Eating Behaviors and the Brain Part 5

How do we decide what we’re going to eat? There are two primary driving forces behind eating. 1) There is homeostatic eating, which is where we eat so we can get the energy and nutrients our body needs to maintain homeostasis or a normal internal environment. 2) Then, there is hedonic eating, which is where we eat for pleasure or to manage our emotional states.

Hormones and Eating

Almost all of our meals are a mix of both homeostatic and hedonic eating. There are many hormones that influence our appetite. One of them is known as ghrelin. It’s often called the hunger hormone. It will stimulate our appetite. It peaks before meals and falls to lower levels during and immediately after eating, as our body knows we’re now getting the energy and nutrients we need. But this is not the only hormone that influences our eating.

There’s also a hormone involved in satiety, or a feeling of satisfaction, called leptin. Leptin is secreted by our fat cells and helps regulate energy balance. What’s supposed to happen as we gain weight is that leptin levels will rise and tell an area of our brain that we should not eat as much, that we have adequately stored energy in our body. However, for many people, as they continue to gain weight, their leptin levels proceed to rise, but they continue to be very hungry. The brain stops listening to the leptin. This is thought to be due to leptin resistance and is one of the challenges of losing weight if you’ve had chronic obesity.

This is a hormonal issue, and not under your conscious control.

Doctor’s Conclusion

Your hunger and eating are shaped by many factors, including your genetics, social cues, learned behaviors, environmental factors, your circadian rhythms, hormones, stress and emotional states, getting enough sleep, and your physical activity. So you see, it’s very complicated. Science still does not have the secret to hunger and eating, although we’re getting closer. We don’t really understand everything that makes us start eating.

But we’ve learned a lot about what causes us to stop eating. There’s more on that in our next post in the series.


There is an uncomplicated and understandable truth about eating and health. We want to make it easy for you. Join us at Health Shepherds, follow us on Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Eating Behaviors and the Brain Part 4

The bottom line is you eat what your brain tells you to eat. This means not what you, the deeper and greater you, actually wants for yourself. That you doesn’t decide what you eat. Your conditioned non-conscious brain tells you what to eat.

If you really wake up the deeper you and get serious about what you want, you can begin to change this. But for now, you’re eating as your non-conscious brain has trained you to eat. This started when you were an embryo and is based on genetics, hormones, and neurotransmitters that have developed as you matured.

Remember this: It’s not you, it’s your brain.

But guess what? You actually get to take charge of your brain. You can take over your brain and direct your thoughts, feelings, and emotions to be consistent with what you really want for yourself. We also emphasize this in our series on desire, willpower, and mindset. It’s very important that you have the right mindset and the right desire and that you’re very intentional about this.

Now more than ever, you must apply intentionality.

Intentionality and Eating

You or someone you know opens a bag of potato chips or cookies. Perhaps the chips are labeled something like “buffalo ranch maple bacon-flavored.” You think, “Disgusting. Who would ever want to eat something like that?” Then you taste one because your friend says, “You’ve just got to try this!”

And the next thing you know, the bag is empty. You ate the entire bag. You’re sitting there wondering, “How did I just do that? Why couldn’t I stop eating?”

Our rational, conscious brain thinks it’s in charge of our eating behavior, that we eat what we want and when we want, and that we can stop eating whenever we choose to. But we have so much less control than that.

This is true for so many different foods. I think everyone can relate to this example. I sure can. You need to understand that the non-conscious aspects of your brain took over.

Our rational, conscious brain thinks it’s in charge of our eating behavior, that we eat what we want and when we want, and that we can stop eating whenever we choose to. But we have so much less control than that.

Behind the decision-making processes of eating behavior are physiological forces in our brain and body that we’ve never even been aware of. Brain physiology involves hormones, neurotransmitters, and electricity. Your eating behavior is based on many different pathways in your brain that established when you were just developing. Your preferences were formed based on reward stimulation before you were at an age of choice.

Friends deciding what to eat.

If you choose to choose according to your desires, then you’re going to have to pay close attention to this blog series. The great news is, you will be able to choose to choose. You can get mastery over this. Leave behind all of the anxiety, shame, guilt, and powerlessness you have felt. You will be able to take charge.

Be patient with yourself and go one step at a time. Deepen your understanding. Practice visualizing your desires for your best health, and what that looks like. Experience this. I promise it’ll pay you back.  

Visit us at Health Shepherds, review our resources, and read our book Authentic Health. We look forward to you joining us on your journey to better living and authentic health.

Eating Behaviors and the Brain Part 3

I want to reiterate one more time our three fundamental eating behaviors that apply to all nutritional approaches. These three pillars are necessary for any eating paradigm. If you violate these pillars, you ultimately will find that you have very little control over eating behavior and often struggle with your weight or chronic diseases.

I also want to remind you that not everyone who is overweight is unhealthy. Many people who have a heavier body-mass are applying the proper fundamental habits of health in their life. They feel good, and their health metrics look good. These individuals are not unhealthy. This is not about weight. This is about health. Good health supports a healthy weight for you. This is an individual issue based on genetics and long-term hormonal changes based on long-term environmental exposures.

In addition, I want to remind you that many people who aren’t classified as overweight are metabolically sick. They’re eating the foods that make us all sick. They may even be overeating them. However, the way their body regulates their weight via genetics and hormones keeps them at a leaner weight. But their biometrics tell the truth: they have insulin resistance, fatty livers, elevated blood pressures, and chronic inflammation. They don’t feel good. They also need to apply these three pillars.

Three Pillars:

1. Eliminate Nutritional Stressors

Throughout this series, you’ll learn why fast foods, junk foods, processed foods, foods that have been super concentrated in sugar, fat, salt, and other flavors are all causing us health issues. These foods directly trigger inflammation and disease in your body. This has been well established.

These foods only provide high levels of calories but contain minimal nutrients. These foods lack fiber and trigger your reward system in such a powerful way that you cannot stop eating them. You have no willpower when you consume these foods. These foods are the food equivalent of cigarettes. There’s no case to be made that they should be part of our diet.

Man at table eating eggs

When we eat them, we become addicted to them, and we become sick. They make us feel bad. The pleasure we feel from them is false. We have to reject them the same way a smoker has to quit smoking if they want to become well.

You have to engage your higher mind and activate the one part of your brain that gives you some control over eating behavior. Your desire for energy and health has to be greater than the food preferences that you never chose.

I know some think I’m dogmatic about it, but it’s just the truth. If you want to be healthy, these foods have no place in your diet.

But I also want to emphasize you can take your time getting there. Change is hard, and it takes time. Change happens according to strong desire. Just know that I’m not judging you or anyone else. This is a challenging problem and we have to be aware of what these foods are doing to us.

2. Balance Feeding and Fasting

We have many posts that explain what I mean by balancing feeding and fasting, so I’ll not go into it right now. Our bodies are designed to enter the fed state, but they are also designed to spend time in fasting states. This is a very important principle.

3. Mindfulness of Eating

You have to engage your higher mind and activate the one part of your brain that gives you some control over eating behavior. Your desire for energy and health has to be greater than the food preferences that you never chose.

This is a very important piece of the puzzle because once you’re exposed to the foods that trigger your reward system, you will not be able to control your behavior. That’s true for everyone, including me.

Broccollini and cheese and lemon

So you have to apply a mindful approach to nutrition. That means understanding what food is for you, being mindful about the sourcing, taking your time to eat, chewing your food thoroughly—preferably 25 times if possible—and enjoying what food is supposed to do for you.

In conclusion, eliminate nutritional stressors, balance feeding and fasting, and be mindful about eating. It really is that simple.

There is an uncomplicated and understandable truth about eating and health. We want to make it easy for you. Join us at Health Shepherds.

Eating Behaviors and the Brain: Part 2

Obesity rates have been rising in our country, and other industrialized nations, for the past several decades. It’s no secret that we eat more than we used to. In spite of reduced-fat foods, fad diets, and exercise crazes, we’ve increased our daily calorie intake by more than 400 calories per day since the 1980s. But why if we have all this knowledge of our overeating tendencies and the damage it does to our health, do we continue to succumb to this behavior?

The Problem

The standard approach to this problem is to suggest it’s primarily an issue of overeating and not enough exercising. As you know from our teachings on how our body weight is managed, there are more influences on our weight than these two variables.

If it were an issue of eating too much and not being physically active, the problem could be blamed on those who’d been gaining the weight.

It could be suggested that they just lack willpower and that they need to push away from the table.

Large English breakfast with eggs, sausage, baked beans, and potatoes

 

For decades, people have been confounded by this issue, and it’s caused many to feel bad about themselves. The confusion has resulted in the same solutions: reduced calorie diets and increased physical activity.

We’ve also offered all kinds of fad interventions, such as picking one particular food group as the primary cause of our issue. It was because we ate too much fat, and now it’s because we eat too much sugar. Some would have you believe it’s because we don’t eat enough whole grains, or whatever other macronutrient has become the sensation of the year.

But why if we have all this knowledge of our overeating tendencies and the damage it does to our health, do we continue to succumb to this behavior?

Pointing fingers at the people who struggle with this problem doesn’t help.

The Inquiry

These are the questions we should be asking:

  • Why do I eat so much food?
  • When certain foods make me sick, why do I still eat them?
  • Once I start eating, why can’t I stop?

The answer to these questions actually lies in how your central nervous system regulates eating behavior. It does it primarily through non-conscious mechanisms. You’ve always had far less control over your eating behavior than you thought.

The Solution

The good news is, once you know the truth, there’s a path out of this. There is a way of eating that restores normal appetite control, healthy weight, and health. I’m going to teach you the solution in this blog series. This is a fundamental, time-tested truth. It applies to all paradigms of eating. I’m not going to teach you that you have to eliminate one primary food group from your diet or suggest you go on a significant calorie-restricted diet on a consistent basis.

Light lunch with seared salmon and lime

I’m going to teach you that centering your diet around a particular category of foods will provide you with energy and health, begin to reverse many diseases, and naturally control your eating behaviors in a satisfying manner. You will no longer have to fight with yourself over food choices. These foods give you back control of your eating behavior.

I’m not going to teach you that you have to eliminate one primary food group from your diet or suggest you go on a significant calorie-restricted diet on a consistent basis.

The challenge will be accepting that these foods are the ones that you have to eat…

More on that next in our next post.

Are you interested in learning more about healthy eating? Read our Precision Nutrition documents and follow along on this important and informative blog series!

Transforming Your Habits to Transform Your Health Part 14

There’s a difference in the feeling of pleasure, or euphoria, versus the feeling of wellbeing.

When I talk about this, for the sake of this blog, I’m substantially simplifying these concepts.

For a more in-depth explanation, watch our video series and read our book, Authentic Health.

Pleasure vs. Wellbeing

You have a region in your brain known as the reward center. It’s supposed to orient our behaviors around activities that promote our survival, such as eating and reproduction. There are many different activities and substances that stimulate our reward system. When they do, we have strong feelings of motivation and energy (from a concurrent stress response). If we experience the culmination of the reward response, the result is a brief period of pleasure. It is described as a feeling of euphoria.

woman laughing feeling euphoric pleasure

This system works fine when the behaviors and substances that stimulate it are not unnaturally concentrated or experienced at a high frequency. This system directs us to behaviors that promote our survival. However, this system does not work well, nor is it adapted to, an environment in which the triggers are super-concentrated and readily available.

Because the system helps us survive, it is designed to override our higher mind, or conscious controlled behavior.

In addition, it overrides internal, non-conscious, regulatory functions that balance our behaviors.

If we experience the culmination of the reward response, the result is a brief period of pleasure. It is described as a feeling of euphoria.

When Pleasure Goes Bad

What’s an example? Binge-eating.

There are certain flavors in foods, such as sugar, fat, salt, and meaty flavors, or glutamate, that are powerful triggers of our reward system.

When we experience these flavors, our brain turns off conscious control of eating and overrides normal satiety function which causes us to binge eat. That’s because these flavors are associated with nutrients that helped us survive, but they were not always readily available to us.

Food manufacturers have taken advantage of this.

Now they make super-concentrated flavors in foods that have minimal fiber or nutrients in them. The American marketplace is manipulating your reward system and making you feel like it’s your fault that you can’t control yourself – when in actuality – it’s biology you can’t control.

This feeling is not sustainable, and it’s not real. For the moment, it feels good, but you quickly develop tolerance and soon you feel no pleasure at all. You just feel a little less bad when you binge eat, or smoke, or drink, or whatever it may be.

A giant spread of food including tacos and pizza and dip and chips provides pleasure

For the moment, it feels good, but you quickly develop tolerance and soon you feel no pleasure at all.

Awareness Rather than Blame

We blame ourselves for this, but we shouldn’t.

Yes, we’re making a choice, but we’re not really. Ultimately, we do have to make the choice to walk away altogether. If you’re susceptible to those specific triggers and you’re exposed, you will not be able to control your behavior.

Genetics play a part. Not everybody is susceptible to every one of those flavors, nor is everyone susceptible to nicotine, alcohol, or opiate addiction. But we’re all susceptible to some form of addiction, whether it be through entertainment, cell phones, video games, gambling, binge eating, drugs, alcohol, or many other things that trigger the reward system.

You have to understand what you’re dealing with.

Our reward system is meant to work in balance, over the course of time when we enjoy good food, and when we enjoy activities that promote our long-term survival. What we’re really supposed to experience afterward is a feeling of wellbeing. That’s a different area of the mind.

Woman in front of slot machines getting pleasure

I want you to think about what triggers your reward system.

What can’t you control when you’re exposed to it?

Willpower, while important, is not the primary way we control these responses. I describe this more thoroughly in the book, and in our other resources. I think this teaching is very effective and helpful.

We’re up against something we don’t understand, but that something understands us, and it’s taking advantage of the situation. It’s very important to wake up to this. In our next post, we’ll discuss how to cultivate wellbeing.


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Eating Behaviors and the Brain Part 1

Frequently, when I’m seeing patients who have health issues that are strongly influenced by their eating behaviors, they will reflect how they just need more willpower so they can make the changes that will help them to be healthy. While it’s true that willpower is involved in any change, I think they’re misunderstanding how eating behaviors are actually regulated.

We overestimate how much conscious control we have over our eating behaviors. I want to help people to understand this issue, so I’m creating a series of blog posts. It’s that important. Because if you don’t know what you’re dealing with, then you can’t possibly make the changes you hope to.

Where Do Eating Behaviors Originate?

We tend to think that we choose our eating behaviors, that we choose according to our own preferences. However, our conscious control of eating actually has minimal influence over our eating behaviors. Our eating behaviors are largely determined by central nervous system signals involving our reward system and satiation control, as well as hormonal signaling influencing our energy balance.

Most people, when it comes to hunger and eating behavior do not know what they’re actually dealing with. These posts hope to answer that question and empower the readers to be able to take back control of their eating behavior. I find so many people addressing this area from a perspective of shame, self-doubt, and guilt. Additionally, they tend to view willpower as an issue of character, and if they can’t control their eating behaviors, then they must be deficient in their character.

Man with chips, soda, and burger

People who are dealing with chronic obesity and metabolic diseases feel very badly about themselves for how their eating behavior contributes to these diseases, but ultimately, they should not.

You can finally choose foods that nourish you, and support your good health, and give you energy.

Most of the influencers of eating behavior occurred before we were at an age of conscious choice. Therefore, our eating behaviors are based on conditioned patterns in our brain that are beyond the reach of conscious control. What we call our preferences are often eating habits that were established before we even knew how to form a preference. Our focus is for all of our preferences to become healthy.

Be Empowered to Make Changes

I hope this series will help many people who are confused by their current situation regarding eating and weight. This is meant to be encouraging, to help you feel better about yourself, and to give you the tools you need so you can finally choose according to your preferences. You can finally choose foods that nourish you, and support your good health, and give you energy. You can finally, forever, walk away from the foods that actually make you sick.

Healthy salads with mixed greens

Stick with this series and pay close attention to what we teach. There’s a lot of depth behind what I’m teaching, but I’m going to try and keep it simple. Everything I’m teaching is based on solid science and credible studies. I believe this will be enlightening for you and empowering.

Are you searching for a more integrated approach to healthcare? That’s what Health Shepherds delivers. If you have questions about a more personalized path to your wellbeing, contact us. You also can like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.