Think of your body as an airplane. You are the pilot of your personal “craft.” The part of you that lives in your brain and makes the decisions, has the memories and feelings, is your conscious pilot. You pilot your body in conscious decisions. But there is someone else in the cockpit. I call it your autopilot.
The autopilot keeps your body running, doing things you don’t know how to do, even if you could. I mean, do you know how to make your liver work? How to keep all your organs running together in sync? There are millions of things the autopilot in your brain keeps track of for you while you go about your conscious life. Some of those things directly involve how your body gains and loses weight.
Let’s ride along with the autopilot and see your day from its point of view.
It’s morning and you’ve been fasting since last night. Stomach sends word to the brain that it is empty and needs refueling.So the autopilot gives you a subconscious nudge and you realize it is time for breakfast and you are starved. But you are in a rush, so you stop by the doughnut shop on the way to work and buy a pastry.
Now the stomach is satisfied. That pastry is full of sugar and refined flour. The stomach can digest that in no time and dumps the energy-giving sugar into the bloodstream.
“Heavy load coming through,” your body signals the cockpit. “Better send out lots of insulin.”
The autopilot sends the message on to the pancreas. “Big load of sugar just arrived. Pump out lots of insulin to handle it.”The pancreas buckles down and pumps it out. Now, insulin is a crucial hormone. It’s as if it has the key to open the microscopic cells to let in sugar to store it for energy. It gives the message, “Here’s your fuel. Don’t waste it. Store up this energy. Make fat!” The cells cooperate and the body gets the message to slow down and conserve the newly acquired energy. The sugar is packed tidily away. Your energy level drops.
And now you are hungry again — and tired. So you look around for something to eat to pick you up. Ah, bagels in the break room. You already ate a doughnut, but bagels are low fat, right? And you will eat it plain, without cream cheese, so it won’t be too bad.So you chow down on the bagel. It is made of white flour which, again, is a snap for the stomach to digest. The bloodstream is flooded with sugar. The same routine goes into effect.
“Another big load arrived,” the autopilot tells the pancreas. “Get busy.”
The pancreas already had a big workout — but it shifts into high gear again and pumps out more insulin which again delivers the message, “Store fat!”
By lunch you are ravenous again. You eat a sandwich made with white bread and some chips and drink a diet cola (since you are watching your weight). The stomach is having an easy day because none of this stuff is any work to digest. Lunch sugar arrives in the bloodstream lickety-split.
The autopilot signals the pancreas — which is getting a little grumpy at this heavy load of work, but still makes more insulin. The insulin lets the sugar in and gives the message — store fat!
Then by two o’clock you are tired, can’t concentrate, need a snack.
You get the picture. All day your blood sugar peaks and drops as the pancreas pumps out massive loads of insulin to handle it. All day the insulin tells your body, “Make fat. Store it up.”
You step on the scale and see that you’ve gained yet another pound. Maybe your calories didn’t even add up to an exorbitant amount. Surely, you think, that one doughnut didn’t do me in? I’ve just got the body type that puts on the pounds easily. Not fair! And since it doesn’t seem to really matter anyway, you go ahead and stop for another doughnut and the cycle begins again.
After a while your body is well conditioned to gain weight. You have accidentally given it the message so often that it is really good at storing fat. Meanwhile your pancreas is wearing out and thinking about taking early retirement and you have pre-diabetes.
Is there a way to avoid this sad scenario? Yes! You keep your blood sugar level so you don’t have those massive spikes of insulin. If you body doesn’t continually get the message to store fat — it won’t do it! The trick is to keep your blood sugar on a level plateau so you have a steady, small stream of insulin instead of a giant dump. That keeps your energy level stable and keeps you from feeling like you are starving.
How do you do that? You eat foods that take time to digest. Those are foods with fiber, food with protein, and — surprise — food with fat! Did you know that the number of overweight and obese people in the US has doubled since the low fat diets came into popularity in the 1980s?
There is a way of measuring how quickly food turns into sugar in your bloodstream. It is called the glycemic index.
Check in tomorrow for more info about the index and foods that will help your autopilot give out the right message. You want it to say, “Burn the fat” not “Store it up!”
In the meantime, take a look at what you have on your plate today. If it is white, chances are it is going to send the wrong signal. Okay, cauliflower and cottage cheese are exceptions. But white bread, white potatoes, white rice — you get the picture. Eat foods with fiber and protein, and, yes, even some fat.
Isn’t it amazing how our bodies know what to do and can carry on on autopilot while our conscious self is going on with other things? The more I learn about it, the more I see that it is just too improbable to happen by chance — even over billions of years. We are made by design, and the Designer is awe-inspiring!
Eating to live and living for Christ,
Susan Jordan Brown