Motivation and the Brain
According to Dana Sterner, RN healthy eating is “the balance of moderation and nourishment from a wide variety of foods” (Sterner, 2009, p.38). The definition of healthy eating varies from person to person. There are biological and behavioral factors that contribute to the motivation for healthy eating. Several brain structures and hormones play a role in motivation (Braine, 2009). Intrinsic and extrinsic factors are involved in motivation. Hunger is the most powerful motivator for a person to consume food. The process of eating is to balance hunger with fullness and energy. Within this paper, I will discuss the brain structures involved in motivation as well as intrinsic and extrinsic factors in motivation to healthy eating.
Brain Structures involved in Motivation to Healthy Eating
The limbic system is a system in the brain that plays a role in motivated behaviors, such as eating (Pinel, 2009). The hypothalamus is a brain structure that is important in the regulation of motivated behaviors. The hypothalamus receives information from the neural, endocrine, and metabolic signals (Braine, 2009). It then integrates them into behavioral, autonomic, and endocrine responses. In the 1940’s, Albert Hetherington and Stephen Ranson conducted experiments to suggest the role of the hypothalamus in relation to food intake regulation. These studies concluded that the hypothalamus did indeed play an important role. While some believe this to be a myth, the results of the studies named the lateral hypothalamic area as the feeding or hunger centre (Deckers, 2010). The ventromedial nucleus was named as the satiety centre.
Hormones Involved in Motivation of Healthy Eating
Two key hormones related to motivation and eating are leptin and dopamine. Leptin is a hormone found centrally in the hypothalamus (Udden, Bjorntorp, Arner, Barkeling, Meurling, & Rossner, 2003). Leptin is released by the adipose tissue in the body. This hormone is related to the energy storage from the consumption of food. Leptin is also related to the long term regulation of energy in our bodies as well as it decreases food intake. The amount of leptin correlates with a person’s body fat. Dopamine is a hormone related to the regulation of eating behaviors. Preclinical and imaging studies have shown that dopamine modulates factors of underlying motivation to eat (Volkow, Wang, Maynard, Jayne, Fowler, Zhu, Logan, Gatley, Ding, Wong, & Pappas, 2002). Dopamine cells also predict rewards.
Intrinsic Factors Motivating Healthy Eating
One intrinsic factor related to healthy eating is evolution. The primary purpose of eating is to supply the energy needed for the body to function (Pinel, 2009). Our body sends us the signals that it needs more energy. The hypothalamus, along with the hormone leptin, works while we eat to regulate the stored energy. Once our stored energy level is met, we receive the feeling of fullness. Some researchers are unsure about the full realm of evolution and healthy eating as in history people over ate to compensate for the unknowing of future food supplies (Pinel, 2009).
Several genetic factors such as illnesses, diseases, allergies and predisposition to taste play a role in healthy eating. Those with a family history of an illness like diabetes may change his or her diet to accommodate the restraints. A person with an allergy to a food product such as eggs will have to find another alternative to gain the same nutrition. Humans are born with the innate taste for some foods over others (Deckers, 2010). A person’s like or dislike for a taste is helped formed by his or her genetics.
Extrinsic Factors Motivating Healthy Eating
The bad dietary habits formed in childhood can lead to problems in adulthood. Therefore, it is important to promote healthy eating for not just adults but children as well. While there is a desire to be thin in today’s society, the proper eating habits can aid a person to being a healthy weight. The encouragement of others around us a valuable key in the motivation process of healthy eating. For the person who thrives of off positive reinforcement, social encouragement is vital. Surrounding yourself with people who accept you without the pressure of making unhealthy choices is also vital in motivation.
When surrounded by a loving and accepting social circle, a person may decide to make the healthier lifestyle choices. Positive reinforcement from this circle is vital to helping one succeed in making the healthiest choices. When members of the social circle are making the same healthy choices, it is positive reinforcement for an individual to do the same. In today’s society where the unhealthy options are readily available, it takes the strong positive reinforcement to help keep one on track with motivation.
Motivation is complex and multi-faceted. Both biological and environmental factors play a role in motivation as related to healthy eating. The brain structures of the limbic system and the hypothalamus aid in the behavior of eating as well as the processes of energy storage and fullness. The hormones leptin and dopamine are also biological factors that play a role in the behavior of eating. Evolution of humans as well as a person’s genetics is important in understanding how one eats and what one eats. When there is pressure in today’s society to make unhealthy decisions, a positive social circle as well as promotion of healthy choices is vital in motivating one to eat healthy. When these factors are combined together, the result can be a motivated individual who makes the proper choices to maintain a healthy eating lifestyle.
Braine, M. (2009). The role of the hypothalamus, part 1: the regulation of temperature and hunger. British Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, 5(2), 66-72.
Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: biological, psychological and environmental (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.
Pinel, J. (2009). Biopsychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.
Sterner, D. (2009). What is healthy eating? RN, 72(6), 38.
Udden, J., Bjorntorp, P., Arner, P., Barkeling, B., Meurling, L., & Rossner, S. (2003). Effects of glucorticoids on leptin levels and eating behaviour in women. Journal of Internal Medicine, 253(2), 225-231.
Volkow, N., Wang, G., Maynard, L., Jayne, M., Fowler, J. S., Zhu, W., Logan, J., Gatley, S. J., Ding, Y., Wong, C., & Pappas, N. (2002). Brain dopamine is associated with eating behavior in humans. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2), 136-142.
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