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How Trying a New “Diet” Can Make You Fat (According to Neuroscience)

Author:NeuroGym Team

Sometimes losing weight can seem really tough, right? And keeping it off is another huge challenge!

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 already tried Zumba, spin class, hot yoga, and boot camp . . . ? Sometimes 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? There’s sort of a vicious circle with dieting and guilt and 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:

(Source: 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.

Going on a crash diet appears to be a popular American past time with at least 45 million of us on a diet. And yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 70.7 percent of people over 20 are either obese or overweight.

A factor that plays into these conflicting statistics is the phenomenon of rebound dieting, in which all of the weight lost (and often more) is gained back once the person goes off their trendy diet.

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. But sadly, most people gain the weight back. Is it true that dieting makes you fat?

Now, before we disclose how you can break that pattern, let’s address why it’s a problem.

A few predictable things happen when you start your “diet.”

1. Your body has a fat “set point” (the weight range your body is comfortable with).

When you deviate from that range, 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 yoyoing several times throughout the year, you’re much less likely to gain it all back.

2. Dieting is stressful. And stress makes you more likely to overeat.

Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt sheds light on how stressful dieting is in a Ted Talk discussing why dieting doesn’t work . . . and in her new book, Why Diets Make Us Fat.

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 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 we’re 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.

3. 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 covered by 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.”

O.K., so what’s the alternative to going on a diet?

Watch this short video we created for further insight into the neuroscience of weight loss. And then keep reading . . .

It’s not about restrictive diets or exercise. It may soundcliché, but lasting change begins on the inside.

Sandra Aamodt and others like Oprah and researchers at Harvard Medical School recommend “mindful eating”—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 like a machine. It’s a lot more complex, yes. But just like a machine, your “output” depends heavily on what you put in. Makes sense, right?

If you’re bigger than you would like, you put too much in. If you’re an O.K. size, but you have too much fat and not enough muscle, you didn’t put the right things in.

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

If you only feed your body 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 organic carrots, chicken, and 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 2 p.m. drowsiness is just your “normal.”

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

What’s next?

For the next week, pay super 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 percent healthy, 20 percent junk, you’re on a great track. Your body probably gives you minimal trouble, and you function pretty well. But if you put in 30 percent healthy, and 70 percent 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 remarkable 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.

Start asking yourself: “Is this really something I want to be eating?” 

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 2 pm is just a daily habit. Ordering Chinese takeout during the week is an ingrained go-to decision. Easy. Mindless. Done.

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 of what our bodies need, and when we’re just indulging.

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 . . . 

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 into 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.

Pay attention to your current state of mind, too. What do you notice?

Do you have the mindset for success . . . or is your belief system keeping you from reaching your goals and dreams?

Love your body, and it will take care of you. The best thing you can do to reach your weight loss goals is to care for your body and enjoy the transformation process!

As philosopher Albert Schweitzer once 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.

If you’re curious about the latest neurological discoveries that unlock the secret to losing the weight you hate, join us for a free training on Winning the Game of Weight Loss.

We’ll be talking to four experts on health, nutrition, psychology, and neuroscience . . . and about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to weight loss.


We’d love to hear from you!

Have you fallen for harmful fat loss myths? What do you think about the dieting fiasco? Please leave us your comments and/or questions in the space below.


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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