How Your Brain Is Making You Fat (And What To Do About It)

Thousands of Americans woke up this morning and declared, “Today is the day I start my diet. Er, well, maybe tomorrow.”

When you start that diet is probably irrelevant anyway. “Only 3 out of every 100 people who reach their goal manage to maintain that weight loss beyond the first year.” Three! Yup, “losing weight” is no longer just an idealistic New Year’s resolution; it’s a daily tradition.

Why is it that human beings can shoot a rocket into space, climb Everest, 
but can’t refuse a piece of chocolate cake?

It’s not a lack of willpower. Processed foods have changed the way our brain chemistry to a point that our bodies aren’t evolved to handle. The good news? Small changes can rewire your brain to stop when full and crave nutritious foods; leaving you slim, trim and healthy.

Don’t Trust The Process
Starting in the 1960s, we began to develop “diet” fare. These processed foods contained ugly things like hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and aspartame. The problem? These foods don’t just change your waistline. They change your brain function, too.

Let’s look at America’s favorite ingredient: high fructose corn syrup. Veggie-in-the-title-aside, corn syrup is pure sugar. Sugar increases insulin, which stops the production of leptin, the hormone that tells you you’re full. What’s more, since your body is desperate to stay balanced, it also begins to pump out the hunger hormone, ghrelin. If you’ve ever eaten a stack of pancakes and been hungry an hour later, this is why. Your brain thinks you’re hungry, even though your stomach is stuffed, so you keep snarfing. Then, the cycle repeats.

Alright, so processed foods ain’t doing us any favors. We’ll just go on a diet.

F* You, Darwin
In order to lose weight, you have to reduce food intake to less than what the body needs to stay in its current form. Sounds simple, but not to your head. Your brain, fearing starvation, wants to stay right where it is, so the drop in food intake triggers the release of neurochemicals that activate the desire to chow down. The real kicker? While your head knows when it’s losing fat, it has no clue when it’s had too much. Damn it, evolution.

But you’re smart. I’ll just eat when I’m actually hungry, duh.

Let’s Get Physical
Most people eat three meals a day. Why exactly do we do this? The custom stems from stuffy European settlers, who deemed the I’ll-eat-when-I’m-hungry Native Americans uncivilized. Then came the 9-5 schedule and us modern day folks learned to eat out of habit, not hunger. A stroll past the pastry shop triggers salivation (and a u-turn), a pizza ad prompts the slippery slope, “I could just order in...” We automatically wake up and break our fasts because our brains are used to the routine, not because we need fuel. Think about it: When’s the last time you were really, really hungry?

Thanks, I’m now convinced my brain is evil and trying to sabotage me. So how do I lose weight?

1. Unless you graduated top three in your class of 100, stop dieting. 
Say what? Yes, dieting is rewiring your brain, and not for the better. The second you put yourself on a strict regimen, deprivation kicks in, setting yourself up for a binge. We want to learn to eat naturally; What the brain and body wants, when they want it, and at the right amount.

 
 

2. Figure out the difference between physical hunger and brain hunger.
How to differentiate. If you have to ask, “Am I hungry?” you’re probably not hungry. If your stomach is rumbling (and maybe you’re a wee bit grumpy), you’re good to go.

3. Stop when you’ve had enough.
Important: this is not willpower based. For god sakes, you don’t have the willpower! 8 am bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed you may have it, but after the world’s worst day at work, when the kids are barking at the screaming dog, there’s no way you’ll be able to push the plate away, just because. Then how?

4. Eat what you want, mindfully. 
But what if what I want is... cheese pizza with ranch? Then eat cheese pizza with ranch. Every day. This plan is awesome! Hold the phone. You have to eat mindfully. Slowly. Don’t compete with your dog.

Both body and brain need to be a part of the eating process to feel satisfied. By being present and tasting each bite, both parties will be content and it’ll be easier to realize when you’ve had enough. Eat alone if possible and kill the distractions. Check in with yourself halfway through and ask if you’re still hungry. If you’re not sure, go do something else for 5 minutes. If you’re still pondering your plate after a mini-break, have at it. You know how fun something is when it’s forbidden? By eating what you really want, (even the crappy processed stuff), your brain will begin to realize that it can have the previously “forbidden” food whenever it likes, so you’ll crave them less. What’s more, since you can have it later, you won’t feel the need to dig in the second something is available to you. Delayed gratification, who knew! Plus, being mindful of how food makes you feel will naturally make your head lean towards healthier choices. If you’ve ever spent a vacation eating junk food and come home to a serious apple/salad craving, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

You Make That Sound So Easy, Don’t You?
Yes, yes, I know, and I’m with you. I’ve made plenty a bat turn after passing an Au Bon Pain. Mental changes, like physical changes, take time. You don’t become an all-star tennis player on your first lesson. You develop the stroke, knock about 1,000 balls to the neighbor’s house, shoot some onto the court to the left, and then you begin to find your rhythm. We make resolutions because we resolve to do it, to find the determination to struggle through something and come out the other side, once and for all.

Want more information, tips or tricks to make it easier to stop dieting once and for all and lose weight? Email me: Cat@CatCastellanos.com