If you survived Halloween without pilfering too many pieces of candy from your kids’ stash, congratulations. Now, take a deep breath, and head for Curves to help curb your cravings. Because what lies ahead is a long season of temptations beginning with the Thanksgiving feast, continuing through holiday cookies, latkes and jelly doughnuts, and finally champagne toasts and savory appetizers on New Year’s Eve. Is your mouth watering merely at the mention of these gustatory indulgences? You can thank your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, say researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
Aiming to pinpoint the neurological root of cravings, the researchers decided to tamper with the prefrontal cortex of 21 women and observe the effect on the women’s resistance to chips and chocolate. The prefrontal cortex is region at the front of your brain that regulates executive function, meaning it presides over a range of behaviors including impulsivity. “It’s key in helping to rein in impulsivity. “It tells you, ‘no, you don’t want extra carbs, you don’t want chocolate.” says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of The Hunger Fix: A Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction and chair of the Curves Science Advisory Board.
Here’s how the brain experiment went: The researchers identified 21 healthy young women with strong and frequent cravings for potato chips and chocolate. They showed the women photos of these snacks to arouse cravings and then applied a form of magnetic stimulation to weaken the normal functioning of their prefrontal cortex. Afterward, the women reported stronger cravings for chips and chocolate, and when presented with milk chocolate, dark chocolate, potato chips, and soda crackers, they ate more milk chocolate and chips than the less-desirable options. Conclusion: a weaker prefrontal cortex leads to weakened willpower in the face of tantalizing high-fat, high-calorie treats.
And here’s your kick-cravings strategy: Strengthen your prefrontal cortex and you strengthen your resistance to cravings. How the heck do you do that? With regular exercise. “Exercise builds a bigger brain,” says Peeke. “It induces neurogenesis [the growth and development of nerve tissue] in your prefrontal cortex and throughout your entire brain. It also prompts positive epigenetic changes, meaning that it helps suppress genes that influence more self-destructive behavior when it comes to hunger and cravings.”
What kind of exercise will help you build a stronger brain able to rein in those powerful cravings for chocolate, chips, cupcakes, and other waist-expanding snacks? “Extreme exercise ramps up your desire to eat everything in sight,” Peeke points out. “Moderate physical activity like the Curves workout is best.”
And when faced with that other temptation of the busy holiday season—skipping your workout to go gift shopping or accomplish some other task on your to-do list–remind yourself of the brain-boosting, appetite-appeasing power of exercise and head for your 30-minute circuit!