Packing on the Pounds? Blame Your Brain

Dr. Larry McCleary 2By Dr. Larry McCleary

It seems like every time you turn around, someone else is coming up with a new theory on why we get fat, and how we can lose the weight. Many of them, like the piece below by retired neurosurgeon Dr. Larry McCleary, make real physiological sense, and explain the body’s complicated mechanics in a way that brings new insight. Give his piece a read and see if it makes a difference in your battle with the bulge. If you have an opinion on a hot health topic, e-mail it to — Nicole Brochu, Sun Sentinel Columnist

(Reprinted with permission from the Sun Sentinel)—More than 200 million Americans have been diagnosed as being overweight or obese. Doctors often recommend that they simply eat less, reducing their caloric intake to the point of producing unsustainable hunger. Unfortunately, these same doctors fail to diagnose why these patients are eating too much and gaining weight in the first place.

The answer lies in what I refer to as the Brain-Belly Connection, a situation in which fat cells send the wrong signals to the brain, triggering premature hunger, overeating and, eventually, obesity. People get fat not just because they eat too much food, but because they eat too much of the wrong foods that send the wrong signals.

Obesity, in fact, may be viewed simply as a fat storage disorder in which too many calories have been stored as fat. These calories, in turn, cannot be released when they are needed for energy. This “hoarding” is caused by high levels of insulin, which both regulates the metabolism of sugars and serves as the body’s fat storage signal. To lose weight, dieters must minimize the body’s production of this hormone.

Unfortunately, the typical diet of an average American is filled with the wrong foods to accomplish this goal. Refined carbohydrates, starchy foods and the wrong types of fats cause abnormally high insulin levels. From the first piece of toast, glass of OJ and cup of coffee in the morning to the last chocolate chip cookie just before bed, our food choices are making it impossible for us to tap into our enlarging fat depots.

Such improper food choices cause the body’s fat storage to get stuck in the “on” position, making fat cells into what I call “sticky” fat cells. As a result, these sticky fat cells will store calories continuously, not releasing them between meals when they are normally required by the body.

This relationship between insulin and sticky fat cells is the key to the Brain-Belly Connection. The sticky fat cells fool the brain into thinking the body needs food, immediately. The brain, believing it must stave off potential starvation, quickly fires a false hunger signal. The result: We often end up eating even before we have used the calories from the last meal. Furthermore, the foods we choose at these moments are invariably the worst choices — momentarily satisfying, but only serving to promote more fat storage, thus reinforcing the fat storage process. Overeating in this manner, filling up on foods that spike insulin, is how sticky fat cells get bigger and we get fatter.

So what can be done to lower insulin and prevent sticky fat cells from developing? The secret is making proper food choices at every meal. Eating the right kinds of foods, especially brain- (and heart-) healthy fats, will control your insulin level, turn your body’s fat storage setting to “off,” release energy from fat cells at the appropriate times, and reduce your brain’s and belly’s hunger and food cravings.

By understanding the Brain-Belly Connection, anyone can easily achieve a conceptual breakthrough to finally shatter their own weight loss barriers. Eating less is only half the battle; eating less of the foods that make you fat is the real secret to being thinner, healthier and happier.

Larry is the author of Feed Your Brain Lose Your Belly. For more information, visit

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