MTHFR and Emotional Eating with Tricia Nelson

Emotional eating doesn’t sound like the typical MTHFR topic, but sadly it is one of the behaviors that can plague people with MTHFR, COMT fast, or MAO-A fast. Especially those with MAO-A fast because emotional eating is highly linked to states of low dopamine and low serotonin.

Any of us MTHFR folks can be prone to low neurotransmitters, so emotional eating and other addictive behaviors can be a pattern we fall into easily.

This interview with Tricia Nelson, author of Heal Your Hunger: 7 Simple Steps to End Emotional Eating, reveals some of her strategies and tips to help conquer emotional eating once and for all.

The term “emotional eating” may prompt some resistance, which is understandable. Nobody ever wants to think they eat for their emotions, but I’m willing to bet lots of us want chocolate on a bad day. Tricia suggests starting with the “PEP test” to show you hidden ways you might be using food to reduce emotional pain, escape, or self-punish.

You can find the PEP test in the book or as a pop-up quiz on Tricia’s website.

Engaging with the WHY question about your eating habits can help to make your MTHFR journey more successful and boost your health overall. We all know some of the worst craving foods are also the foods that are fortified with folic acid, and folic acid is never going to help if you’re struggling with neurotransmitters because of MTHFR, COMT fast, or MAO-A fast. If struggling to eliminate fortified foods has been your challenge with MTHFR, Heal Your Hunger might be the solution.

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MAO-A Fast And the Carbohydrate Rollercoaster

MAO-A is an enzyme that has the power to determine a lot of who you are, and the gene SNPs that change its activity have additive effects, just like the COMT gene SNP that we spoke about previously, The various SNPs add up to give you either fast or slow action.

MAO-A stands for Monoamine Oxidase A, and it is a breakdown pathway for your monoamine neurotransmitters, which means serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Unfortunately, those three little things, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, determine so much of how you feel and act in the world.

An interesting aside about the MAOA gene that we mentioned last week as well: most of the genes SNPs we talk about are linked to regular chromosome pairs, meaning there are two functioning copies of each one. The MAO-A gene is X-linked, meaning that it sits on the X chromosome or chromosomes that are responsible for physiological gender determination. Men have only one copy of the MAOA gene and women have two, but one is silent. On women’s genetic tests there is no way to tell which copy of the MAO-A gene is active and which is silent so symptoms are the best place to look.

Fast MAO-A means that breakdown of the neurotransmitters is faster than average, therefore levels of these neurotransmitters are lower than they would be in a person with the wild-type genetics.

Low neurotransmitters is a challenge that people tend to self-medicate, and in this case the easiest and most available self-medication is carbs. Carbohydrate foods are an amazing short-term boost to neurotransmitters, but it really is very short-lived. Sadly, this method fails spectacularly in the long run.

The Carbohydrate Rollercoaster

The carbohydrate rollercoaster is a pretty familiar place for a lot of people. You feel down, or blue, maybe hopeless or even just bored. You know you shouldn’t reach for a cake or chocolate bar, but it’s like you can’t help yourself. You eat the twinkie and feel a burst of goodwill and hopefulness that pretty soon transitions into guilt for packing another twinkie in the saddle bags. Your mood gets darker and soon enough, you’re reaching for a ho-ho to ease the pain. You might even wake up in the middle of the night and need a snack to fall back to sleep.

I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but surely some of you out there recognized your own all too painful cycle. This sad cycle is an easy reality to fall into with a fast MAO-A picture, but in good news, if you know it’s MAO-A it is also reasonably easy to get out of.

What You Can Do To Balance A Fast MAO-A

One of the key factors with a fast MAO-A is helping your psychology and physiology stay balanced, and there are a number of things that can help you to do that.

  • Balanced B vitamins – for a slow MAO-A we talked about how important riboflavin is, but for a fast MAO-A we want to make sure you’re gettin all the Bs and not too much riboflavin, which will make this enzyme even faster.
  • Complex carbs and protein – Instead of the starch and sugar rollercoaster, the most important thing you can do is to get three regular meals that are high in complex carbs and protein for stable blood sugars and neurotransmitters. This type of carbs, which includes whole grains and lots of fiber, digest slowly and so keep a steady stream of serotonin coming rather than the peaks and valleys that quick carbs produce.
  • Remove stressors – Stress is not your friend with any MAO-A imbalance. Life has lots of stressors, but a lot of them are self-imposed. Let go of the food sensitivities, the blood sugar ups and downs, the toxic friends, and any extra jobs or tasks that you’ve picked up that don’t need to be there. Do a stress edit on your life.
  • Boost your Glutathione – We’ve talked for ages about this so check out Season 1, Episode 14: MTHFR and Glutathione, and Season 2, Episode 32: Glutathione Review. Glutathione helps to decrease inflammation and reduce some of the negative side effects of burning through neurotransmitters too quickly.
  • Eliminate Food Sensitivities – Eating foods that your body is sensitive to raises your inflammation, which in turn drives your body to make more stress hormones and pushes the peaks and valleys of your neurotransmitter levels even higher .
  • Meditate – Meditation is one of the most effective non-drug methods of balancing neurotransmitters with any kind of gene SNPs. Even something as simple as 3 minutes of mindfulness meditation daily can have huge results over time.
  • Watch your warning signs – With a fast MAO-A you know you’re not keeping the right dietary balance when you’re’ waking up in the middle of the night hungry, or when your emotions are pushing you to the pantry for that sweet treat. If you see these warning signs, make sure your next meal has plenty of complex carbs, a moderate amount of protein, and good fats to feed your neurotransmitters.
  • Boost your tryptophan Intake – Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and melatonin and the tryptophan that crosses into the brain most easily is found in complex carb-heavy foods. Keep snacks with a good balance of complex carbs and protein at hand to stabilize blood sugars and give you a steady flow of tryptophan. Think yogurt, oatmeal, nuts and seeds, or some turkey slices rolled in iceberg lettuce.

Thanks so much for listening and great news this week! The Beta test group for MTHFR Live is going to start in early July and enrollment is secretly open now, but I won’t advertise that to anybody but my listeners for a week so that you have a chance to get in. The Beta test version is 75% off the regular price, plus if you enroll in the free course, MTHFR Basics, you can have a coupon for an additional

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