It’s no secret that many of us eat for emotional reasons, but did you know that research suggests that the brain circuit for eating overlaps with the brain circuit for interpersonal relationships? The neurobiology suggests that improving social relationships can actually help you lose weight. There may even be a few ways to trick the brain to achieve the same effect.
The neurotransmitter responsible for close, trusting relationships is oxytocin. Oxytocin is released by physical contact and supportive interactions with other people. Release of oxytocin increases feelings of trust and generosity. It also reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.
Amazingly, the act of eating actually releases oxytocin. In fact, eating releases oxytocin in dopamine rich brain areas, which helps explain why eating can be soothing and pleasurable. After all, part of the reason we’re drawn to emotional eating is that eating mimics the same feelings of comfort we get from close friends and family.
If you’re trying to lose weight, try boosting your oxytocin. Luckily, the best way to do that is to improve the quality and closeness of your relationships with family, friends, and significant others.
It seems like a simple suggestion, but unfortunately, problems with these relationships are often what triggers emotional eating in the first place. As a temporary measure — while you’re working on your relationships — here are a few ways to boost your oxytocin that don’t involve snacking:
- Get a massage. Physical contact with another person is the surest way of boosting oxytocin. If you’re not in a relationship, it can be difficult to accomplish that. If you are in a relationship, then yes, your partner is a great source of oxytocin, but don’t rely on getting all your oxytocin from one person. Getting a massage releases large amounts of oxytocin, and will help you de-stress.
- Say or do something nice for a friend. When other people trust and rely on you it boosts your oxytocin. Showing support for someone else helps that happen.
- Pet a pet. Petting furry pets, whether it’s yours or someone else’s can help increase oxytocin. Part of it is their furry warmth, and part of it, particularly with dogs, is their trust in you. Being trusted helps increase oxytocin whether it’s a person or a dog.
- Hug a friend. Ask a friend for a long hug, or ask them if they would like a hug. Hugs, particularly long ones, release oxytocin. In fact frequent hugging not only increases oxytocin, it also decreases blood pressure.
- Have a conversation (in person or on the phone). The human voice can release oxytocin in ways that the written (or texted word) doesn’t.
- Have a warm cup of tea while wrapped in a blanket. Physical warmth helps promote feelings of trust and generosity.
If you live in the Las Vegas area and are looking for ways to treat your obesity and the diseases that often accompany it, schedule an appointment with Dr. Shawn Tsuda. He and his expert team can help you find the best treatment for your unique situation.