The Psychology of Obesity and the Brain

To understand how the brain works, it’s kind of like writing in a complex computer code. We are convinced that we need to eat three times a day and that we need to eat 5 fruits and vegetables per day. These are government regulations that came out about 50 years ago and today it is thought of as dogma. Have you ever considered where these recommendations came from? The whole mantra to eat 5 fruits and vegetables per day was thought up by big agriculture companies as a way to get more people to eat fruits. There is absolutely no scientific evidence around the fact that eating 5 fruits and vegetables each day helps you to live longer or is going to kill you. And it may do both. The point is not about eating fruits and vegetables, rather how our complex brains are hardwired to believe something and how we live our lives from it.

How about the fact of eating 3 meals a day? This idea is relatively new as well and comes without much rationale basis. Whether or not we should eat 3 times a day is a relatively new concept only thought up in the last 100 years or so. In fact, Hippocrates wrote about whether we should eat once or twice a day. Obviously times were different and food was not as available. Eating 3 times a day does not make much sense either. The answer is, it depends. We should do what our bodies tell us and not be dependent on eating so many times a day. With one to three meals a day, your brain should tell you very clearly when to start and stop eating and drinking. These centers are controlled very tightly, and they are designed to not let us get fat.

Water Example

To begin to understand how the brain works and how it is designed not to let us get fat, think about drinking water and your thirst center in the brain. Take the example of thirst. If you are really thirsty at this moment, and someone gives you a case of 12 cold water bottles. How much water could you drink at that moment? You could drink 1 to 2 bottles right away and then you would quit. Why do we stop drinking the water? The thirst center in your brain shuts you off. We don’t think about stopping to drink the water, we just do it. It is a automatic. Even if we tried to drink more water, we couldn’t. Try this yourselves and see what happens.

Now, if you are thirsty and some puts 6 cold beers in front of you, you might and many people would drink more than 2 bottles; they would drink all 6, especially in American society. Many of us could drink all six beers no problem. Why is this true? With the water example, you stop at 2 bottles, but with the beer, you can drink all six beers. The volume of the beers is no different than the water. The answer lies in endorphins.


Endorphins are vital to what makes us human; they are neuro-chemicals made in the various parts of the brain and pituitary gland. Endorphins are chemicals that produce a feeling of euphoria very similar to that of the drug morphine. They are what helps us get naturally feel good. Normally, endorphins are produced in response to pain, but they are produced by various human activities such as exercise, smoking, winning, laughter, sex and eating. They are especially increased by eating certain types of carbohydrates. In a sense, they get us high.

The alcohol in the beer produces a very strong endorphin effect on the brain and it makes you feel good. When something makes you feel good, it is usually not a problem and you continue the action. In this case, you feel quite good so you continue to drink the beers. Even if you try to put a constraint on how much alcohol you are going to drink, it doesn’t work very well. In fact, we have not really drank alcohol for a very long time in terms of how long humans have been around. Some people even stop drinking when the alcohol runs out or they pass out.

The next post will focus on why we get “high” off of carbs

In case you missed the other posts

Why we get fat post 1

Why we get fat post 2