If you feel no amount of dieting helps you lose weight, this talk by Sandra Aamodt might explain why.
The ageless debate has been — is dieting good or bad for health? Teenagers say there is no other way. Mammas say it is not the right way. Is mamma always right?
“Yes,” says Sandra Aamodt, a neuroscientist, “If your mother ever mentioned that life is not fair, this is the kind of thing she was talking about. There is something called set points. Your brain has its own sense of what you should weigh, no matter what you consciously believe. This is called your set point, but that’s a misleading term, because it’s actually a range of about 10 or 15 pounds. You can use lifestyle choices to move your weight up and down within that range, but it’s much, much harder to stay outside of it. The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body weight, there are more than a dozen chemical signals in the brain that tell your body to gain weight, more than another dozen that tell your body to lose it, and the system works like a thermostat, responding to signals from the body by adjusting hunger, activity and metabolism, to keep your weight stable as conditions change. That’s what a thermostat does, right? It keeps the temperature in your house the same, as the weather changes outside. Now you can try to change the temperature in your house by opening a window in the winter, but that’s not going to change the setting on the thermostat, which will respond by kicking on the furnace to warm the place back up. Your brain works exactly the same way by using powerful tools to push your body back to what it considers normal. If you lose a lot of weight, your brain reacts as if you were starving, and whether you started out fat or thin, your brain’s response is exactly the same. We would love to think that your brain could tell whether you need to lose weight or not, but it can’t. If you do lose a lot of weight, you become hungry, and your muscles burn less energy.”
Aamodt says the human race has gone through periods of food scarcity and therefore the body is insecure when less food is made available to it. “Over the course of human history, starvation has been a much bigger problem than overeating. This may explain a very sad fact: Set points can go up, but they rarely go down,” says Aamodt. “Successful dieting doesn’t lower your set point. Even after you’ve kept the weight off for as long as seven years, your brain keeps trying to make you gain it back… Sadly, a temporary weight gain can become permanent. If you stay at a high weight for too long, probably a matter of years for most of us, your brain may decide that that’s the new normal.”
Aamodt says, “Psychologists classify eaters into two groups, those who rely on their hunger and those who try to control their eating through willpower, like most dieters. Controlled eaters are more vulnerable to overeating in response to advertising, super-sizing, and the all-you-can-eat buffet. And a small indulgence, like eating one scoop of ice cream, is more likely to lead to a food binge in controlled eaters. Weight obsession leads to eating disorders, especially in young kids. Even at its best, dieting is a waste of time and energy. It takes willpower, and because willpower is limited, any strategy that relies on its consistent application is pretty much guaranteed to eventually fail…”
Aamodt says, “… the solution is mindfulness…learning to understand your body’s signals so that you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, because a lot of weight gain boils down to eating when you’re not hungry. How do you do it? Give yourself permission to eat as much as you want, and then work on figuring out what makes your body feel good. Sit down to regular meal…eat healthy diets.”