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The External Cortex

Haus of Hamster

There exists a fourth area of the brain that is involved in your body weight: the external cortex. The external cortex is different from the other three, since you won’t find it in your head, but maybe on the couch, next to you, or on social media. Because the external cortex has many guises.

When you were still a kid, the external cortex was limited to your parents and later on, your teachers at school. Afterwards, it expanded and included your sports coach, or the old posters in your doctor’s waiting room that said, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’.

All the examples have something in common: they try to convince you, to compel you to do something, or to forbid something. It is less important what shape this external cortex comes in. New persons who have authority over you can always appear, but also new role models or influencers. Alternatively, the new influences can also be new electronic possibilities with a huge impact, such as smartphones, apps, or smart watches. The fact is that the external cortex – sometimes it is more than one – resides outside yourself and such a cortex can influence you. An influence that may be long-lasting and intense or, indeed, fleeting and shallow.

When it comes to weight loss – where an industry of billions has arisen in selling nutritional supplements, medication and waste products, combined with an extraordinary increase of information on the relationship between food and health – it is sometimes hard to see the forest through the trees. Among all the studies, publications and posts it can be very difficult to distinguish between the truth and fake news.

Back then, you did not look for extra information on the Internet, because it simply did not exist. Furthermore, the number of foodstuffs was much more limited. The enormous influx of new products, such as quinoa, goji berries, chia seed, açaí, curcuma, spirulina, coconut water, and green juices may dazzle you; what is good for you and what isn’t?

In the old days, the label ‘Scientifically proven’ was almost always sufficient to be taken for truth, but nowadays we have Internet forums where (fraudulent) research results are interpreted in the wrong way. It is great to have so much information at one’s disposal. But you should always be critical with regard to the reliability of your sources.

Interaction With Other Areas of the Brain

Prefrontal Cortex For starters, the external cortex will be aimed at supporting your own cortex. This cortex may lose focus sometimes, and then an external cortex comes in handy, for example in the form of digital tools that keep track of your basic activity or give you a reminder to get on the scales again.

Limbic System You can indeed get help in retaining the feeling of wellbeing and your motivation. For instance, by feeling good and proud when your partner compliments you, or by the extra like on your new social media post. Things such as apps that measure belly circumference and show progress also provide an important interaction between the external cortex and the reward area.

Hypothalamus This can be strengthened through making your day-night rhythm function in the best possible way, by making sure you enjoy a deep, high-quality sleep, or by recording heart rates, for example.

Key Points in This Section:

  • An external cortex is only useful if it is useful for you. It comes in many guises and will differ per person;
  • The external cortex demonstrates how all sorts of external factors can cooperate and enhance each other in the best possible way, while you are trying to achieve your goal.
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In 2008, the book Nudge was published, written by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Richard Thaler received the Nobel prize in Economics in 2017, and both acted as advisors to American president Obama.

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