Is struggling with weight a “Second Brain” problem?

The Hunger Games of The Second Brain
– from Knowing Neurons

a hand-crafted reblog adding to the Brain-Based Series
Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Gut Feelings

Most of us know what it means to have “a gut feeling” – whether it feels intuitive in nature, or a queasy feeling in reaction to something negative or disgusting.  We tend to feel it in the solar plexis or below.

Many of us consider this “gut feeling” idea a metaphor – or believe that the brain in our head sends signals to the gut that produce these feelings.

Not exactly.  Your gut actually has a brain of its own (of sorts).

The nervous system that lines your gut, the enteric nervous system (ENS), is popularly called the “second brain.” This complex network of over 100 million neurons along the gastrointestinal tract works independently of any commands from the brain!

How it Works

The ENS manages the body’s digestive system using the same functional machinery as the brain – a network of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins. The ENS plays an important role in governing food habits via bidirectional communication with the central nervous system (CNS).

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  • The sight of freshly baked pizza stimulates your appetite when it’s mealtime!
  • When you are stuffed after a huge, sumptuous meal, even the mention of food seems nauseating.

These feelings are proof of communication between the ENS and CNS. A top-down communication occurs when hunger is triggered upon an external stimulus (the sight of the pizza), and a bottom-up communication is responsible for the, “I can’t possibly eat anymore” state of mind!

Did you know?

In the 1940s, classic lesion experiments in rats gave rise to a dual center hypothesis for food intake – one center promotes eating and the other stops it. (Lesions interrupt the signals from the part of the brain affected. As a result, the information doesn’t get where it was intended to go.)

  • Rats with bilateral lesions in the lateral hypothalamus stopped eating and showed anorexic behaviors, indicating that this region was the hunger center of the brain.
  • Lesions in the ventromedial hypothalamus elicited a voracious appetite leading to over-eating and an obese phenotype, so this region was labeled the satiety center.

These experiments revealed important information about the hypothalamic nuclei involved in food intake.

There’s more to it, however

  • More recent versions of the experiment showed that the anorexic rat would not starve until death, but would resume normal eating habits upon reaching a certain low body weight.
  • The same holds true for the obese rat, which would stop over-eating after a certain set point of high body weight.

These observations show that feeding behaviors are not only governed by inputs from neuronal signals (which were cut off by the lesion), but also by some food-related blood-borne feedback signals, like insulin and glucose, which are known as humoral signals.

The signal that makes us hungry: ghrelin

Before meals, ghrelin is released in the stomach, where it stimulates hunger. It binds to receptors in the hypothalamus causing the release of appetite-inducing neuropeptides to enhance food intake.

Leptin helps us stop eating

The protein hormone responsible for making us feel satiated is leptin. After meals, leptin is released from adipocytes (fat cells) and sends signals to the hypothalamus that the body has enough energy reserves. So we stop eating!

It counteracts the effects of orexigenic (appetite inducing) neuropeptides and promotes synthesis of other appetite suppressants.

The enteric nervous system is one of the most significant factors in controlling our body weight.

If these two hormones act in conjunction, then why do we overeat?

It turns out, high levels of leptin (the food STOP signal) make the brain’s satiety center insensitive to it, causing us to eat even though the body is trying to hold us back!

Source: The Hunger Games of The Second Brain

As we eat less, over time the sensitivity begins to return for many of us.  So even though it isn’t exactly accurate to believe that our stomach “shrinks” after a restricted calorie diet – or “stretches” after a period of over-eating – there’s a brain-based reason why it might feel that way.

Like most of life, growth and change take TIME, patience and sustained follow-through to get where we want to be. And follow-through takes continued action, no matter how small our steps toward our goals may be. It’s not the velocity, it’s the direction.

Scroll DOWN for a couple of links to some information about appetite and cravings here on, and send me an SOS if you need a bit of coaching help with that follow-through part – regardless of the goal.

Click over to Knowing Neurons for References, as well as the original text of the majority of this article — along with a-whole-lot-more fascinating brain-based information about a lot of things. This site “makes neuroscience accessible to anyone interested in learning about the brain!”

See also: Is too much sugar a form of brain abuse?

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IN ANY CASE, do stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on
(in case you missed them above or below)

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

17 Responses to Is struggling with weight a “Second Brain” problem?

  1. Pingback: What happens when we’re hungry? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. akiwifreund says:

    Reblogged this on The Sick and the Dating and commented:
    Fascinating post about why a good number of us over-eat (and some of us under-eat). It also explains the myth about “shrinking” or “stretching” the stomach. Thank you as always, Madelyn! (She’s a coach who can be contacted directly with questions if you are so inclined, and I highly recommend following her blog.)
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


  3. noelleg44 says:

    Very interesting, Madelyn. I’ve always been on the heavy side, except when I was in my teens, when I was exercising literally half the day. Can’t do that now, so I have to watch every bite, which I HATE. Sometimes I just give up!


    • Thanks, Noelle. Our hormonal balance certainly changes as we age – not only where weight is concerned, but I think we notice that part first.

      Compared to what the national averages say, I was on the thin side for most of my life, especially during my acting career. I never had to fight feelings of hunger – in fact I would sometimes forget to eat – so it wasn’t difficult to keep my weight sho-biz thin. But lately I have to be careful or the pounds sneak up on me (and I’m not crazy about it either).

      It does seem to be true that, as women get older, they have to choose between their faces and their figures, so maybe adding a few pounds isn’t such a bad thing once our bikini days are behind us.


      • noelleg44 says:

        Thanks for the reassurance, Madelyn. A friend of mine told me that she had lost a lot of weight due to stress and her face was now showing a lot of wrinkles.Maybe that’s why I still don’t have a ton of them – I have a fat face!

        Liked by 1 person

        • lol – my own face has only been thin when my body might have been described as skinny – not a great look once we’re beyond our thirties.

          Times and tastes change – as looking at the “ideal” bodies that many of the old masters painted. The images the glossy magazines put forward to sell designs for coat-hanger bodies don’t represent the softer, rounder female form very well, in any case.

          ANYWAY, true beauty shines from within – right? 🙂


  4. Beautiful informative post. So much to learn. Good.


  5. Debbie says:

    brilliant, as always, Madelyn. I am one of those compulsive overeaters, ive tried to address it and im better – by eating slowly. ive always been a stress eater too, which is a terrible thing. but being aware of it has changed it. i had read earlier that its something to do with the delay between the brain processing and the stomach feeling – but your article gives lots of really interesting info. thanks !
    btw i did post the ADD and TCM article – havent had time to notifiy you on your blog yet… check it out over at spaceshipchina 🙂
    READERS: Check out Treating ADHD with Traditional Chinese Medicine


    • I can’t really take the credit – after all, it is an mgh crafted reblog – but I found the information fascinating and “reblogged” it to help the many of us who struggle with weight issues of various sorts.

      I have also heard that drinking a full glass of water helps the stomach “feel” full because a full stomach presses on the diaphragm (haven’t corroborated) – but I’ve also heard that diluting stomach acid impedes healthy digestion (also not corroborated). So many theories, so little time, huh?

      When I have time to search for your ADD/TCM article, I’ll add the link to your comment. Eager to read it.

      UPDATE: Link now added to Debbie’s comment.


  6. Lucy Brazier says:

    This is really interesting – I always (half-jokingly) thought that my stomach had a mind of its own! But seriously, this is very informative and next time I am wondering whether my desire for food is emotional or physical, I can think of these hormones working their magic.


  7. I know several people with the type of ABI where they just don’t stop eating. If there is food around……I think I have a different impulse control level. Thankfully. Although I do say if TBL trainers went through my kitchen cupboards they would have a field day. I buy the bad stuff but I’m not craving to interest me in eating it. It’s a good thing. I’m still not the petite thing I once was….. such is the life of having a physical disability and my only exercise is walking…….stay tuned for the worst thing about a right-sided ABI.


    • It’s sad, isn’t it? And it happens to most of us: as we grow older and our metabolism slows, we need MORE fat-burning exercise, yet most of us don’t seem to have the energy to do enough of what we know we need. Accidents, depression and brain-based reasons like yours make it even harder – so we simply must keep our appetites under control. For a LOT of reasons (including the one explained in my article), that isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.

      Check out the craving and appetite links at the bottom of the article for more interesting info – and thanks for the visit.
      Readers: ABI stands for Acquired Brain Injury, which is what happened to Helen. Her blog Hell on Wheels/Life One Handed chronicles her journey since she lost control of one side of her body.

      Liked by 1 person

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