(Monday night’s dinner: Whole wheat noodle’s with marinara, chicken and mushrooms, rosemary carrots and two thin slices of garlic bread).
What do carbs, serotonin and overeating have in common?
Anyone? What you’d like me to tell you, or what you’d expect me to say is that carbs inhibit the release of the feel-good brain chemecal, serotonin, thus causing us to overeat.
It’s the opposite that’s true! According to Cynthia M. Bulik, PH.d and Nadine Taylor, M.S., R.d, authors of “Runaway Eating: The 8 Point Plan to Conquer Adult Food and Weight Obsessions,” eating carbs plays a huge role in the release of serotonin, and serotonin plays a part in the regulation of our appetite!
Not only is serotonin a “happy” chemical our brains produce naturally, it is also “…a powerful modulator of mood, appetite, pain awareness, and sleep” (186). People with depression or anxiety often have abnormal serotonin levels, and many people with eating disorders (anorexia, bulemia, binging) often are suffering from a form of depression or anxiety.
According to Bulik and Taylor, high levels of serotonin can result in “appetite suppression, food restriction, anxiety and obsessive behaviors.” Low levels can actually result in depression and an increase in appetite!
So what about Carbs?
Carbs are bad aren’t they? No! Where in the world did you get that idea? Oh maybe from diets like South Beach or Atkins, or from eating lunch with a friend who refuses to even touch a role for fear of getting fat.
The consumption of healthy, whole wheat Carbs can actually help curb your appetite and control some overeating episodes. How? Well, carbs help to release serotonin.
Here’s how it works in your brain…
>Serotonin: A feel good/regulating chemical produced in our brain. “Serotonin is synthesized [means made complete or whole] within the brain from tryptophan” (p. 189)
–>Tryptophan: An amino acid found in animal protein.
—->Tryptophan needs to get to the brain by piggy backing with a carrier molecule…but so do lots of other amino acids. Being an amino acid is a highly competitive job.
——->We need Tryptophan to get to the brain so that more serotonin can be released.
———->With carbohydrates, insulin is released. Insulin is like tryptophan’s big bro. Insulin rounds up all the other amino acids and makes them wait their turn for once.
————>Now, tryptophan gets the first piggy back ride, which means it gets a trip to the brain, which means more serotonin
So everyone is happy! Tryptophan gets his piggy back ride and we get to experience the bliss of serotonin secretion! Woohoo. 🙂
The lesson being taught is not about amino acids or molecules, it’s about carbohydrates and how they are actually pretty darn good for you.
Remember: The key to regulating serotonin levels is a balance in carb consumption.
Try these tips:
- Limit amount of white, sugary, starchy foods in your diet. These foods do release serotonin, and help you feel better in the short run, but they’re not worth the calories, the energy crash, or the guilt.
- Try to eat a protein (egg, beans, dairy, meat), a whole grain (bread, cereal, pasta, rice), fruits and veggies with each meal.
- Try to eat five small meals a day, on a schedule, until your satiation (hunger) levels regulate (means you’ll actually know when you’re hungry).
- Once your satiation levels are normalized, continue to eat hearty whole grains, but only eat when you feel hungry.
- If you have problems with overeating or binging “substitute a serving of carbohydrates for the protein both in your breakfast and in your afternoon snack” (195). Make up for the protein substituted in your other meals. Document how you feel while you do this. If it helps, continue. If it makes you feel sick, light headed or shaky, stop and go back to your regular eating.
- Exercise: Exercise helps to release serotonin too!
So there you have it! Consider yourself taught!
Your homework, eat a hearty serving of wholewheat pasta! Don’t go overboard though. I suggest checking out www.myfoodpyramid.org to find out how much of each food group you should be eating. For healthy weight loss, I should be eating about 7 ounces (aka, 7 servings). Remember, 1 serving of pasta is 1/2 cup.
Today’s Meal Plan
Breakfast: Whole wheat cereal w/ ½ c. berries, milk and coffee
Snack: fruit and yogurt
Lunch: PB and Jelly Sandwich, fruit, veggies
Snack: Granola Bar, fruit, coffee
Dinner: Huevos Rancheros
Hasta Manana chicitas!
–Shawnee, The Ex-Perfectionist
‘Cause life isn’t perfect, but with a little planning and preparation, you can almost come close!