Thursday, January 6, 2011

Weight Loss Begins in the Brain!

I love this time of year, when fitness is #1 on most everyone’s TO-DO list and Health and Exercise gets the spotlight in the media. I have been following the Charlotte Observer’s series on weight-loss that has been surprisingly detailed with new research on the obesity epidemic our country is facing. North Carolina is the 10th fattest state, with more than 6 out of 10 of us obese.

For those who missed it (or could not hang with reading the full page article) here are the highlights of “Brain Betrays Body In Fight Against Fat”.

Researchers are finding that our nation’s problem with losing weight is not just from lack of will-power or self-control but are environmental, biological and genetic. They are discovering:

 Rich foods work much like heroin on the brain, making it hard to stop
     eating them.

 Depression and obesity can be so tightly linked, it’s hard to determine
     which comes first.

 As people gain weight earlier in life, they not only get chronic diseases
     sooner, they also set the course for a lifetime of weight battles.

Our food environment as evolved over millions of years from being hard to come by and requiring hunting and gathering, to abundant, cheap food that requires almost no physical effort to obtain. This change has upset the body’s natural equilibrium in being programmed to like sweet and fatty foods from ages ago when food supply was sparse, to encourage eating during the few opportunities of abundance (finding a berry bush or tree nuts). This reward system was meant for basic survival, to eat more than you’d need for that day,
to put down a layer of fat to survive months when food is scarce. But in today’s world, our hunting and gathering is limited to fast food drive-thrus and grocery store aisles!

Recent studies show that some people can actually develop extreme cravings from today’s environment of food abundance – much like the addiction from heroin or cocaine. In 2009 researchers from UNC-CH reported that they had found a gene associated with obesity in some people that was previously identified as playing a role in those with substance abuse. This link between overeating and drug addiction – two problems stemming from difficulties limiting enjoyable experiences – explains how obesity from food addiction can not be treated with just a diet-and-exercise plan.

The link between depression and obesity is only recently becoming better understood. Some of the same hormones and neurotransmitters are active in both diseases.

Most people gain their greatest amount of excess weight between the ages 18-35. Those people who diet to lose weight usually end up gaining all of it back within 5 years and 33% gain back some of the weight in the first year after a successful diet. Scientists attribute this to basic physiology – for survivalist reasons the body’s cells are programmed to sock away extra fuel to protect against times of famine. That extra fuel is stored as fat, and once the body has created a fat bank, it fights to protect it – by setting into motion a complex cascade of hormones and brain signals that trigger hunger while it also starts to conserve energy. The food cravings and slower metabolism often gets worse the longer a dieter tries to restrict calories.

To make matters worse, the body appears to store fat more efficiently after being deprived of calories – making it difficult for even the most committed dieters to maintain their hard-won weight loss.

So, as dismal as all of this sounds, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible to be lean! The bottom line is:

 Avoid gaining the weight in the first place by establishing healthy eating habits and staying away from  
    rich, processed, convenience foods. People who successfully kept off weight after dieting had to work a
    little harder than those who never gained in the first place – according to researchers from the National
   Weight Control Registry.

 When losing weight, avoid quick weight-loss diets where your body will feel threatened and start 
     protecting against starvation.

 To boost metabolism and conquer the body’s fat-storing tendencies, EXERCISE! A study at Brown
     University showed that the benefits of exercise outlast a diet, even when people return to unhealthy

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