The Neuroscience of Weight Loss
When the Soul makes you Fat
Neuroscientists discovered that obesity starts in your brain. Stress and anxiety are two of the major causes. Another important factor is your feeling of self-worth.
In this post, we will look at a few facts, go to the root of the problem and find solutions.
As you all know I am originally from Germany. I am still learning medical terminology – but I am positive that even though the post might not be perfect grammar-wise you will still be able to understand the meaning.
1.4 Billion grown ups are overweight worldwide
2.8 Million people die from conditions related to being overweight. The list of possible diseases is large:
- Heart attack
- Diabetes type 2
- Joint pain
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
What are the reasons for this epidemy?
- Existential fear
- Environmental conditioning
- Feeling of being overtaxed (burn-out)
- Stressful job – lack of sleep
How does the brain influence the control circuit of hunger and feeling full?
Until a few years ago scientists were of the opinion that food intake is a simple process:
If the stomach is empty agents send a signal to your brain that then makes sure you feel hungry and fill your stomach.
If the blood sugar levels go down or the fat depots get empty, it is being reported back to the brain that takes care of starting the process of making you feel hungry again.
But this is only half of the truth.
There is hunger, and there are cravings. Everyone knows the phenomena of being full and fed but still having cravings that make you eat more.
Also your stomach stretches out when you overeat. So the more you overeat, the more food you will need to even satisfy your hunger.
Then come the cravings. Maybe someone is frustrated, at a fun social event or indulges just because it tastes so good. Your brain tells you that you want more even though you do not need more food. Especially highly addictive sugar can make you feel like you “need” it.
The food industry adds to the damage with MSGs and other artificial additives. The whole “diet” stuff only makes us eat more, and the correlation between the number of new diet products and more obese people is not a coincidence.
Cravings are regulated by the strongest lust and frustration center
That part of our brain region is active when you are climaxing, feel drunk of love or on a heroin kick.
This region of your brain also plays a key role in depression, chronic stress, and burnout. I will try to translate 3 German expressions and hope they make sense in English:
- Frustessen (frustration eating)
- Kummerspeck (grief bacon)
- Stressessen (stress eating)
You might have read in some of my other posts that this is why it is not your fault when your diet fails.
The approach is wrong.
The people who told you that you just have to develop willpower or work out a little bit have been lying to your face. Or let´s say: They were poorly educated on the matter or wanted to sell you some “wonder diet”.
Legal diet pills could never trick your brain in the long run.
A change in nutrition will make a difference and is the way to go. But you will have to remove the original cause of overeating first – or you will not be able to see it through.
Obesity is an addiction more than anything else.
So are obese people addicts?
A PET-scanner (uses a radioactive substance to scan for disease and shows how tissue and organs are working) shows that some regions of the brains of obese people have changed – the reward center that is activated by drugs, sex, or a tasty meal.
The reward center releases dopamine, a happiness hormone, which motivates us to repeat something.
The points of connection for dopamine shrink in the brains of obese people. To feel the same level of happiness, they need to eat more than a thin person.
These changes in the dopamine metabolism are similar to those visible in the brains of cocaine addicts.
The other brain region that shows changes known from other forms of addiction is the part that handles planning and trained behavior.
Scientists of the German Max-Planck University for cognitive neuroscience conveyed a psychological experiment:
They separated obese women and women with normal weight into two groups. Then they put in front of them two decks of playing cards. The goal of the game was to make as much profit as possible.
The first deck contained cards that brought high winnings at first but losses in the long run. The second deck was sorted just opposite. Losses first, high profits in the long run.
The astonishing result of the study was that while the thin Ladies after a while ignored the first deck of cards the obese Ladies kept taking cards from it.
Similar to cocaine or alcohol addicts it was problematic for them to follow a long-term strategy. Luckily, those changes are reversible.
Let´s do it.
Diet needs to start in the brain
If you are one of the many people who felt like a failure for not being able to shed those extra pounds I hope you feel better now.
Now you understand that no diet or powder or whatsoever you tried and people sold you could do the job.
Most people that are trying to lose weight have gone through uncountable expensive and useless diets, powders, pills, workout and recipe programs.
And all the “before/after” pics. Yawn. The only picture I would take as proof for a good diet is a before and after the brain scan.
Luckily, the solution to the dilemma is way more easy and inexpensive than you might think. You will likely save money after you successfully implemented the changes needed.
The good news: Retraining your brain is possible