Animal Brain’s Role in Normal Eating

I received a good question today regarding which part of the brain (higher/rational brain or lower/animal brain) you should be using while eating (normally).  This is topic I address thoroughly in my new book, but I want to answer it briefly here because it’s an issue that can be confusing for some people.

The animal brain has a fundamental role in eating, and when it’s functioning properly, it should be trusted to regulate our appetite and steer us toward good food choices based on our taste preferences and physiological needs. However, when restrictive dieting/binge eating become involved, the animal brain becomes dysfunctional–driving you toward massive amounts of food as if that’s necessary for survival. To overcome this, it’s necessary to use the higher/rational brain to override the animal brain’s (temporarily) faulty programming.

With recovery, you aren’t banishing the animal brain, you are returning it to its normal role in regulating hunger/fullness and the desire for the pleasure of food.  Where my opinion differs from a purely “intuitive eating” approach is that I don’t think the animal brain can be put completely in charge when it comes to eating in the modern food environment.  There are just so many over-stimulating foods that our appetite regulation system and reward system (in the lower brain) weren’t meant to deal with; so it’s great to always have that higher brain power to override any abnormal/problematic cravings.

Eating is never a purely rational experience, nor should it be, but in today’s world, I don’t think it can necessarily be a purely “animalistic” one either.

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