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The Neuroscience Behind Food Addiction With Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson

Episode 14: The American Obesity Epidemic is An Addiction Crisis on the Food Addiction: The Problem and The Solution podcast

Host, Susan Branscome:

Our global diet has changed and has elevated insulin levels far beyond what our bodies were intended to handle. When we eat highly processed foods, for example, blood sugar goes up, insulin kicks in, and insulin blocks leptin, which is the satiation hormone that’s released. Is that right?

Guest, Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson:

Yes, it is.

Leptin resistance is essentially the crux of obesity and weight gain.

It’s when your brain has lost touch with the circuitry that would keep your weight in balance. The circuitry that keeps your weight in balance is leptin.

What happens is fat cells get fatter and they release more leptin. Normally, this increase in leptin would tell the brain that there is no need to eat so much anymore because we’ve got extra fat on us. If the brain can’t see leptin, the fat cells get fatter, they release all this leptin, but the brain doesn’t see it.

Now, we’ve got a problem.

We keep getting fatter.

The brain thinks we’re starving. It can’t see any leptin. It thinks we’re emaciated. That’s leptin resistance. And it’s not just elevated insulin that causes it.

Since my first book was published, more research has been done on leptin resistance, and it turns out that high triglycerides block leptin, and so does high inflammation in the hypothalamus.

For our purposes, stopping eating sugar and flour and eating abstinently or the bright line way will solve leptin resistance.

Host, Susan Branscome:

The interesting part of this is you could have some threes and fours on the susceptibility scale and leptin is not kicking in but they’re not food addicts. Is that true?

Guest, Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson:

Some of the features of food addiction would be caused by leptin resistance.

For example, eating more than you intended to eat, not feeling satisfied with a normal amount of food, and feeling out of control over how much you eat once you start to eat, that’s all leptin resistance.

I don’t think someone with severe leptin resistance would be a four.

Host, Susan Branscome:

Talk about dopamine in addicts and what happens in the brain with dopamine and the downregulation of dopamine.

Guest, Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson:

The addiction centers in the brain really are there as circuitry that makes sure that we get more of what’s important to survive, what really matters to an organism like sex and food.

That circuitry releases dopamine when we search and find. We get a surge of dopamine out of seeking, finding, and wanting to do more of that.

When a big reward gets found, a big rush of dopamine gets released.

There are certain stimuli that release unnatural amounts of dopamine. You could not generate them in the wild.

Sugar, donuts, any ultra-processed foods, even a Ritz cracker will do it.

Things like pornography can also generate excessive amounts of dopamine. They provoke a level of sexual stimulation that you just could not find in the wild.

This flood of dopamine overwhelms your circuitry and starts to predict the cues that preceded that reward. Your brain becomes hypervigilant of those cues and thins out the dopamine receptors so that it doesn’t have to be so overridden by that flood next time.

If you keep consuming these strong stimuli, you now thin out the dopamine receptors to the point where at baseline, if you’re not eating cookies and watching pornography, you now feel restless, irritable, and discontent.

You feel itchy. You feel bleak.

You may begin to think you can’t live without sugar and flour.

The good news is, give it just even two weeks and you’ll start to feel a lot better. Even a week. The receptors heal pretty fast.

About Dr. Susan Pierce Thompson

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D., serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. With expertise in the field of eating psychology, she holds the position of President at the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and is also the Founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions. This company is devoted to guiding individuals toward attaining lasting weight loss, health, and vitality. Dr. Thompson’s program incorporates state-of-the-art research to elucidate the mechanisms by which the brain impedes weight loss, and she imparts this knowledge daily to empower people to reverse such impediments, enabling them to lead lives marked by happiness, thinness, and freedom.

Visit her website to learn more!

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