If you've found diet and exercise ineffective for weight loss, it could just be the way your brain is wired. Turns out the brain has significant power over our weight, metabolism, and appetite — particularly the hypothalamus region, which essentially acts as the mission control centre. It influences everything from our body temperature to thirst and hunger. And according to neurologist Dr. Jason McKeown, it's very difficult to override what's already been determined by your mind.
"The brain has a clear view of how much food we need to eat and how much we should weigh, and any attempts that people may make to alter this through diet and exercise alone won't necessarily help you achieve the results you're looking for," Dr. McKeown told POPSUGAR.
Basically, when you eat less, you're signalling to your body that food is scarce. Instead of guiding weight loss, it'll do the exact opposite by increasing your appetite and slowing down your metabolism to conserve fat. A study tested this theory in mice and confirmed that we've been biologically trained to resist dieting. It could be because our ancestors needed to develop this trait to survive famines.
Dr. McKeown also advised against following low-calorie diets for weight loss, saying that they're "almost always destined to fail" at producing long-term results. "Your brain has adjusted to a higher weight having spent years eating certain kinds of foods — perhaps high in sugar and saturated fats — and it becomes more and more difficult to make any major changes by altering only your diet or adding exercise. Promoting and sustaining wellness in your body is just as much mental as it is the result of healthy eating and exercise."
Additionally, because our brain knows how much food we need to eat and how much we should weigh, it also means it's able to override and resist weight-loss attempts. This is why there are people who can eat whatever they want without gaining weight; they're just programmed at a lower body-fat range.
"It's also why when people go on a diet and lose a certain amount of weight, they often plateau and, in the majority of cases, see their weight creep back up again," Dr. McKeown said. "Their brain is unhappy with the new lower weight and will resist the change."
How to Reset Your Brain
Though a healthy diet and exercise are critical for long-term health, a "slow and sustainable approach" to weight loss is most effective. As the CEO of Modius, a technology solution that promotes weight loss through vestibular stimulation, Dr. McKeown has looked to neurotechnology to help others rid excess body weight. Outside of this, he shared that we can retrain our brain by adopting and consistently maintaining healthy lifestyle choices, including reducing sugar and carbs, drinking more water, exercising regularly, and adopting better sleep habits.
"Unfortunately, we tend to think that rapid weight loss is the goal, but actually small but consistent changes over a long period, in my opinion, will lead to better overall health."