It was inevitable. Sleep deprivation from finishing my book manuscript and the Jelly Bean combined with a very weight intensive P90X workout and the fact that jelly bean season is now in full throttle found me slumped over my table this afternoon in a sugar coma. I downed an entire bag of SweeTart jelly beans. And I’m not talking the little portion-controlled bag. I ate the whole 300 (or whatever) serving bag. By myself. Today. Man those jelly beans go down easy.
As I sat nursing a sugar headache and regretting every last high-fructose bite, it made me remember some research I read recently about how eating sugary and fatty foods becomes a self reinforcing cycle. (Of course I only remember this after the jelly beans have been eaten.) The authors of the study postulated that there is a tipping point with these foods and once you pass it an internal fat switch is flipped and your body goes into crazy fat-storing mode. Basically, the more you eat it the more you want it, hunger cues be darned. Nobody eats an entire bag of jelly beans because they’re hungry. And it takes a lot of hard work and time to reset that switch once it’s been flipped. So how did scientist discover this switch? With rodents, of course!
Does your liver glow in the dark? These mice are genetically engineered with firefly juice to have livers that glow when CRTC2, also known as the fasting switch, is turned on. It all gets very techy but here’s what you need to know:
Our bodies run on fat and sugar (glucose). When we eat, we have a rise in our blood sugar. When we aren’t eating (like when we are sleeping or starving), our bodies primarily burn fat as fuel. All well and good except that the hothouses that sit on our shoulders (our brains) require a measure of glucose to function. It’s the reason that you feel all foggy and confused when you are carb depleted. So when you aren’t eating and your brain needs glucose, a little switch in your liver (CRTC2) starts pumping out the glucose stored in your liver. Hurray for the little Star Wars dude in your gut!
The problem arises (and the mice with the glowing livers get involved) when CRTC2 gets activated and, like a 12-year-old with a cell phone, won’t shut up – causing excess amounts of glucose to be constantly circulating in your blood (known as high blood sugar). How does this happen? Insulin resistance, primarily from overeating and obesity. From insulin resistance comes the dreaded diabetes and the host of ills that comes with it.
The mice with the glowing livers were not just for the researcher’s entertainment (although, admit it, you really want to see one now). The researchers fattened up a bunch of firefly-mice and then waited until their livers lit up like your check-oil light. When their livers turned on it meant that the switch was no longer functioning and sugar was being pumped out 24-7. This allowed the researchers to identify exactly how and when the switch gets permanently stuck in the on position.
So the question becomes both for the lit mice and their human counterparts of lesser organ brilliance, is how do you know when your switch is about to flip? And moreover, how do you flip it back?
Leaving the actual science portion of this post and venturing off into the part where I spout random theories that I make up (my favorite part, naturally) I think that some people have touchier switches than others. One uber-healthy friend of mine said that she has learned she can eat badly for about 3 weeks before she starts to notice serious deleterious effects and so she knows to cut herself off around 2.5 weeks. Myself, I think my internal switch gets flipped at closer to 1 or 2 days of eating crap. Heck, even one good candy binge – like today – seems to set body into cravings overdrive. The only solution I have found for this is to white-knuckle it for 3 or 4 days until my switch goes back.
For those of you good at pattern recognition, you will realize that my switch flippage (actual scientific word, that one is) corresponds neatly to the days of the week. I eat like crap on the weekends, feel like the crap I ate, resolve to do better, white knuckle it Monday through Thursday and then as soon as I start to feel better it’s the weekend again! I’m so tired of this cycle (and add in my other “cycle” for more fun!).
Any of you get thrown off your healthy eating by the weekend? Have you discovered when your switch flips? How do you break the cycle? Anyone else now want a liver that glows in the dark??