite of choc cake or take one chip..are they CRAZY? ;)

Oh, and I do believe in balance..if you are not doing so great in one area, you are probably brilliant in another :)

Deb said...

I am sooooooooooooo Amygdala-challenged. Let me ask you this: does this coincide with addiction too? Like, an alcoholic usually cannot stop at one drink, while a non-alcoholic can stop at one or two drinks. Does this have any relation whatsoever?

I found this really interesting! Oh and by the way - your tweets are amazing! I've been following and tapping into all the sites you've suggested. :) Good stuff!

purplesque said...

This is interesting. Yes, the amygdala being the center of emotions will 'light up' when we see foods that trigger an emotion in us.

I would be more interested in knowing if this is a genetically inherited trait or a conditioned one. My guess would be that its a combination of both, and significant changes in neurofunction can be made with sustained reconditioning and therapy.

The frontal lobe (the 'thinking' brain) is supposed to regulate the amygdala, and I wonder if they found decreased frontal inhibition in people who binge-eat, and is that is modifiable.

OHN said...

Amygdala. This is really funny but WOW could it open doors to addiction data!

In my family 1/2 are trapped in alcohol addictions, with TNTC attempts and failures at quitting. The other half...nothing. Not even a hint of needing more than one drink in a social setting (if any at all). There is SO much about the brain that we really do not know!

Merelyme said...

I'm sorry...I didn't see anything but the word "Cadbury"...is there chocolate here somewhere?

Wanda's Wings said...

Now if they can come up with something to fix it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I totally have a unregulated amygdala thingy. I can't stop smoking or gambling. As for potato chips, I can take them or leave them.


Dr. Deb said...

I'm good at Scrabble, not great ;)

Lisa Marie,
I sit in awe of those who can do that. BTW, my Mom in Law could also smoke one cigarette back in the day.

I know a Pat Allen too. She was a therapist. Where do you live?

No treatment yet, but maybe this will be a stepping stone towards one.

You and I both know there are those who can tame the beast and those that can't. This might explain why. I think we are all capable of learning the skills to do things, but sometimes getting them into action is the hard part.

I know what you mean!

Balance is the best. And I like how you describe how one can be brilliant in one area and not in others.

Yes, addiction connected too. I love your tweets as well. Especially the ones with your family, They make me lol!

I tend to think like you, that there is a nature nurture ebb and flow.

Look up articles on the brain region: "insula" as well. Amazing info.

I had two mini Hershey bites before logging on. There were only two left, so that's all I could have. But I am longing for more....even contemplating getting in the car to buy chocolate. I am so glad I don't like in the city anymore. All that it takes to satsify my cravings is too much work living in the suburbs!

I agree. I need help in this area!

Addictions are so tough to tame. That's why one day at a time is such a good outlook.

Awake In Rochester said...

My Amygdala is stuck. I'm um, overweight.

I hope they (gov.) don't get on my back like they got on the smokers. I see signs of it. I tend to bit the hand that takes my food away. ;)

traci said...

I LOVE it!

Big Brother said...

For me it depends ont he food. A potato chip does nothing for me, but a piece of rich dark chocolate, well that's another thing altogether.

Sarebear said...

Hee hee. At your attitude, laughing with you, I mean.

Dreyer's Butterfingers Ice Cream, or Wheat Thins Artisan Colby or White Cheddar oh my I just can't seem to resist. At least those last two have Wheat in the title, hee.

Angel Chasse said...

:-) So my excuse is poor amygdala control... oh wait, that is poor self-control :) Eat less, exercise more... :) Funny about your MIL though. Seems in every family there is either someone like her that can turn goodies down, or a person that can eat "whatever they want" all the time and stay thin. Ahhh family :) Thanks for the post!

Dr. Deb said...

I love reading all your comments. Everyone has different likes and dislikes! Oh, just spoke to my MIL who said she ate "half" an apple and was full. She amazes me!

Samantha said...

Now, I'm going to start this with a disclaimer. I know from crazy. I'm from a family of real whack jobs. Oh the stories I could tell. Me, I spent most of my life fighting depression, even denying it when someone sat me down and said medication could help.

Almost two decades later this same person said medication could help keep me alive. She was right, and I still am. That and I remember past lives.

When I was young my Mom smoked. When I wound up around peers who thought it was cool, I took it up as well. I got up to a God awful unhealthy habit and realized I needed to stop. I used Hypnotherapy and stopped cold turkey. My Father had a drug habit, and I saw what drugs and drink could and did do to him and others in my family. I never really got into drinking, and to this day I've never (in this lifetime) been drunk.

Chocolate is something of a weakness, when I remember that I have it around and have some. But I can eat a bag of kisses three kisses at a time. The Potato trick, yeah, I can drive folks crazy with that. I'll take ten minutes to eat one chip, and then ignore them. I'm a sensualist in so many ways. Ten minutes with one perfect chip is almost as good as sex. The "perfect bite" of food is also a borderline sexual thing. Smells, sounds, thoughts get me going and give me as much pleasure as doing something.

I am also morbidly obese (Clincially) though most people when they find out my weight say it's impossible I weight that much. Doctor tells me I have to - and I'm not kidding here - eat more and exercise. I do exercise, but anytime I eat more, my weight climbs. Exercise causes me to eat a bit more, but still nothing close to the 2500 calories or more someone my age and size should be eating to maintain weight.

My body is crazy, and for me, overeating would be to have what most Doctors would consider a normal healthy diet in terms of calories. On weight watchers I GAINED weight (very embarrassing) despite following the program and not cheating.

Frankly I think they need to do lots more research into the brain and biochemistry, because sometimes, there just isn't enough information available. Like me, I LOVE steamed vegetables and grilled chicken, especially when it's lightly marinated in lemon, soy sauce or something else that's tasty and light. Sometimes because I enjoy it, I'll pig out. Steamed broccoli with just a hint of Smart Balance on it. OMG, Heaven in a bowl! But my crazy brain and body is still brooking for an early grave. I've stopped drinking soda and sweetened sugary stuff, cut all caffeine from my life except the little that's in chocolate, limit refined starch, fatty foods and all the stuff they say to do. I drink all natural stuff and even then, mix it 50/50 with water because otherwise it's too sweet.

And still I'm close to 300 pounds.

My body hates me. My brain hates me.

So, I guess that's my long way of saying that despite what I've been assured is inhuman control (and it's not really control, because that would require DOING something) I'm still way heavier than I should be.

But I am my Mother's daughter. All the women in my family are thus cursed. Doesn't matter what we do, or don't, the weight is there and won't go away and leave me alone. Admittedly, I'm dealing with depression, PTSD, and anxiety that exist at disabling levels. I walk two miles a day. In my living room. Thank you Leslie Sansone! But I still fear the Japanese Whaling fleet when I go swimming in the ocean in my blag bathing suit. (It's slimming you know)

So folks, sometimes just control isn't the answer. So I'd say, don't dive into a broken Amygdala too much, because while yes, it could be a problem, sometimes there isn't a simple answer.