“Why can’t I stick to a diet?” a reader wrote in to ask. As usual, I would like to provide an answer. In short, if you can’t stick to a diet, it’s because of your brain structure.
If you’re great at keeping to a diet, thank your brain structure. New research shows that the structure of your brain determines whether you can self-regulate a healthy body or not.
One in three people are obese. That’s what we’re hearing from NIH, the national institute for Diabetes and kidney and digestive diseases. That means that you almost certainly know someone who is obese. A friend. A family member. We all know one obese person.
The world is fighting to overcome this obesity pandemic. Around 60% of people will go on a diet this year, including 90% of teenagers and 50% of all women. Great. But diets have a 95% fail rate. While we all try to lose weight, I’m sorry to say that the vast majority of us fail.
The average person knows what it feels like to fail a diet. You’re constantly fighting cravings in your mind. You go a week, a month, a few months, maybe even a year, on your diet. It’s hard work. You see some results. But still, you look in the mirror and you don’t see that model body you’re dreaming of. You see a chubby gut instead.
I’ve been there. At 15 I was a pudgy teenager eating chicken nuggets and fries most days. Some nights I would cry myself to sleep because I wanted to be healthy and fit. So I’d start dieting. I’d go our for run, sweating after a hundred metres. And I’d force myself to pick an apple over candy at lunchtime. But failure was inevitable. Either I would be bullied, called “sleepy fatso” because of the bags under my eyes and my big gut. Or my father would get drunk and… well, we don’t need to go there.
Every time I dieted, something would go wrong in life and I’d go back to comfort eating.
What was it that was making me fail my diets?
NIH wanted to find an answer to that question. They took thirty chronic dieters with an average body fat of 26%. They showed them pictures of various foods and looked at how their brains reacted. What they found was that people who fail diets have more extreme reactions to images of food. Fit and healthy people, on the other hand, have less extreme reactions to images of food.
Overweight people have less white matter around the executive control and reward centres in their brains. This lack of white matter makes them more susceptible to temptation. “Individuals with reduced integrity may have difficulty in overriding rewarding temptations, leading to a greater chance of becoming obese than those with higher structural integrity,” the authors told us.
If you want to succeed in a diet, you need to increase the white matter in your brain. Eeek. How on Earth do you do that?
Sadly, there are few known ways to increase white matter. In fact, many studies suggest it is impossible to increase white matter in the brain.
But you can restructure the way white matter is distributed.
Like the energy that powers the city, white matter is not distributed evenly. Some parts of the brain have more white matter than others.
If you struggle to diet, your executive control and reward centre needs more white matter. There are only two known ways to make that happen.
Firstly, you can change your diet. Of course, this is a catch 22. You need self control to change your diet. You need to change your diet to get self control. Er, what gives?
Thankfully, you can start to change your diet by actually eating more. Specifically, eating more fat.
Yes, you read that correctly. You should start by eating more fat. But not just any fat. You need a particular type of fat: long-chain polyunsaturated fats. Those are part of the cell membranes and are crucial to the messenger system of the brain. These fats are called DHA and EPA. And they’re found in fish and algae-based supplements.
Certain fish have more DHA and EPA than others. According to Sea Food Health Facts, Herring, Mackerel, and Salmon are the best. Research shows that people who eat these fish have healthier brains.
This is not the only solution.
Remember, the key is to increase white matter in the executive control and reward centre of your brain.
There is another way to do this. Exercise those parts of your brain. When you exercise your executive control and reward centre you bulk-up those parts of your brain, just like you’re training a muscle at the gym. Just as you can train your brain using those brain-training software packages, you can train this one specific part of your brain to help you lose weight.
So how do you train your brain to help you lose weight? By saying “No”.
When you gradually cut down one something (food, smoking, alcohol) you train the executive control and reward centre of your brain. The more you exercise the stronger those brain regions will be. More white matter will flow to the area, strengthening it. Like your bicep it will grow stronger with exercise.
- If you cannot lose weight, it’s because your brain just need a little big of training and a little big of nutrition, just like your muscles do.
- Start by eating Herring, Mackerel, and Salmon, which contain DHE and EPA.
- Then start saying “No” to some of the foods you like.
- Saying no will make the regions of your brain called the “executive control” and “reward centre” stronger.
- When those brain regions are stronger you will be able to control what you eat much more effectively.
- And then you will succeed on your diet.
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Enjoy your healthy new body. And please, do me one favor. My passion with this blog is to help people. If I have helped you can you please leave a comment below? That will let me know that I am doing something right. Thanks so much.