What influences our food choices?
Now this may seem like a pretty straight forward question, but believe it or not the answer is far more complex then would at first appear. There are a bucket load of various factors, which include (but not limited to)
This list is far from exhaustive, but lets explore one link that is often overlooked. Sleep deprivation and how that impacts your food choices.
While it is true that we are driven to eat by a need for survival, habitual patterns, and clearly the pleasurable effect of eating food. When we are unable to resist that calorie rich "treat" or "cheat meal" often we can suckered into the belief that it is simply just a case of will power, with your inner demon and angel battling it out.
Will power will only get you so far, but by understanding specifically how powerful factors like sleep deprivation can influence our behaviour, when our will power collapses like a house of cards we can help to prevent unwanted eating behaviours by having a more effective strategy in place.
In a study conducted at the University of Warwick, UK ( a meta-analysis of short sleep duration and obesity in children and adults) Francesco Cuppuccio et al found that there was a clear link between sleep debt and obesity. For adults short sleep was defined as equal or < 5hours per night, for children it was defined as equal or <10 hours per night.
But how does not getting enough sleep actually influence your brain's decision making process when it comes to food?
Stephanie Greer and her colleagues at the University of Berkeley, California were able to show that lack of sleep led to an increased desire for food while at the same time impairing the ability of your insular and frontal cortex to evaluate hunger. Essentially hitting you with a double whammy.
While the part of the brain known at the amygdala (associated with decision making and emotional reactions) triggers your desire for hunger, another part impairs your ability to judge fullness and appetite.
A study at the Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University, New York, found that when test subjects were presented with food after restricted sleep, areas of the brain associated with food reward showed increased activity. These areas are the putamen, nucleus accumbens, thalamus, insular and prefrontal cortex.
Apparently, the more sleep deprived you become the more off kilter this mechanism becomes.
Knowing this, what can you do to mitigate making poor food choices? Clearly top of your list should be getting enough sleep, but life happens, and this is not always possible.
So what can you do?
- Ensure that you cupboards are stocked up with highly nutritious, calorie dense food that can
be on hand when you got the munchies.
- Minimise or eliminate processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol, and sweets that you have access to especially at home.
- Choose "healthier" cheat foods or just give yourself permission to eat that junk and be responsible for your choice (don't beat yourself up about it). Listen, cake is cake. Chocolate is chocolate. Lets not kid ourselves. But not all cheat foods are created equal. Just look this raw Chi Lime Pie I get from Rawligion based in London. I invite you to explore how you can get that taste sensation with better alternatives.
Now there are other factors at play. The link between stress and sleep deprivation has been well documented. so too has the link between stress and the hormone cortisol.
Elevated cortisol has been connected to insulin resistance via the Hypothalmo -pituartary - adrenal gland (HPA) axis. A study by the Department of Heart Lung disease, Sahlgren's Hospital, University of Gotenborg Sweden explored the regulation of adipose tissue distribution in humans via this mechanism.
These hormonal changes have a profound effect on adipose tissue metabolism and distribution. Promoting fat storage, not only in subcutaneous fat (beneath the skin) but visceral fat (fat that surround organs) too.
If fat loss or managing your weight is an important focus for you, now you can see how important getting enough quality sleep and managing your stress levels are.
So don't scrimp on your sleep, and get a handle on your stress levels. Your body will thank you for it.
Research to whet your appetite
Meta Analysis of Short Sleep Duration and Obesity in Adults and Children:
Cappuccio et al : 2008
Sleep Restriction Leeds To Increased Brain Activation of Brain Regions Sensitive To Food Stimuli: St-Onge et al: 2012
The Impact of Sleep Deprivation and Food Desire In The Human Brain: Greer, Godlstein et al: 2013
The Regulation of Adipose Tissue Distribution in Humans: Bjorntop,P :1996