Mind & Body

How Your Brain Fights Your Weight-Loss Efforts

It is hard to lose weight. 80 percent of people who lose weight regain it within a year. Many of those people may have done everything right, only to see the number on the scale creep back up in defiance. There's a reason for that. Your brain doesn't want you to lose weight, and it throws everything it can at the problem to keep it from happening.

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Drop It Like It's Not

Your body doesn't like change. Take temperature, for instance. If your body temperature goes even a degree or two above or below good ol 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), all sorts of systems kick into gear to put you back at baseline. If you're hot, your capillaries expand to let off heat and you begin to sweat to cool yourself down. If you're cold, your capillaries restrict and begin to shiver to bring your body back up to a comfortable temperature.

The same thing is true of your weight. Your weight has what's known as a "set point" that your brain thinks is healthiest. If you start cutting your calories, you'll probably lose weight, often in the form of fat. When you lose fat, it decreases your levels of leptin, one of the "hunger" hormones that generally makes you feel full. Your brain notices that decrease, and goes on the defensive by increasing your hunger to make you eat more and slowing your metabolism to conserve energy. That increase in hunger is why dieting can make those stale snacks you've had in the pantry forever suddenly look unbelievably appealing.

The slowdown in your metabolism is harder to notice, however. There's something called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, that describes the energy you expend for everything that isn't sleeping, eating, or working out — things like walking to the kitchen, doing yard work, playing with your phone, or even fidgeting. When you eat less, your NEAT reduces in ways that probably go under the radar. You might be a little less fidgety, or walk to the kitchen just a little less boisterously. That's your body conserving energy. Its goals may be different than yours, but its heart is in the right place.

We're All Friends Here

So how do you sit your brain down and explain that this weight is where you'd like to be? We hate to disappoint you, but the answer is pretty boring: eat fruits and vegetables, unrefined grains, and plenty of protein. Strive for slow, steady weight loss. Instead of vowing to drop 10 pounds before summer, try to eat a vegetable with every meal or cut out alcohol on weekdays. Get plenty of sleep, regular exercise, and try to keep your stress levels under control. The key is to keep your body comfortable with the process so it doesn't sabotage your efforts. If you're kind to your body, your body is more likely to be kind back.

If you're looking for more help getting in shape, check out "Brain-Powered Weight Loss: The 11-Step Behavior-Based Plan That Ends Overeating and Leads to Dropping Unwanted Pounds for Good." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible.

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