By Melissa Milne
It’s true: As you’ll learn in my new book, The Naughty Diet, there’s a brain in your digestive tract that holds the answers to meal timing and portion control. It’s called the enteric nervous system (ENS). If you get acquainted with your ENS, every meal’s like wining and dining with your own personal nutritionist. You’ll know what and how much to eat, and exactly when you can afford to indulge again—without gaining an ounce. And if you do eat too much, blame it.
Because it’s not totally your fault. Inside you is an insatiable wild child, a hungry, feral intelligence that won’t abide by anyone’s “rules.” Without getting too scientific, the ENS is a complex network of 100 million neurons and chemicals that lives in your digestive tract—it’s what you might call your “belly-brain.” It senses and controls digestive events by sending messages to the head-brain—things like “I’d love another slice of bread,” or “That’s enough bread for me, thanks”—along a superhighway called the vagus nerve. Even more fascinating, studies show that in the partnership between the two body parts, your belly actually sends more messages to your brain than your brain sends back. It’s like your belly is Simon, and your head is Garfunkel.
To tap the knowledge of your glorious, all-knowing belly-brain, you need to train yourself to listen. Here are some clear signals that your gut may be sending you, compliments of The Naughty Diet.
Belly-Brain Message #1
You’re craving something creamy
Translation: You need a warm hug, not a warm mug.
Recurring cravings for particular types of food can be a sign of non-physical hunger. A desire for ice cream or hot chocolate can really be an emotional craving for comfort and soothing.
Belly-Brain Message #2
You can’t find your keys
Translation: You need a nice plate of pasta.
Your head-brain is like a picky five-year-old. It wants simple sugars, and when it doesn’t get them, it gets cranky and undisciplined. That’s because your brain runs on glucose sent to it by your belly-brain. One study found that just twenty-eight days on a low-carb, low-cal diet negatively impacted memory among subjects.
Belly-Brain Message #3
You just ate and you’re hungry again
Translation: You need a bite of dark chocolate.
A balanced meal should cover all of the four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. It’s this last, bitter, that triggers the hormone ghrelin, the “belly full” hormone. It’s why we can eat a full sleeve of Pringles and still be raring to go. Leafy greens carry bitter flavors, as does coffee and dark chocolate.
Belly-Brain Message #4
You’re pissed and you want a Snickers bar, now
Translation: You’re going too long between meals.
Research shows that “hanger” attacks—the nasty combination of hunger and anger—are brought on not by hunger per se, but by low blood sugar. A shortage of blood sugar makes the brain more susceptible to frustration and less able to control impulses. One study found that having low blood sugar levels made people more likely to want to stick needles in voodoo dolls resembling their romantic partners.2
Belly-Brain Message #5
You finished off your fries and now you’ve started in on his . . .
Translation: You’re addicted, but it’s not love.
In a recent study, researchers at the University of Michigan found that French fries were the number one most difficult food to stop noshing on once you’ve started. In part, that’s because of their addictive combination of fat, salt, and carbs. But it’s also because bulky foods like French fries and pasta help relieve feelings of loneliness. They literally “fill the void,” says Dr. Nina. If you find yourself constantly overeating carbs at dinner, you might need a new dining companion.
Belly-Brain Message #6
You’re hungry midmorning or midafternoon
Translation: You’re probably thirsty.
A study in the journal Physiology & Behavior suggests that 60 percent of the time we respond to thirst, it’s by eating, instead of drinking.4 If you haven’t had any water after a long night’s slumber, or after several hours at the office, dehydration is probably catching up to you. Quick test: is your pee yellow? Drink.
Belly-Brain Message #7
Your belly rumbles
Translation: Don’t mind me, all’s good.
A growling stomach is nothing more than a bout of hiccups under your navel. It can occur at any time (usually in an important meeting or on a first date!), on an empty stomach or a full one, and no, you needn’t respond.
Belly-Brain Message #8
You can’t sleep
Translation: Let’s have eggs for breakfast.
Whether you’re stressed out or just jet-lagged, disrupted sleep can do a number on your circadian rhythms. Researchers say protein for breakfast—followed by carbs in the evening—can help rejigger a wacky biological clock.
“The Naughty Diet spot-reduces every woman’s biggest trouble area: guilt. It works wonders for the body and mind.”— Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News Chief Women's Health Correspondent
Click to Be the First to Get The Naughty Diet Here on Amazon!