Note from Dr. C
March 23, 2016
RESISTANT STARCH
March 23, 2016

DRC – interview with Dr. Christianson and Stephan Guyenet, Ph. D

stephanguyenet-003-320x399Is your brain making you hungry? Have you gone low carb but not lost weight? What are the real causes behind those stubborn 10 pounds? Dr. Guyenet is one of my favorite academic researchers in the world of the neurologic ties into obesity and hunger. I had a great time talking with him and I bet you’ll enjoy it also.

Listen to my podcast with Dr. Guyenet HERE

[The following is a transcript from my interview with Dr. Guyenet.]

Dr. C: Hey, there! Dr. C here and welcome to the show. I’m excited to have Dr. Stephan Guyenet here with me today. I’ve been a fan of Dr. Guyenet for some time and have followed his work. Today, many health experts are repeating each other without providing a lot of clear depth. Dr. Guyenet’s work is very different. He’s been an obesity researcher, a neurobiologist and an author. More than many others, he breaks down his information to pure data and research. A common habit is to take data from secondary sources and follow trends, but he’s done a great job going beyond this. He’s gone down deep into the sources themselves. His blog is Whole Health Sources. I follow it closely, and encourage everyone to take a look at it.

Stephan, welcome to the show.

Dr. Guyenet: Thanks. Glad to be here, Dr. Christianson.

Dr. C: I really appreciate your time. If you don’t mind, give us your background and training. What led you down this path?

Dr. Guyenet: I’ve always been fascinated by science, particularly the human brain. As far as we know, the human brain is the most complex structure in the entire universe. It’s the last great frontier in the biomedical sciences. I went to graduate school for neurobiology at the University of Washington where I studied a neurodegenerative disease, called Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 7. There’s a mouthful! It’s a rare disease but has some applications to some other disorders.

I came to realize I wanted to study something that had more of an impact on a greater number of people. It’s pretty hard to imagine anything having a larger impact on a greater number of people in the United States than obesity. So, for my post-doctoral work, I joined the lab of Mike Schwartz, also at the University of Washington. We studied some of the brain circuits that regulate food intake and body fatness. I came to realize there is a lot of information out there, giving us profound insights into human eating behavior and body fatness that a lot of people were unaware of. I think a lot of people are walking around with models of how eating behavior and body fatness work that aren’t correct. They’re hearing things third hand, or on the news or reading online and are accepting these inherited wisdoms or culture ties that don’t have much evidence behind them. I found this fascinating and started writing about it. That led to the Whole Health Source blog, as well as a book I’m working on.

Dr. C: Excellent. I’ll be eager to talk more about that as we go along. Mark Twain talked about the problem of ignorance, or thinking something that isn’t so, as being two barriers. I think this is something we’re up against quite a bit when it comes to obesity knowledge and understanding on a public level. It’s an unanswered question with many sources acting as though it’s been figured out. We’re finding the answers aren’t as simple as going low-calorie, or low-carb or training harder.

Dr. Guyenet: That’s right. I think it’s a lot more complicated than a lot of people have been led to believe. We like stories that are coherent, simple and lead us to believe single-factor explanations that may not do a good job of explaining what is going on.

Dr. C: I have looked at this as far as the global trend. The stats are pretty freaky stuff. I looked at the costs economically, as well as the lives lost from every war on the planet since 1800. Then, I looked at the obesity trend projections out to 2030. What I came away with is this: We’ve spent more on the costs of obesity than we have on every war on the planet—not just the American wars—since 1800. The costs projected for managing chronic disease associated with obesity is about six times the cost of all those wars. The deaths associated with it are roughly 30% greater than the deaths from all those wars over the last couple of centuries.

Dr. Guyenet: Wow. That is really amazing. It’s shocking, but at the same time, it’s not that surprising. I think the latest figures from the CDC are 38% of Americans have obesity. We know that obesity is probably the number one driver of a lot of our chronic diseases that kill us today and sap our vigor. Actually, one of the drums I’ve been beating lately is that the true health impacts of excess body fat have been underestimated in a lot of cases. There’s a lot of new research showing the true impacts might be even more than what we previously thought.

Dr. C: In terms of a greater number of conditions, or a greater extent of risk factors or how so?

Dr. Guyenet: In terms of a greater extent of risk factors. Basically, the impacts of excess body fatness, obesity etc. are usually estimated by looking at observational data. They’ll look at a cross section of the population as to how much more often people with obesity are dying or developing diabetes than people who don’t have obesity. Then, they’ll come up with these estimates. The problem is that being ill and smoking cigarettes both cause you to lose weight, so you have a lot of sick people who are now in the lean range who used to be obese. So, a lot of the studies are missing part of the impacts of obesity.

There is a researcher, named Andrew Stokes, who’s been looking at the data in a different way. He’s been using weight histories, meaning instead of looking at a snapshot of how much you weigh now, he looks at all your weights from as far back as possible to see what your maximum weight is and how that’s associated with your current health. When you do this, it really starts to bring into focus these negative health impacts I think are missed by traditional analysis. His data is showing the health impacts of excess body weight can explain about one-third of total mortality among middle-aged and older U.S. adults. So, we’re talking about a huge mortality burden, and we know why that is: It’s because obesity drives a variety of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. The numbers, like you said, are shocking, and the analysis you did there is really interesting. I think it’s another way to highlight the magnitude of what we’re in the midst of here.

Dr. C: Let’s see if we can go deeper into some of the points you made. Basically, people can be lean because they smoke or are wasting away because of chronic disease. They’re obviously not healthy. Also, many long-term smokers may have been at a lower weight for some time, so you may not see they had a higher weight in the past. This can skew the mortality of the lean population, which is a difficulty.

Dr. Guyenet: Yes, that’s absolutely right.

Dr. C: Another wrinkle I’ve noticed in some data is there may not be that great of a contrast between how we define normal body weight and overweight. For example, some data argues we call a body mass index of 18-24 normal weight, while other data suggests being on the higher end of that may be very close to the same risk category as being obese.

Dr. Guyenet: There’s a lot of nuance there. I think one of them is body mass index is trying to be a measure of fatness; however, the problem is it also measures lean mass. So, you can have someone who is technically overweight but who’s very muscular and fit. To be fair, those people are not that common. Usually, if someone has a high body mass index, they’re going to have a high body fat percentage.

Dr. C: Yes, it’s not perfect data but easy to gather.

I think we may get wrapped up in this being a global thing, but it’s also important to understand relevant action steps for anyone who has an extra 10-30 pounds and is really struggling to get those last pounds off. This isn’t only important on a global level. It’s also important for getting rid of those last few pounds.

Dr. Guyenet: There is another thing I think is relevant and has a lot of practical value for people who are already carrying a lot of excess weight: You don’t necessarily have to lose all the excess fat to improve your health dramatically. We now have really good data from the diabetes prevention program trial (and several other trials), showing the exact same thing. If you can just lose as little as ten pounds, and exercise regularly, you can reduce your risk of diabetes dramatically, and these effects last a long time. We all know weight loss is difficult. Major weight loss is difficult, so these studies show you can make huge strides in improving your health without having to go all the way in weight loss. For me, that’s really important because it brings back a sense of control and hope for people who are carrying a lot of excess fat.

Dr. C: That is a really encouraging message! I think I’ve seen similar data on hypertension and apnea. The loss of those first several pounds means big improvements.

So, let’s talk about some things that can really help people. Namely, let’s address how some prior assumptions have become blocks to weight loss. Many people get blocked into these macronutrient niches, believing carbs are evil, fat is evil, protein is evil. It’s as if there’s one bad guy we want to line up and shoot! I’ve really resonated with your work because you’ve not gone into any of these traps. You’ve also done a good job of helping to break through some of the tenants that form these traps, these beliefs. I’d love to talk through a few of these with you and hear your input on these topics.

Dr. Guyenet: Our human nature has a tendency to want to find a simple and clear explanation for everything. We also tend to listen to other people—to have these broad, society-wide, intellectual trends. One of those was the low-fat trend of the 1990’s. This was a fat phobia. Now, we’re in a new trend related to sugar, and to a lesser extent, other types of carbohydrates. To become as popular as they have, they have to contain a grain of truth; however, neither offers a complete explanation and both ignore most of what’s going on for obesity and human health.

I view sugar and fat as very similar to one another in that the body weight and health impacts depend almost entirely on the context in which they’re eaten. For instance, apples or pears are not fattening foods, and some evidence shows they’re slimming foods. But, if you take those same sugars and concentrate and refine them, you turn them into something that is calorie dense. This titillates some of your brain’s instinctive food preferences, which gets people to overeat. It’s the same thing with fat. For instance, you can eat soybeans. You’re not going to get fat eating edamame, but if you take those same soy beans and extract the oil from them, you now have pure soybean oil. You put this oil in all of your foods, and the calorie density goes up. The reward value goes up. Again, you’re concentrating calories and titillating those brain circuits, so you’ll end up overeating. You’re going to end up missing out on critical, essential and nonessential nutrients that offer health benefits.

Dr. C: I think some of our listeners may not have heard of the food reward theory. Would you mind giving us an overview of it?

Dr. Guyenet: Sure. I’ll give you a broad overview of reward in general, and then, take a step back. As humans, we’re born not really knowing how to do anything. We have a couple instinctive behaviors, but almost all of the behaviors, preferences, thoughts and feelings we have today developed through the learning we’ve had over the course of our lives. One of the major ways we learn is through so-called reward. This is a nonconscious process that tries to reinforce things in the brain that it instinctively views as valuable.

For a clear example, let’s talk about drugs. If you shoot up heroin, it goes to your brain and releases a bunch of dopamine in the motivational circuits of your brain. The brain is essentially going to map all the things associated with heroin (the place you were, the people you were with, what it looked like, what it smelled like, etc.), and these become motivational cues that are going to trigger your desire to take heroin. So, the next time you’re in that same situation, your brain says, “Hey, this is where I can get heroin.” You’re going to get really strong cravings which will drive your heroin-seeking behaviors. So, drugs, like heroin, plug into the same circuits of your brain that evolve to help you seek good things, such as good food, sex, social acclaim, physical comfort, etc. The fact that your brain would naturally seek drugs of abuse is a highjack of those same motivational learning circuits. So, for food reward, the brain is instinctively attuned to certain food properties it detects by your digestive tract. It detects things like fat, starch, sugar, protein and salt and then, triggers your motivation to obtain the foods that contain them. This is why kids don’t like Brussels sprouts. This is why kids often don’t like vegetables much. Vegetables don’t have a lot of calories in them. The brain is very attuned to those properties that signal calories, such as the fats, the starch and the sugar. So, when you get into the foods that have really concentrated combinations of these calories—things like pizza, ice cream and chocolate—you’re talking about very, very concentrated versions of those things that your brain finds really seductive about food. You end up getting this higher level of motivation to eat those things, and there’s pretty good evidence some people actually become addicted to those foods in the same way some become addicted to drugs. Even among those of us who don’t become addicted, that motivational drive can still cause us to overeat, consume unhealthy foods and form deeply ingrained habits that can be very hard to break.

Dr. C: I had a conversation about addiction last night with a good friend who’s doing some work along these lines. In your example about heroin, there’s a model where mice were given heroin in a particular setting, and that setting was part of the future trigger. My friend told me of old studies of addiction where animals were given heroin or cocaine and a lever to press to have more of the drug, or they could choose food or water. In the studies, the animals basically dismissed their survival needs just to keep getting this hit.

Recently, these studies were revisited with the realization that context was important (just as you mentioned about the context in which taking the drugs occurs). In these studies, mice were given liquids that contained heroin or cocaine and, also, plain water and food. In one study, the mice had a sort of playground. They could do all types of activities and interact with other mice. In another study, they pretty much just had water and heroin. When the mice had other things to do, even though they had the heroin, they’d do other things and not get addicted. They tested mice for 30, 60 or 90 days, and even though they forced them to become physically addicted, the context would completely shift the outcome. So, it wasn’t purely the chemical addiction of the brain, but it was also a matter of what other ways they had to hit their happy buttons—what other things they had access to.

We live in a suburban environment, but I grew up on a farm where we had a lot of ways to hit our happy buttons. We could go outside and explore. In a suburban world, there are few ways for kids to do that apart from food and games. So, I wonder how much the context is relevant.

Dr. Guyenet: I think the context is very relevant. Basically, addiction is a reward process, or a behavioral reinforcement process, where your brain prioritizes behaviors by how much dopamine it’s been associated with in the past. The reason cocaine and heroin are addictive is because they cause a lot of dopamine to release, so the behaviors associated with them get prioritized over regular things, like taking care of yourself or eating food, etc. Your susceptibility to that has to do with your environment.

That research is really interesting, and they’ve extended it to humans to some extent.

There are two things to keep in mind. First, many of us are vulnerable at times, even if we have good lives. You might be going through a really stressful period or a time when you’re not feeling as good as you usually are. Maybe, you have a brief period of depression or other things that could be making you more vulnerable in an otherwise good and happy life. The second thing to keep in mind is you don’t have to be addicted to a food to overeat it. Addiction is on the extreme end of a reinforcement process of all this experience. So, there is a spectrum spanning from not caring at all about a food to being addicted to it. Most of us fall somewhere along that spectrum, but the more you eat these extremely rewarding foods, that are concentrated versions of these reinforcing properties I described (basically, junk foods), the more they’re going to push you along that spectrum. Even if we don’t end up being technically addicted, it still can make us overeat, just because we’re a little too motivated to eat them and have difficulty controlling that impulse.

Dr. C: You mentioned how the context of one’s stress levels and stress response can also be relevant toward that?

Dr. Guyenet: Yes. People who are in a tough spot are more vulnerable to addiction. That’s consistent with what you were saying earlier.

Dr. C: In my last book, I tried to bring some understanding about the triggers of the obesity crisis. I saw many different triggers researchers talked about, like the obesogens and various chemicals. Processed foods and heightened stress loads came up a lot. I saw many odd things, too, like lack of thermal diversity (staying too warm all the time). A common thread was the physiological stress response—the body has this survival adaptation that probably benefited us by getting us prepared for famine. However, now it can get triggered by a lot of visible stressors and things we wouldn’t normally associate with stressors. To a researcher, stress is a broader term than it is to the lay public. Any thoughts along these lines?

Dr. Guyenet: I think there are good stressors and bad stressors. The body responds well to many types of stressors, like exercise, for example. Exercise makes your body stronger and more resilient not only to physical exercise stress, but also many other types of stress, including psychological stress. I think thermal stress falls into the same category to a degree. We evolved getting cold sometimes and getting hot sometimes. Now, we’re in this extremely thermally-controlled environment all the time, so we’re not exercising our thermal control systems in the same way we might exercise our arms and legs, doing exercise in our cardiovascular system. I think that has implications both for our calorie expenditure and for metabolic health.

There are also stressors that aren’t so helpful, like uncontrollable psychological stress. This is a feeling of being psychologically stressed but not feeling like you have control over the situation. One of the clearest examples of that is being stuck in a traffic jam. I’ve always been a big proponent of cycle commuting on a bicycle.

Dr. C: I am with you on that.

Dr. Guyenet: I think one of the best things about cycle commuting is the psychological benefits. If it takes me roughly the same amount of time from my house to work on a bike than it does in a car (or even longer), the difference is there’s really not anything that can get in my way on my bike. I’m in control of the speed I’m going on my bike. Whereas, if you’re in a car on a road, you can only go as fast as the car in front of you. So, there’s a large difference in the perception of control in that situation. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, there’s nothing you can do about that. If you’re on your bike, and you want to go faster, all you have to do is pedal harder. I think the perception of control is a very important component on how the body and mind react to stress. Different people have a different sense of whether they can control a tough situation or not. What might seem uncontrollable for one person (like a credit card payment), might seem completely controllable to another person.

Stress isn’t an unnatural thing. We’ve always had stress. We’ve had a lot of stress throughout our history. There are a couple of differences now. One of the biggest is we have really destructive outlets for that stress. We have very unhealthy food, video games and many other things. I’m not saying those are always bad, but people can become addicted and use them in non-constructive ways. We have a lot of things that can hurt us, like drugs. Drugs can, in a sense, help us relieve and control our stress, but in another sense, have really destructive, downstream effects.

Dr. C: For sure. I think, in many cases, we resolve stressors in non-physical ways. We write an email, or we speak to someone. We do something else that is psychological, and our body may not really understand that we just fixed it, and the stress is now over. One of the great things to bookend the day is that you’re physically responding, and your body is getting a sense that you might be running or fighting in some way, and so, for now, you’ve taken care of it. You have those post-exercise endorphins and are back in the cave, safe, so you must be good now.

Dr. Guyenet: That’s an interesting perspective. One really interesting thing about the stress response is if you look at how the stress response is wired into the brain, it’s really deep in there. Pretty much all of our brain systems have some facet of the stress response deeply wired into them. This highlights the profound importance these things had on our survival in a time of our ancestors: How you react to a predator, in combat with a neighboring tribe or perform in a high-stakes hunting or gathering situation. These are all things that had a huge impact on the survival of our ancestors, so these things are deeply wired into the brain. The weird thing about it, though, is as sophisticated as the systems are, the stress response is kind of crude in the sense that it’s all or nothing. There’s not a lot of nuance on how it turns on. If you’re sitting there, the reaction the stress response creates when a tiger jumps out of the bushes at you is not that different from the one that’s created when you’re frustrated by an Excel spreadsheet. Even though those are extremely different scenarios, you have a very similar stress response that’s happening. Your sympathetic nervous system is activated. Your HPA access is getting activated. You’re getting cortisol. Your palms are sweating. Your blood pressure goes up. Your glucose and fatty acid levels in your blood go up. You have this psychological and physiological response that’s quite stereotyped no matter what the stressor is. So, it’s amazing. I think it highlights the fact of what you said is we’re not really adapted to these purely psychological stressors, like having a conversation with your boss or getting fired. These are things that have no physical repercussions whatsoever, and our brains were not designed to react to them, so they overreact.

Dr. C: I am eager to talk about the topics in your new book, specifically macronutrients. You noted there was a kernel of truth to all those models. I saw a study where people were observed for two years. It showed the overall results on weight loss on low-carb, low-fat or mixed diets. The group results were quite similar, but when you broke it down in terms of individual response, there were people in every group that either gained a bunch or lost a bunch. There could be one person that did the low-carb diet and lost 15 pounds, and someone else on the same diet gained 10 pounds. So, you could see the group average of five pounds of loss, but it was misleading on the individual level. I’ve seen some data showing the APOE genotype may be having some predictive value in this way. Any thoughts along those lines or other ways someone can get a read on their particular macronutrient needs?

Dr. Guyenet: That is a great point. There’s a lot of information that gets hidden by averages. In almost all the studies we do in biomedical literature, we’re looking at averages. It’s the easiest and most straightforward way to look at and test most hypotheses. Most people don’t even think about individual variability, and they’re just looking at averages. I think when you’re interested in what’s happening on an individual level, it makes sense to look at individual variability. What you said is absolutely correct. If you look at people on low-fat diets and low-carb diets, and almost any kind of diet, you’re going to see it works real well for some people and not so well for others. For some people, it will seem totally counterproductive. There’s this certain amount of individual experimentation that has to happen. We can look at the scientific literature and say, “Hey, on average, XYZ is going to be your best approach”. At the same time, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be the best approach for you, and maybe you should experiment until you find the thing that works best for you.

Another thing I find interesting is you see these people who lose 100 pounds on the low-carb diet, or like Jared Fogle who lost however much weight eating subway sandwiches. These people are complete outliers. That doesn’t reflect at all on the average efficacy of these diets. If you could lose 150 pounds eating subway sandwiches, we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic in this country.

Dr. C: In terms of outliers, data says this type of response might even be the winning-the-lottery-type odds. It can be so rare.

Dr. Guyenet: Yes, people who lose that amount of weight are not very common. It probably requires a combination of factors, like genetics and adhering well to the one intervention that works best for them. Also, people differ greatly in the degree to which their brains defend their current body weight. Basically, we have these starvation responses that kick in when we try to lose weight. For some people, those are a lot more responsive than they are for other people. So, one might get a starvation response after they lose a pound. Another person’s might not kick in until they’ve lost 20 pounds. When it does kick in, some of them will be a lot stronger than others. So, there are a lot of biological differences between individuals that can make it easier or harder for them to lose weight in general, but also harder or easier for them to lose weight on specific types of diets.

Dr. C: I’m really intrigued by your upcoming work. I’ve been reading some works suggesting the idea that our cognitive conscience may be a much smaller player than we thought-maybe not even a player at all. Sam Harris is a strong author and polarizing to some. He wrote a book, called FREE WILL, a while ago that argued our sense of awareness actually has little to do with the decisions we make, and it’s simply an echo of what decisions already happened a second ago by our brain. I’d be fascinated to hear your take on how some of these concepts apply to our sense of being full and our food needs.

Dr. Guyenet: That’s a great question. We’re getting into some territory that’s often not very intuitive for people because it boils down to what we are aware of. That’s the conscious processes of the mind, but it turns out most of what goes on in your brain, you’re not conscious of. The information your conscious mind is aware of is little snippets being passed up to it by the unconscious mind. I think some of the best examples of that are precisely the type of research you’re talking about. This is where neuroscience research is showing that your brain has made a decision often before you’re consciously aware of it. It just fed you that decision. I think that has major implications for how we think about our eating behavior and body weight.

Intuitively, we think of ourselves as being consciously in control of our food intake and body weight. That’s not entirely wrong, as you can exert conscious control over your food intake, but that doesn’t mean it’s the primary thing guiding your everyday decisions. The implications of that are when we give people advice like, “Well, if you want to lose weight, all you have to do is eat a little more.” The problem is that advice doesn’t really target the brain circuits that are in control of your food intake. That advice assumes the following: You have complete, conscious control over your calorie intake, and know how many calories you should be eating. Then, once you make decisions based on that, it’ll be easy for you to lose weight, but that isn’t how it works. We have a lot of these unconscious systems in the brain that drive us to eat a certain amount of food, or certain types of food. If we don’t acknowledge those or don’t work with those, we make it really hard for ourselves, as we’re fighting our hunger and our cravings and other intuitive, unconscious urges that are welling up from these motivation-related parts of our brain.

We have many studies showing that trying to control your appetite and your body weight in that way doesn’t work very well. If you tell people they should be eating fewer calories to lose weight, and you can get them to do it for a little while, you find it’s really difficult for people. Their brains engage these automatic responses that make it really challenging. Typically, if you follow them for a few years, they regain the weight. Now, that’s not to say no one has succeeded with that approach, but, in general, people don’t get good results with that kind of approach. So, my view is that instead of targeting these conscious circuits with pure information about how much you should be eating, we need to understand what these nonconscious circuits are, which are having the greatest influence on our food intake. We have to understand what cues they’re responding to in the food we’re eating and the environment we’re placing around ourselves. This is, of course, once we understand voluntary motives of eating the right amount of healthy food.

Dr. C: I’ve heard about cues like the smell of food, seeing food or food being readily available. Are they cues along those lines, or are there other things that are relevant?

Dr. Guyenet: Absolutely. I’ll give you two examples. One of them is similar to what you’re saying. It’s controlling your food environment. I talked about reward earlier and how the brain is scanning for cues in your environment for something it wants. If you smell French fries or freshly baked donuts, that’s a cue in your brain to trigger the motivation in your brain to want certain things. Bringing it back around to what I was saying earlier, you’re giving one of these nonconscious brain reactions a cue that is causing it to make you crave that food. So, you’re giving it the wrong cue. What do you do? You control your food environment. You don’t give it the wrong cue. You don’t leave chips on your counter. You don’t give yourself the opportunity to easily see, smell or grab food you don’t want to eat. You make it easy to make good decisions and more difficult to make poor decisions. If you do that effectively, not only will you be guiding your decisions in the right direction, but you’ll also be curtailing your cravings in the first place. You may not even want those foods you previously wanted.

Another example is this: There is a part of the brain, called the brain stem, that’s responsible for your feelings of satiety (fullness). As you eat foods, the brain stem is receiving information from your digestive tract, stomach and intestines about the quantity and quality of food you just ate. Those signals are sent to your brain stem, which integrates it and generates a growing feeling of fullness as you continue to eat food. You keep eating food, the signal builds up and eventually, it’s strong enough to where you don’t want to eat anymore. You can send your brain stem different signals, depending on what kind of food you’re eating. So, that feeling of fullness that’s generating isn’t necessarily tightly correlated with the number of calories you’re eating. If you eat foods that are very calorie dense, highly palatable and don’t have much fiber, water or protein, it’s going to take you a lot more calories to reach that point of fullness than if you were eating lower calorie-dense whole foods with more fiber that have a moderate palatability and more water. These are foods such as a piece of fruit, a piece of freshly cooked meat or foods like that. You can reach the same level of fullness by eating many fewer calories if that food has the right properties. That’s an example of giving the brain stem the right signals. The brain stem is another one of those nonconscious brain regions that controls your food motivation. It’s about giving the brain the right signals to allow you to eat fewer calories, but still feel comfortable about it, without the hunger signal making you desire more food.

Dr. C: So, food with more micronutrients and less reward, perhaps. Do you think there’ll be other ideas emerging, apart from food choice, which can affect the unconscious eating or satiety patterns?

Dr. Guyenet: Absolutely. We’ve already found a lot of things. One of the things you mentioned was stress. We know psychological stress, in about 45% of people, causes them to overeat. It depends on who you are, but a lot of people will overeat in response to stress. That has to do in part with the hormonal effects of stress—the cortisol release and the effects of that cortisol on parts of the brain that regulate appetite and body fatness. Similarly, sleep has some of the same effects. So, if you’re not sleeping enough or not sleeping well, it can have downstream effects on parts of the brain that regulate appetite, so it can cause you to eat more. I do think it’s not just about food. It’s about the overall lifestyle and what kind of signals it’s giving to your brain. Are those signals causing those unconscious parts of your brain, that are regulating your food intake, to be in line with what you want? Or, are those signals counterproductive and are making your brain want to overeat, and you’re having to fight that consciously?

Dr. C: Is there a projected timeframe for your book coming out?

Dr. Guyenet: Hopefully, it’ll be out by September 2016. That’s what they’re telling me, but I don’t know exactly when it’ll come out. The publisher has the manuscript. We still have some editing to do, cover art and illustrations. There’s going to be tons of illustrations. All the editing, publicity, printing—that stuff takes a long time.

Dr. C: I am excited. Is the title public at this point?

Dr. Guyenet: Yes, the title is THE HUNGRY BRAIN.

Dr. C: THE HUNGRY BRAIN. Nice. Do you have an ideal weight program, as well, that people can access right now?

Dr. Guyenet: That is correct. My business partner, Dan Pardi, and I designed this weight loss program based around some of these same principles. It’s based on the idea that instead of giving people calorie targets and things like that, we designed a diet and lifestyle that would guide calorie intake in the right direction in a natural and comfortable way instead of feeling deprived by restricted calories and ultimately failing.

Dr. C: I’ve looked at the descriptions on this, and it makes a lot of sense. I’m sure this will be a helpful thing, and I will have links to that also.

I want to honor your time. Are there any closing words regarding things you may see for the future? Any closing comments for those who may be struggling with these things?

Dr. Guyenet: I’d go back to what I said earlier about fairly moderate weight loss being quite effective for improving health. I think that’s a finding that could offer a lot of hope to people who have struggled with their body weight.

Dr. C: That is great stuff. Thank you very much for your time.

Stephan Guyenet, Ph.D. from the Whole Health Source, and we will have links to the blog and the program. I’ll be keeping everyone abreast about the developments of the book, too. This is great stuff, and I’m really looking forward to it. Thank for your time, Stephan.

Dr. Guyenet: Thank you very much.

 

Dr C full res(c) 2015- Integrative Health Care, PC

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Dr. Alan Christianson is an Arizona-based Naturopathic Physician who helps people overcome adrenal and thyroid disorders and achieve lasting fat loss.  He authored the New York Times’ bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Thyroid Disease.  Dr. Christianson is the founding physician behind Integrative Health.

Dr. Christianson can be reached at www.MyIntegrativeHealth.com, www.DrChristianson.com and 480-657-0003.

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