How to Rewire Your Brain to End Food Cravings
by Mark Hyman, MD






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I’m a food addict. We all are. Our brains are biologically driven to seek and devour high-calorie, fatty foods. The difference is that I have learned how to control those primitive parts of my brain. Anyone can do this if they know how.
In this article, I will share three steps to help you counteract those primitive parts of your brain that have you chasing high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods. But before you can update your brain’s biological software, you’ve got to understand why it developed in the first place.
Calories = Survival
The brain’s desire to binge on rich food is a genetic holdover from the days of hunter-gatherers. Given what scientists know today about our early ancestors it makes sense that our brains are hardwired to fixate on high-calorie foods.
It’s a survival mechanism. Eating as many calories as possible, whenever possible, allowed our ancestors to store excess calories as fat and survive lean times. That approach worked well for 2.4 million years, but today it’s making us sick and fat.
That’s because our brains haven’t evolved as fast as our food environment. The human brain evolved over 2.5 million years ago. And, with the exception of the last 10,000 years, people only ate animals they could hunt and wild-plants they could gather.
Imagine if you could only eat what you caught or picked! The variety of foods hunter-gatherers ate paled in comparison to the 40,000 different food items we can buy in the average big-box grocery store today.(1)
No cinnamon buns for them!
And whereas we have easy access to food 24/7, drive-thru meals were not an option for hunter-gatherers. Not to mention that hunting and gathering was hard work. Early humans expended lots of calories acquiring their food, so they needed to eat high-calorie foods to offset the loss.
The average hunter-gatherer got up to 60 percent of his calories from animal foods such as muscle meat, fat and organ meat, and the other 40 percent from plants.(2)
That balance between protein and carbohydrates in the diet is where the problem lies, but it’s not what you think. Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, but they are the single most important nutrient for long-term health and weight loss.
But I’m not talking about bagels and donuts. I’m talking about plant foods that more closely resemble what our ancestors ate. Hunter-gatherers ate fruit, tubers, seeds, and nuts. These are whole foods. They are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and disease- and weight-busting colorful phytochemicals.
They also take time to digest. Therefore, they raise blood sugar slowly, which balances metabolism and offers a steady stream of energy. Whole foods have all the right information and turn on all the right genes.
But the past 10,000 years saw the advent of both agriculture and industrialization. And, in the blink of an eye (by evolutionary standards), the human diet got turned upside down. Today, 60 percent of our calories come from things that hunter-gatherers wouldn’t even recognize as food.
The bulk of those items—cereal grains, sugary drinks, refined oils and dressings—are simple carbohydrates.(3) The primitive brain sees an endless supply of easy energy. Left unchecked, our bodies pay the price. The result is a two-fronted epidemic of obesity and diabetes in our country—what I call diabesity.
The Blood Sugar Cascade
When you eat simple carbohydrates, whether as sugar or as starch, they pass almost instantaneously from the gut into the bloodstream. Within seconds blood sugar levels start to rise. To counter the increase in sugar, the body releases insulin. Insulin is the key that unlocks the cells and allows sugar to enter. As sugar enters the cells, the amount of sugar in the blood declines and the body restores homeostasis.
An abundance of simple sugars in the diet goads the body into releasing more and more insulin. Eventually, the cellular locks get worn down from overuse. Like a key that’s lost its teeth, insulin loses its ability to easily open the cellular door.
The cells become numb to the effects of insulin. As a result, the body pumps out more and more of the hormone to keep its blood sugar levels in check. Eventually, this cycle leads to a dangerous condition called insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance—at the root of diabesity—causes you to gain belly fat, raises your blood pressure, messes up your cholesterol, makes you infertile, kills your sex drive, makes you depressed, tired, and demented, and even causes cancer.
Three Ways to Reprogram your Brain
Luckily there are ways to rewire the primitive parts of your brain by making good food choices. Here are three ways to get started. For more suggestions on how to wrestle control from your reptilian brain, see Chapter 15 of
The Blood Sugar Solution.

  • Balance blood sugar. Blood sugar highs and lows drive primitive food cravings. If you get famished between meals, that’s a sign that your blood sugar is crashing. When blood sugar is low, you’ll eat anything. To better balance blood sugar, eat a small meal or snack that includes healthy protein, like seeds or nuts, every 3 to 4 hours.
  • Eliminate liquid calories and artificial sweeteners. Early humans didn’t reach for soda or fruit juices when they got thirsty. Sodas are full of chemicals and high fructose corn syrup. Processed fruit juices are awash in sugar. Try sticking with water and green tea. Green tea contains plant chemicals that are good for your health. And, last but not least, don’t succumb to the diet-drink trap. The artificial sweeteners in diet drinks fool the body into thinking it is ingesting sugar, which creates the same insulin spike as regular sugar.
  • Eat a high-quality protein at breakfast. Ideally, you’re eating quality protein at every meal, but, if you need to prioritize one meal, choose breakfast. Studies show that waking up to a healthy protein, such as eggs, nuts, seeds, nut butters or a protein shake (see my UltraShake recipe) help people lose weight, reduce cravings, and burn calories.
Ultimately, you may not control your genes but you do control what and how you eat. Since taking control and changing my diet, my brain no longer caves in to the cravings and urgings that seduce the reptilian brain. The most powerful tool you have to transform your health is your fork! Use it well and you will thrive.
To learn more, please see my #1 NY Times bestseller,
The Blood Sugar Solution, now available in paperback.
Now I’d like to hear from you…
Do you binge eat? Is your diet comprised of fast foods and sugar? Do you drink soda and add artificial sweeteners to your beverages?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below – but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!
Wishing you health and happiness, Mark Hyman, MD
References: (1) “What to Eat,” Marion Nestle, p 17 (2) “Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets,” L Cordain, et al American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000; 71 (3) “Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets,” L Cordain, et al American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2000; 71


Acupuncture for Weight Loss
January 2, 2015I'm Not Your Mother, But
By
Diane Atwood



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Is your New Year’s resolution to lose weight? Year after year, weight loss is the top New Year’s resolution, so you’re not alone. In her guest post, licensed acupuncturist Meret Bainbridge explains the role that acupuncture can play in helping people lose their extra pounds.
Guest post by Meret Bainbridge, L.Ac
While people seek out acupuncture for a variety of health problems and often come in with a long list of complex issues they want to address, many of them will ask if acupuncture can also help them lose weight. Some secretly hope for a magical fix – that the right combination of acupuncture points will induce weight loss without changes in diet and exercise. I wish it were this easy!
The difficulties with losing weight
Obesity and diabetes and the associated increased risk for stroke and heart disease are a world-wide problem. Obesity affects over one-third of adults in the US now and childhood obesity is on the rise.
Metabolic syndrome, according to the NIH, is defined as having three out of five metabolic risk factors, including a large waistline or “apple shape,” high triglycerides, low HDL “good” cholesterol, high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar.
Dr. Mark Hyman, in his book “The Blood Sugar Solution” has nicknamed this epidemic “diabesity” – the spectrum of obesity, insulin-resistance, pre-diabetes and eventually diabetes. Insulin-resistance – high levels of insulin circulating in the blood stream caused by excessive consumption of sugar, combined with reduced ability of the cell’s receptor sites to absorb the insulin, which then leads to sugars being stored as fat, is at the core of this pathology.
Dr. Hyman describes the complex causes that lead to being overweight and keep people from losing weight despite dieting and exercise. They include poor nutrition and food addiction to sugar, sodas and highly processed industrialized foods, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, poor digestive function, toxins, sluggish metabolism, and stress.
The old myths of weight loss – eating a calorie-reduced, low-fat diet, using highly processed meal replacement products and exercising yourself to exhaustion – have been tossed out by now, because they only lead to a yo-yo diet effect with greater weight gain following each weight-loss cycle.
Weight loss is a complex process that must address the various underlying causes.
According to Dr. Hyman the “Seven Steps to Ultrawellness” include:

  • Boost your nutrition – eat unprocessed, natural, whole, primarily plant-based foods cooked from scratch
  • Regulate your hormones – improve thyroid function, reduce stress hormones, balance sex hormones
  • Reduce inflammation – address food sensitivities, hidden infections and toxins
  • Improve your digestion – heal your gut, regulate elimination
  • Maximize detoxification – identify and eliminate hidden toxins
  • Enhance energy metabolism – boost mitochondrial function – and
  • Soothe your mind – reduce stress, and adrenal fatigue.
Dr. Hyman’s books give detailed guidance on how to identify what is at the root of your own weight gain and inability to lose weight, and create your own individualized weight-loss program. I highly recommend delving into his approach.
Acupuncture-Needle-2004671-Pond5-e1420150863366
Where does acupuncture fit into a weight loss plan?
If you are looking for a quick fix, a magic needle – acupuncture will disappoint you. Acupuncture by itself will do very little to help you lose weight.
Successful weight loss takes nothing short of a complete life style change including a nutrient-dense diet, nutritional supplementation, smart efficient exercise, sufficient sleep and stress reduction.
But acupuncture can address just about every one of these aspects and greatly improve the results of a multi-faceted weight loss program. Let’s take a closer look at what acupuncture has to offer.
1. Acupuncture reduces food cravings and regulates appetite
Ear acupuncture is one of the most successful methods for addiction treatment, including food addiction and emotional eating where bingeing or constant nibbling serves to stuff down difficult emotions like sadness, anger, boredom and loneliness; or where sensations like pain, fatigue and thirst are mistaken for hunger.
Ear acupuncture stimulates the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve that is part of the involuntary nervous system and controls such automatic functions as regular heart rate and digestion.
In a randomized study by Sabina Lim and others (Graduate College of Basic Korean Medical Science at Kyung Hee University, Seoul, South Korea), 91 obese persons were randomly assigned to a group receiving stimulation of a five-needle protocol on the outer ear, a group receiving a single ear acupuncture point, or sham (fake) acupuncture. The five-needle group achieved the largest drop in waist circumference, as well as drop in body fat, followed by the one-needle group, and no change in the control group. The study was published in 
Acupuncture in Medicine on Dec 16, 2013.
2. Acupuncture regulates hormones
Acupuncture’s balancing effect on overall body chemistry, including hormones, is well-established. Acupuncture lowers stress hormones. It regulates sexual and reproductive hormones and is widely used in addressing menstrual, fertility and menopausal concerns.
An area of particular interest is the effect of acupuncture on obesity hormones.
Hunger and satisfaction are regulated by two hormones: grehlin stimulates hunger and initiates eating, while leptin suppresses food intake. Surprisingly, in obese people leptin in the bloodstream is increased, while grehlin is decreased. Obese people are considered not only insulin-resistant, but also grehlin-resistant. (
Obesity Review, Jan 2007)
In a Turkish study reported in Acupuncture in 
Medicine, September 2012, 40 obese women were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture on five common points twice weekly for five weeks for a total of 10 sessions. The results showed that acupuncture lowered insulin and leptin levels and increased plasma grehlin in the treatment group, compared with a control group receiving sham acupuncture. Acupuncture also reduced the BMI (basic metabolic index).
The conclusion is that acupuncture can help normalize obesity hormones and the hunger response and contribute to improving metabolism.
3. Acupuncture reduces inflammation
Acupuncture is mostly known for – and researched for – its ability to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and heal injuries.
Acupuncture promotes blood flow, which brings oxygen, nutrients, immune substances, hormones, pain killers and anti-inflammatories to the compromised area. Acupuncture needles create “micro traumas” that stimulate the body’s natural healing response. Acupuncture releases natural painkillers such as endorphins and enkephalins. Acupuncture relaxes tense muscles that put pressure on joints and impinge nerves.
Chris Kresser, in his blog series “
Chinese Medicine Demystified: How Acupuncture Works,” explains the mechanisms of acupuncture in medical terms. For a listing of the vast research in this field, see Freek Zijlstra et.al.,”Anti-inflammatory Actions of Acupuncture.”
4. Acupuncture improves digestion and metabolism
Acupuncture addresses many digestive problems, including GERD, reflux, stomach ulcers, IBS, diverticulitis and colitis. Acupuncture can help regulate digestion and elimination of toxins.
Chinese medicine describes the digestive process as a function of the stomach, which breaks food down, and the “spleen,” which transforms the nutrients from food into usable energy. What is termed the “spleen” here includes functions of the pancreas, the small intestine and the metabolic process on a cellular level. The Western medical equivalent of this spleen function are the mitochondria or the “powerhouses” of the cell that break down glucose and fatty acid for ATP, an energy-carrying molecule. Remember High School biology and the Krebs cycle? People with insulin-resistance have compromised mitochondrial function.
Acupuncture can help restore the body’s homeostasis, bringing back its optimal functioning.
In acupuncture lingo, we call it “Restoring the Qi” or the body’s vital energy.
5. Acupuncture reduces stress and increases relaxation
Stress-reduction and increased relaxation are probably the biggest all-encompassing effects of acupuncture. The effects of stress, especially chronic, long-term stress, on lowered immunity, increased depression and anxiety, lack of sleep, and overall compromised health have been well-established.
Increased stress and lack of sleep lead to increased release of the stress hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol makes us feel hungry even when we are full. Loss of sleep also decreases levels of growth hormone, which regulates the proportion of fat to muscle. And lack of sleep interferes with carbohydrate metabolism. Plus, tired people tend to eat more for the short-term energy boost they gain, especially from carbohydrate-rich foods.
As we’ve seen, there are many factors that interfere with successful weight loss. The causes leading to obesity and the difficulties with losing weight are complex. A successful weight maintenance plan must address all these aspects.
So – can acupuncture help you lose weight?
The answer is not a simple “yes” or “no”. But acupuncture can address many of the deeper-rooted issues with weight problems. There is definitely a place for acupuncture in a multi-faceted weight loss program. In fact, it can be a determining factor of its success.
Guest post by Meret Bainbridge, L.Ac., who practices at Acupuncture by Meret in Portland, Maine.