Dieting and the Brain by Astrid Nader-Louw
Have you ever thought what happens to the brain and how your thought patterns change when you are on a diet?
Dieting causes us to feel deprived of the food we want, foods we love and crave, make us feel guilty when we eat what we are not allowed, and remorseful when we have eaten the ‘forbidden fruits’. So, does dieting really help us or hinder us in our endless quest to lose weight and reach the Armageddon of the ‘perfect body?’ Pretty obvious isn’t it! Our body is far more Intune with what it needs than what we give it credit for, and our brain is often far ahead in the game of being aware of what is right for us. Is there really a perfect diet, is it just what our mind desires, or have we been led by the diet industry & mega marketing that has made us think we desire and need to be perfect.
But what is perfect?
You would think that we would be diet professionals by now, Paleo, Keto, Ducan, Atkins, etc etc etc! The year 2018 and we are still looking for the correct one! There are countless experts telling you they know the secret to getting slim by eating this or avoiding that, by drinking this, jumping this high and over that, counting calories and cutting fat, let’s not forget the “calories in versus calories out” equation that seems so simple at the surface, but is much harder when put in practice. With at least 10 million Australians dieting each year and the majority of those failing at those diets, there is so much more than just the dieting and exercising to help us lose the weight! Where are we going wrong!
Did you know that our body weight is regulated by the brain and is known as ‘set point weight’ it is not uncommon for our body and brain to fight against weight loss! Which sums up the known yet fought against the knowledge that diets don’t work!
The hormones in your brain tell your body when to seek food, when to slow down and conserve energy, and when to store fuel for a coming “famine”, all in the name of survival. “The brain isn’t concerned with looking slim and pretty! It is concerned with maintaining life. Your body and brain are programmed to remain stable at your set point. Our brain doesn’t understand the word ‘diet’ but rather thinks we are in the middle of a famine.
Whenever our weight changes too much our brain will intervene to push it back to what it thinks is the correct weight for you. If we rush a diet or cut our calories too much our brains will not obey this message but understand this time as a fright or flight situation, meaning our body will hold on to all fat thinking that dire times are ahead! Unfortunately, what we are doing by sticking so strictly to our calorie counting ways, we are achieving the exact opposite of what we are wanting.
What is heard by our body is the exact opposite of what we are hoping to deliver!
But here’s where things get even more exciting, or not so much, we all have a certain level of body fat that our bodies are happiest at. Unfortunately, our brain will defend this amount just like it defends our body temperature. As we lose weight, the amount of leptin in our bloodstream drops — and that’s where the trouble starts. It sends a signal to your brain to help you fight to bring that fat back. Of course, that’s the exact opposite effect that you’re going for. It’s hard to beat out biology.
All this hard work actually creates a classic starvation response in our body that is caused by our dieting. Your brain responds by upping hunger, making those dry chips in the pantry look delicious and ensures cravings are impossible to ignore. Physiologically, your metabolic rate slows so you can conserve energy and send it right back into building up fat stores, ironic that by cutting calories you are actually slowing your metabolism right down to barely moving! these “compensatory mechanisms” driving weight loss ‘slow down’ can last for at least one year, a long time to spend battling your body. In a nutshell, if we deprive ourselves food and become hungry our body will store fat!
The best way to keep on top of this is to be the boss in our own weight loss journey, we need to take charge in a sustainable and healthy way, to lose the weight we are wanting to. We need to realise that dieting is not the answer, that depriving ourselves nourishment and pleasure in food gives us nothing but resentment and guilt, counting calories is something that is not sustainable and should be left back in the 1990s where it belongs!
It really is difficult to take control when a diet mindset gets drilled into us at every turn… in every magazine article, headline, Facebook share, etc. Weight loss is shoved in our faces all the time, and we’ve internalised that message to think that we should always be focusing on losing weight and dieting and less on being happy and grateful for the body that we have. The diet mindset will do more harm than good in the long run.
What we actually need to be doing and encouraging is intuitive eating and positive body image. In short, intuitive eating means breaking free from the on-and-off cycle of dieting and learning to eat mindfully and without guilt. Cut out the calorie counting and restrictions on certain food.
Your body is smarter than you probably give it credit for. Often, we think that after years of dieting, our body signals can’t be trusted, but can they? It may take a little while to remember how to listen to your bodies voice and really listen and hear them, those signals are still very wise guides. “Learning to honour these signals sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.” When was the last time you allowed yourself to be hungry and eat the delicious food you wanted until you were nutritionally satisfied?
Intuitive eating is practised by listening to our body for hunger and fullness cues. We want to listen to our body for cues rather than wait for a ravenous belly with a need for food! How often do we turn off our feelings for appetite, pleasure and fullness, and end up completely out of balance?
Are you Hungry? Notice if you’re hungry. Is your belly rumbling or getting tight? Are you having difficulty concentrating? Is your energy dwindling? Or do you just notice you are thinking about eating a certain food? Are you just a little hungry for a snack, or ravenous for a five-course meal? Are you just bored or lonely? If so, is biological food what you want? If you’re hungry for food, eat. If you’re not, and emotions are taking charge, sit it out.
Check in, ask your intuition about what it’s craving. Is it something harmful or beneficial to your body? If you’re not sure, imagine having this item, or take a bite and track the sensations in your body. Is your body contracting or expanding, happy or anxious?
Honour your body Select foods that fuel your body. You may not know this right away, but the more you follow your intuition, the more trust you’ll develop in your body’s signals. You’ll start to have a shorthand, and you’ll know what your body needs. Give your body the foods that heal and nourish, rather than destroy. Listen to the cravings but learn to discern what is a craving from wholeness versus a craving from a condition like Candida or parasites.
Stop When you have had enough, stop. In order to hear this message from your body, you’ll need to go slowly enough to listen. If you’re not sure, stop for a moment and check in. Bodies function best when they aren’t starving or so full that digestion is impeded, so stop when you still have a little room left.
Move For proper digestion, the core muscles need to be activated. Movement helps lymph circulate and keeps our bodies organs toned. Move for pleasure, not pain or gain. A 10-minute walk is enough for some. A little movement will help deepen a connection between brain and gut. There is no need for a high intensity spin class, just enjoyable movement.
Enjoy Finally, enjoy! Eating food is a pleasurable experience, when we give ourselves permission to take pleasure in our food, our body feels good and our mood elevates. When we are not cringing with guilt, we can remain open to our body’s signals. A lovely feedback loop develops that tells us when we are on the right path to pleasure, or the wrong one toward pain. We get quicker at noticing which path is which, and we select the path of nourishment and pleasure more readily.
So, what does happen to our brain when we diet? In a nut shell, many things, but more importantly it turns out dieting is one of the best ways to … gain weight.
“If you follow people over the long term, dieters are more likely than non-dieters to end up gaining weight over the next 2 to 15 years after the diet,” Dieting is stressful, and it triggers an increase in stress hormones, which are linked to weight gain particularly visceral, or belly, fat. It also makes you suppress and ignore your hunger. Over time, that can make you less responsive to your natural hunger cues, making it harder to listen to your body and allow it to regulate your weight. “You become more at risk of emotional eating, eating out of boredom and binge eating.
Lets all be honest here, what do we really want? Delicious food! permission to eat it without the guilt! And room to allow our body to balance naturally and find out true weight sustainably!
I dare you to go and have something delicious now! And enjoy every morsel x
by Astrid Nader-Louw
Astrid's business is called Mind Body Alive. She works as a health coach, Eating Psychology coach and clinical hypnotherapist. Astrid helps women re-gain health and weight loss through positive mindset and nutrition. To find out more visit here