Why do some people gain weight while others stay slim? Read on…
A neuroscientist called Sandra Aamodt was interested (from a neuroscientific point of view) in finding a way to lose weight without dieting. She learnt to eat intuitively and lost 10 pounds in the process.
What makes losing weight so hard? The brain is an incredibly efficient regulator of body weight. Current thinking, that weight loss is about how much you eat versus how much energy you burn is only part of the story. Hunger and energy use are controlled by the brain, mostly subconsciously, and this unconscious force is stronger than mere willpower. The brain has its own sense of what your body should weigh – no matter what you believe your perfect weight to be. This is called the “set point”. It has a range of about 15 pounds. While lifestyle changes (such as taking more exercise or drinking less alcohol) can shift your weight within this range, it’s much harder to move outside of it.
Explain this “set point”. In the same way that a thermostat works, chemical messengers from the hypothalamus gland in the brain help regulate hunger, activity and metabolism to keep your weight stable as conditions change. This means that whatever your starting weight, when you try to override your body’s system by dieting, the brain thinks you’re starving. You get hungrier, and your muscles burn less energy. Even if you keep weight off for some time, your brain will always want you to gain it back.
Intuitive eaters eat according to their bodies’ hunger signals, while controlled eaters try to control when they eat – like dieters. Intuitive eaters are less likely to be overweight, while the controlled eaters are vulnerable to binging.
So how do we eat intuitively? We shift our attitude towards food. Mindfulness is giving yourself permission to eat whatever you want, slowly, and without distractions, paying attention to how your body feels when hungry or satisfied, and letting hunger determine when you have eaten enough. It does take a while to learn (perhaps as long as a year) but wouldn’t it be worth it if it allowed you to be relaxed around food and never have to diet again ? Eating in this new way may mean that you lose less weight, but traditional diets have been proved to fail in the long run mainly because they rely heavily on willpower. Once this willpower weakens when it’s necessary to focus on something else other than the diet, that diet will fail.
Lifestyle choices are more important to maintaining health than weight (eating fruits and vegetables, exercise, not smoking, drinking in moderation and limiting stress). Focussing on weight also does a lot of collateral damage. Too many people measure their worth by how fat or thin they perceive themselves to be. If they stopped dieting, most of them would be happier, healthier and probably slimmer. Now isn’t that worth thinking about?