Is there an effective diet? Does our brain do everything to make us regain lost pounds?
The relationship between psychology and eating behaviors is no secret. Certain extreme attitudes characteristic of bulimia, anorexia, or other dysfunctional relationships with food are indeed directly related to emotional distress, but they are not the only factors at play. An increasing number of studies are examining the impact of our subconscious mind on certain natural mechanisms of our body that could block any attempts at dieting. Could our brain be the culprit behind the returning pounds? Let's delve into it.
Most people who have experienced the hardships of dieting know that the pounds quickly return as soon as they turn their backs. Repeat diets, deprivation, and an obsession with the scale and calorie counting often yield no lasting results. Why is it so difficult to lose weight sustainably? What are the factors at play?
"I'll gobble you up, I'll eat those little thighs," who hasn't used similar expressions towards a child to show affection? This highly symbolic language is not coincidental. It merely reflects the relationship between emotions and food, present from a very young age and highlighted by psychologists.
There are several familial, social, or personal factors that determine each person's relationship with their plate, beyond mere hunger or the desire to eat. Eating behaviors are primarily linked to the different emotional values conveyed within each family. For some, expressing this affection involves praising generous forms, serving ample portions, and accepting food without hesitation. These strong beliefs often prevent family members from being attuned to their sense of fullness. To please, they generously serve food and finish their plates.
Furthermore, food often fills an emotional void. We may eat for various reasons unrelated to hunger. Boredom, disappointment, stress are all poor reasons that lead us directly to the refrigerator. It should be noted that when we eat for the wrong reasons, we also make poor food choices. Since the goal is to satisfy a need that is elsewhere, we tend to indulge in overly sweet, fatty, or salty foods in record time without actually fulfilling the underlying need. Psychologists have also highlighted other unconscious motivations for overweight, such as setting up a protective barrier against sometimes frightening sexual desire, fear of being attractive, or, conversely, a means of setting a rewarding goal through strict control of one's diet that ultimately leads to a loss of control and compensation.
The brain regulates all of the body's functions, 90% of which occur unconsciously, and fortunately so. Digestion, respiration, stress, blood circulation, blood sugar levels, and other vital functions are all orchestrated by this exceptional maestro, independently of our will and according to certain "brain programs" or mechanisms specific to each individual. Thus, several studies have established a direct link between our subconscious mind and weight regulation. If weight is defined as the relationship between food and the amount of energy burned, all diets tend to overlook the fact that hunger and energy consumption are controlled by the brain. Therefore, it is the brain that determines our ideal weight without consulting our wardrobe. This is what Sandra Aamodt, a neurobiologist and American science writer, emphasizes in her revolutionary approach to the issue of excess weight. In her book, 'Why Diets Make Us Fat,' she explains that, just as the body needs a certain number of hours of sleep based on life experiences and biological and genetic factors, the brain has a preferred weight range that it strives to achieve. This range, tailored to each individual, allows for a margin of 4 to 6 kg on which we can act. We can be at the lower limit with good lifestyle choices, but it is very difficult to deviate from this range. The hypothalamus, located in the brain, analyzes various information such as blood sugar levels, fat stores, and other necessary inputs to regulate appetite based on this data and tells the body whether to gain or lose weight. Like a thermostat, it adapts to changing circumstances to maintain the body at the same weight it considers normal. Thus, the target weight set by the brain may not necessarily be what we consider ideal. It can actually correspond to overweight because we have accustomed our body for years to function at that weight, and the brain primarily seeks stability. Any diets we may undertake will only stimulate the brain to do everything it can to regain the lost weight.
These recent studies based on the impact of our subconscious mind on weight confirm a common observation about the shortcomings of most diets and frequent failures in achieving lasting weight loss. Sandra Aamodt even goes so far as to say that diets actually promote additional weight gain because the brain tends to "store" in preparation for the next period of scarcity. The metabolism also becomes accustomed to burning fewer calories during a diet to cope with restrictions, a habit that tends to persist even when the person returns to normal eating, and this continues until they have reached their original weight, even if it takes several years. This approach explains why some people oscillate between thinness and roundness and go on multiple diets throughout their lives.
Contrary to popular belief, the more weight becomes an obsession and a desire for control in a person, the more likely they are to develop sudden binge eating or gain weight easily. Several studies have shown that young girls who dieted at the beginning of adolescence when they had a normal weight are three times more likely to be overweight five years later. According to Sandra Aamodt, the only solution to avoid gaining weight is to exercise every day and only eat when truly hungry. Even though the neurobiologist suggests that nature remains unjust in terms of weight and that it is very difficult to deviate from a predisposition, she provides a glimmer of hope. Monitoring one's diet upstream would be the best way to prevent overweight.
Therefore, it is better to focus on not gaining weight rather than attempting to lose it. With a healthy approach to food, we avoid overindulging, and we are much more likely not to gain weight, or even to lose it if we are accustomed to eating without being hungry. It is important to relearn to eat according to our hunger and not beyond that. Additionally, psychological work will help break free from certain barriers and behavioral patterns that drive us to eat without waiting to be hungry or to use food as emotional solace.
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