Exercise and intelligent eating are the keys to weight control and healthy living. Everyone knows that 30 minutes on the treadmill burns X amount of calories depending on your weight. The role of exercise in healthy living and weight control is straight forward and doesn’t need explaining. The exercise of the brain in weight control is another matter.
In order to understand it, you need to know a few basic facts about parts of your brain and how they function. If you are willing to wade through a couple of basic biology facts, I think you will emerge at the other end with a new tool in the universal ongoing battle of the bulge.
For this subject we need to focus on just two parts of the brain and how they work, together and separately.
The first is the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that is central to emotion. Information flows into the brain and the amygdala provides an instantaneous reaction. This is our emotional response uninhibited by reasoning.
The second part of the brain involved is the frontal lobes or frontal cortex. It is the section immediately over the eyes.
According to the latest issue of Time Magazine, the frontal cortex is “the most recently evolved part of the brain. Larger in humans than in other primates and is critical for many complex human functions such as language and goal-setting.”
The Center for Neuro Skills website said. “The frontal lobes are involved in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior.”
While the amygdala was developed in the womb, the frontal lobes take over 20 years to develop. That fact was a revelation to me and explained how I could have made some of the nearly disastrous decisions I made in my late teen years.
A fascinating study was done with 4-year-old children involving marshmallows. A child was placed in a room and a marshmallow was put in front of him. The directions were that he could eat the marshmallow if he wanted to, but if he waited until the researcher’s return, he could have two marshmallows to eat. Virtually none of the 4-year-olds were able to wait. The reason is that they did not have adequate development of their frontal lobes so they could not control their impulse to eat the marshmallow right now.
Impulse control, problem solving, judgment – all accomplished by the frontal cortex. This functions as our conscience.
The way the amygdala and frontal cortex work together is that we get our immediate emotional reaction from the amygdala. At that point the frontal cortex MAY step in and tell us, “Not so fast. That action isn’t a good idea. Let’s not go ahead with it.”
Although the amygdala responds instantaneously, the frontal lobes have the ability to overrule it.
When you are standing in front of the buffet table with your senses being assaulted by the sights and smells of professionally-prepared and displayed foods, your amygdala is going to have you stacking up your plate with ribs dripping in BBQ sauce UNLESS you can engage your frontal lobes and reconsider the action. Do you really want to add those globs of bad fats to your system? Can you afford to tack on 1000 calories or more for the sake of momentary “great taste?” Think about it. Use your brain.
Ditto at the dessert table, forego the apple cobbler with a scoop of ice cream on top and reach for a ripe red apple instead despite what your amygdala may seem to be screaming in your head.
Use your frontal cortex to consider the consequences of your actions at the buffet table. Exercise the good judgment of which you are capable and you will be taking your first steps toward controlling your weight.
You can do better than that 4-year-old with the marshmallow in front of him … can’t you?