Did you know that the brain’s reward center is linked to your biological clock? A new study has found that consuming junk food that causes the brain to pump out the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine disrupts the circadian clock and leads to snacking and overeating at all hours of the day and night. The end result? Weight gain and obesity.
The 2020 study in Current Biology from researchers at the University of Virginia suggests that it isn’t just the high calories in junk foods that promote weight gain.
What’s Dopamine Got to do With It?
It all has to do with dopamine. Whenever you eat something tasty (like a yummy Mango Smoothie), your brain releases a little drip of dopamine, which makes you feel good. Some things, however—like Oreo cheesecake with hot fudge, whipped cream, and sprinkles—produces a dopamine dump in the brain. Instead of a little bit of the neurochemical, it’s more like a flood. And it’s this dopaminergic signaling that’s tied to the circadian clock that messes with feeding schedules and promotes the overconsumption of food.
In their study, the team of scientists fed mice high-calorie diets filled with sugar and bad fats. The junk food was so irresistible, the mice began snacking at all hours, packed on the pounds, and became obese.
The researchers also tracked a second group of mice that had their dopamine signaling disrupted. These mice were also given 24/7 access to the same junk food diet. But when they ate the fat-laden, sugar-filled fare, they didn’t get the dopamine dump the other group did. The dopamine-free mice didn’t start snacking in between meals or at night, didn’t start overeating, and didn’t gain weight.
The study concluded that dopamine signaling in the brain regulates the circadian clock and eating schedules.
Keeping Dopamine Levels Healthy
When you eat foods that cause a dopamine dump, it wears out your brain’s reward center and makes you want more, more, more! To protect your reward center and dopamine production, avoid junk foods and eat dopamine-boosting foods including:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Olive oil
- Green tea
These foods will give you that healthy dopamine drip rather than the dopamine dump that will promote overeating and obesity. When you fill your diet with these dopamine-friendly foods, you crowd out the high-glycemic, high-calorie junk foods. On the Omni Diet, people typically lose their cravings for sugar and refined carbs in about 3 days. You just need to adopt a Warrior mentality to power through those first few days to help get your brain, dopamine, and circadian clock back on a healthy schedule.
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