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Your Brain When You’re Dieting To Lose Weight

Your brain has a “mind of its own” when you go on a diet to lose weight, and nutritionists say that it’s important to keep note of it in order to avoid relapsing.

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Your Brain When You’re Dieting To Lose Weight

Your brain has a “mind of its own” when you go on a diet to lose weight, and nutritionists say that it’s important to keep note of it in order to avoid relapsing.

Your Brain’s Reaction To Your Diet

Although many nutritionists must have given you several “simple secrets”” to losing weight, such as avoiding certain foods, looking for certain foods, or “controlling your calories going in and calories going out,” many of us have noticed at some point that it is much harder than it sounds. So are we actually missing something? Why is it so hard to stick to a diet?

“The Hungry Brain” author, Stephan Guyenet, contends that this is because of your brain, and something called your “set point weight.” “Body weight is regulated by the brain. If you don’t know that, you’re going to be surprised when your brain and body start fighting back against weight loss,” he said.

Sandra Aamodt, who wrote “Why Diets Make Us Fat,” agrees that this is the route of the problem. “Whenever your weight changes too much, your brain will intervene to push it back to what it thinks is the correct weight for you. And you might not prefer the same weight your brain prefers. Many of us don’t,” she said. 

“Your hypothalamus will activate physiologic and behavioral responses to maintain your body temperature. For instance, if you’re cold, you may shiver or put on a sweater,” he explained.  He said it’s the same with regards to your body weight.

But That’s Not All

Guyenet also points out that your brain also regulates your body fat, not just your body weight.  “Your brain measures the level of body fat using leptin, a hormone that’s secreted in your bloodstream in proportion to the amount of fat you carry,” says Guyenet. Higher amounts of blood leptin means you have more body fat, and therefore serves to decrease your hunger.

Your brain has a set point in terms of the amount of body fat it’s happiest with. Your brain will defend this amount just like it defends your body temperature,” Guyenet said.

So How Do We Fix This? 

Many nutritionists have found that a good way to reduce what is called your brain’s “famine reaction,” is a diet with plenty of “breaks.” One study found that a “two-week on, two-week off,” diet not only helped people lose more weight than those who diet straight through, but also made them gain less weight back once they’ve stopped their diet. 

Aamodt said that the risk of continuous dieting is that: “you become more at risk of emotional eating, eating out of boredom, and are more vulnerable to environmental cues that tell you to eat more than your body actually wants.” Intermittent diet might trick your brain out of this.

Nuala Nyrne, a health professor at Tasmania University, said: "There is a growing body of research which has shown diets which use one to seven day periods of complete or partial fasting alternated with ad libitum food intake, are not more effective for weight loss than conventional continuous dieting.”

“It seems that the 'breaks' from dieting we have used in this study may be critical to the success of this approach,” she said.

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