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How your brain stops you from losing weight

How your brain stops you from losing weight

If you have tried to lose weight you probably know how difficult it can be. I often hear clients say, that they are exercising and eating well but still not losing weight! This is frustrating and demotivating. I can tell you that often it has very little to do with your willpower, but everything to do with a physiological mechanism that is out of your control.

If energy intake has exceeded energy expenditure over a long period of time and weight has been gained as a consequence, the body will then reset its body weight set point at an increased value. The body weight set point is a certain weight that the body’s physiology will defend to remain at. For example, if you are 10kgs overweight and have been that for a while, your body now believes this is your ideal weight, and to defend this new “ideal” weight it will release or suppress hormones. You may know what this feels like if you have tried to lose weight; it goes well for a few days and then suddenly all you can think about is food, and you are constantly hungry. This is your body trying to prevent you from losing more weight. I know this doesn’t make sense, that your body would not want you to be at a healthy weight, but remember our physiology is from an ancient time where food was scarce, and putting on weight was a good thing because it meant we would last the winter months and by slowing down the loss of our body fat, we would have a higher survival rate. It made sense then, but it surely doesn’t make sense now….

Another factor that can make it difficult to lose weight is when the brain has been motivated over a period of time to search out food rewards.

The more calorie dense food (fat combined with sugar) we consume, the more the brain lights up when we eat as there is a surge in dopamine. The brain remembers this and every time we eat something calorie dense there is a reinforcement of this reward, which keeps the cravings alive and the motivation to eat calorie dense food. It has been found that overweight people have greater activation of the reward signalling in the brain when eating calorie dense food than a non-overweight population. Again this is adding to the difficulty of losing weight

The challenges are to reduce the brain’s desire for food rewards and to help modulate the body’s natural physiological response preventing weight loss. If we can overcome these two challenges, willpower is a piece of cake.

What to do:

Be aware of the foods that are rewarding to the brain and omit them for at least 4 weeks to stop reinforcing the rewards. These foods are high in fat and sugar such as chocolate, ice cream, pizza, French fries, cakes, popcorn, cheeseburgers etc.

Eating a plate containing 2-3 foods will make you eat less than if you had a plate with 4-8 different tastes; your brain wants to try all the different flavours again and this can cause you to overeat

Eat protein and fibre with every meal as protein a fibre make you feel full.

Get professional help from a nutritionist or a naturopath who knows how to lower the body weight set point and how to break the reinforcement of pleasure and habit eating.

Pernille is available for appointments at our Mona Vale clinic offering 50% off initial consultations for the month of April. Call 02 9979 8887 to book.

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