Can’t Seem to Stick to that Diet? Stop Blaming Yourself — It Might Not Be Your Fault.
The cheat meal. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you understand the pure joy that comes from that once-a-week opportunity to throw caution to the wind and “cheat” on your diet with the biggest, fattest, sweetest treat you desire. For many, cheat meals can help mark achievements, satisfy cravings, and assist in adopting positive, permanent eating habits. Others, however, find them to be the first step toward an all-out diet relapse. If you fall into this latter category, you’ll be pleased to learn science is coming to your defense and pointing the finger squarely at your gut. Or, more specifically – how the bacteria in your gut are … controlling your mind.
While this clearly sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, and is surely the best excuse for diet-relapse ever, please know you are still in control, and you don’t have to let these little guys win.
Old and New News about Intestinal Bacteria
Science has known for some time that what we eat contributes to the types of bacteria that live in our gut: people who consume a lot of protein tend to have higher number of bacteria that subsist on proteins, and those who consume a plant-based diet house bacteria that thrive on plant materials. Consequently, the more we indulge in a certain type of diet, the more its accompanying bacteria proliferate. Also, when we change what we eat, bacteria levels shift based on what we consume. That much is old news.
What is new is the revelation these bacterial populations can shift in as little as 24 hours, and that they “have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve (which connects 100 million nerve cells from the digestive tract to the base of the brain).”
In fact, these feisty bacteria are so good at self-preservation they can even change taste receptors, produce toxins to make us feel bad, and release chemical rewards to make us feel good. Pretty sneaky.
How Does This Impact Cheat Meals?
Once again, a cheat meal can be a refreshing break from the routine of a diet for strong-willed people – and, if you have a history of partaking in cheat meals and bouncing right back into healthy eating, then go for it.
But, if you’re like the rest of us who falter after a cheat meal, here’s something to ponder before heading through the drive-thru. If the bacteria in your gut can direct your brain, and thus you, to consume what it needs to survive, do you think consuming that cheat meal is more likely to help you, or the bacteria?
A Heartfelt P.S.
If you even doubt for a moment your ability to stay on track, try skipping cheat meals to see how you fare. Skipping, of course, will mean you’ll keep building your “good” bacteria stores, and that bacteria will keep telling your body to feed it good stuff. Good food begets good health. Keep it up long enough, and you’ll be well on your way to a true lifestyle change.
Need a reminder of how this has worked for you in the past? If you’ve ever experienced less bloating, more energy, better sleep, and an absence of anxiety or depressive thoughts after switching-up your diet, those were all signs your gut was working more in concert with the natural state of your body. Go with that.
For more on this fascinating study, which brought together researchers from UC San Francisco, Arizona State University and University of New Mexico, visit the UCSF newsroom. You can also read more about the types of foods that support healthy gut flora in this article from Best Health Magazine, Canada.