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health

Why “Dieting” Makes You Fat (According to Neuroscience)

Author: NeuroGym Team | July 27, 2016

Sometimes losing weight can seem really tough, right?

(And keeping it off is another huge challenge!)

Extreme times, extreme measures...

Does that resonate with your weight loss journey at all?

Have you gone sugar free, meat free, fat free, juice cleanses (food free??) …

Or eaten so many unseasoned chicken breasts, even the thought of that flavorless meat makes you gag a little?

Maybe you tried zumba, spin class, hot yoga, bootcamp…?

Sometime it seems like losing weight is inherently difficult and miserable.

 

 

There Has To Be Another Way…

What if weight loss didn't have to be a struggle?

(Hint: It doesn't!)

There's sort of a vicious circle with dieting and guilt/shame, or other negative feelings.

It's almost like the more we all obsess about "dieting," the more weight we all gain!

Here are some scary statistics to prove it:

WLGraphic

(Sources: US Dept. of Health and Human Services)

CLEARLY something is missing.

People spend BILLIONS of dollars a year trying to solve the same problem, but it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

(…pun intended).

Despite several new “breakthroughs” and “miracle formulas,” the only thing dwindling is people’s savings. Sure diets, exercise regimes, and group weight loss programs can work temporarily. But sadly, most people gain the weight back.

Now, before I tell you how you can break that pattern, let's address why it's a problem.

A few things happen on the inside when you start "dieting":

  1. Your body has a fat “set point” — that’s the weight range your body is comfortable with.

When you deviate from that (either by gaining or losing weight), a little alarm goes off in your brain. This alarm makes your body start to push you back to your set point, by slowing your metabolism or increasing your appetite. So, when you lose weight fast, it doesn’t give your body much time to adjust.

Changing your set point is a long, drawn out process that occurs slowly.

The good news?

It also lasts much longer!

If you can sustain your weight loss instead of yo-yoing several times throughout the year, you’re much less likely to gain it all back.

  1. Dieting is stressful. Stress makes you more likely to overeat.

Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt shed all sorts of light on this one recently, in a Ted Talk and in her new book. It makes sense if you think about it.

Most diets have fairly strict parameters, so following a diet is a lot of work in itself. And not only that, but controlling your cravings and impulses is tough, especially when you try to make a drastic change in your eating behaviors.

Most people who overeat admit to “emotional eating” — when life gets tough, Ben and Jerry are always there! Ironically, the stress of dieting can often trigger emotional eating. Plus, it can impact your social life.

Have you ever turned down an invitation to dinner with friends, in lieu of a big bowl of diet food?

(Pizza may not be the healthiest food, but I’m pretty sure isolation isn’t great for you either.)

Many people get through a few days or even a few weeks of dieting.

Then they have a “what the hell” moment.

That’s when you’re tired, or hungry, and really low on willpower. Even though you know you’re on a diet, you reach for the ice cream. “Oh, what the hell.”

Some people never recover from that moment, and the diet ends.

  1. You’re Ironically Drawn To The Forbidden Fruit

Have you ever had someone tell you: “Don’t think about a pink elephant”?

It’s all you can think about, right?

When you try not to think about a particular topic, it just doesn’t work.

It’s called the “ironic process theory.”

Let’s apply this to dieting.

You decide to eliminate junk food completely.

Suddenly, all you can think about is a warm, gooey brownie smothered in vanilla ice cream.

Your favorite bakery is about 20 steps from your office…

It would take you about 2 minutes to get there…

And this keeps happening every time you remember your diet, and the foods that are “off-limits.”

Ok, So What’s The Alternative To Dieting?

Here's a clue: it's not about restrictive diets or exercise.

It may sound cliche, but a lasting change begins on the inside.

Sandra Aamodt, amongst others, recommends “mindful eating.”

Basically, that means being aware of your body and what you put into it.

Enjoy your food, enjoy your body, enjoy what you can do.

Your body is kinda like a machine.

It’s a lot more complex, yes.

But just like a machine, your “output” depends heavily on what you put in.

If you’re bigger than you would like, you put too much in.

If you’re an ok size, but you have too much fat/not enough muscle, you didn’t put the right things in.

Your body can only work with what it’s given.

If you only give it grilled cheese sandwiches and apple juice, you probably shouldn’t expect high performance that day.

What if instead you gave it leafy greens, topped with carrots, chicken, and some avocado?

Yep you guessed it:

You would feel, and perform at a higher level.

When you get used to eating poorly, you also get used to the way your body responds.

After weeks of eating fast food sandwiches, the 2pm drowsiness is just your “normal.”

Do you feel as energized and productive as you would like?

What To Do Next:

For the next week, pay close attention to your body.

Do you feel tired? Do you feel your productivity or focus declining at certain times?

Try to connect the feeling to what you’re eating. Notice how you feel after every meal.

Everything we put in our body helps us, or hurts us to some degree.

If you put in 80% healthy, 20% junk, you’re on a great track.

Your body probably gives you little trouble, and you function pretty well.

If you put in 30% healthy, and 70% junk, that’s how you’ll perform.

Decide to love your body, and respect it for everything it enables you to do.

Accept where you are, and visualize where you want to be.

When you ditch the negativity about your body, you’ll start treating it better.

Start thinking of food as the fuel that helps you achieve your goals in life.

A Crazy Thing Happens When You Stop To Notice…

Somehow, healthy choices become easier to make!

This happens because awareness gives you choice.

Instead of automatically stuffing something convenient in your mouth, you're taking a moment to think.

"Is this really something I want to be eating?" You can start asking yourself.

That one tiny moment gives you a surprising amount control over what you eat, usually leading to better decisions.

When a bunch of little healthy decisions start to accumulate, you'll start noticing results!

The mindful eating trend is on the rise, because it seems to work!

Many people have noticed a difference after a few weeks or months, without deliberately changing their habits, or spending hours at the gym.

If you’re fully present during all of your food choices, you’re just more likely to make better ones.

We don’t realize how many of our choices are made at the non-conscious level.

Grabbing a coke at 2pm is just a habit. Ordering Chinese takeout during the week becomes another go-to habit.

Most mindful eaters report big reductions in how much junk food they eat, just from the one small change of paying more attention!

Humans are pretty intuitive when it comes to our nutrition.

We have a sense for what our bodies need, and when we’re just indulging.

Want some more evidence this isn’t totally nuts?

Oprah swears by a “mindfulness” approach to weight loss and fitness too.

Harvard Medical School has even looked into the idea.

Pretty Simple, Right?

Is this sounding too good to be true?

“All I have to do is pay attention to what I eat, and I’ll eat better and lose weight?”

The answer is: most likely.

Everyone’s body is different. Our metabolisms are different, our activity levels, our food sources, etc.

The goal with mindful eating is to connect the body and mind.

Your body sends you all sorts of signals, you just need to start listening, and stop judging.

Accept that you have cravings, maybe try to ascertain why they're coming up.  You don't have to give in to them instantly, nor do you have to beat yourself up over them.

Mindful eating won’t get you results if you continue eating poorly. The idea is to listen to your body and take care of it, by feeding it the right nutrients, and minimizing unnecessary stress.

For an easy guide to make a healthy meal (regardless of what lifestyle diet you may follow), click here!

Remember: love your body, and it will take care of you. The best thing you can do to reach your weight loss goals is to give your body more attention, and enjoy the process! 

As philosopher Albert Schweitzer said,

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Have you fallen for harmful fat loss myths?

Take our free quiz to find out.

 

Do you like learning this sort of information? If you're curious about the latest neurological discoveries that unlock the secret to losing the weight you hate, join us for a free webinar Thursday. We'll be talking to 4 experts on health and nutrition, psychology, and neuroscience, about what works and what doesn't. 

 

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About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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