(Part 1 of 3)
Our ancestors had to physically work hard for their food. The foods that they ate provided calories, but rarely the surplus of calories that we easily find in our foods today. There were also times of shortage, or famine when food was scarce and they went hungry. Through the ages, the DNA in our cells has remembered that.
This is part of the reason our bodies crave fatty – sugary “comfort foods.” Sugar is easily converted into fat and fat is easily stored. Fat stores were great news for our ancestors. Today, our bodies still prefer to have fat reserves because that increases the chance of survival. They reward us with “feel good” chemicals like dopamine, whenever we eat, or have sex, or do anything that furthers human survival. Dopamine is the same “feel good” chemical that the body releases when people consume alcohol, cocaine, or any addictive drug. In other words, we really do feel good when we eat those foods!
When we volunteer for famine by going on a diet and rigorously restrict calories, (not just cut back a bit on sweets), our brain goes on the defensive. It will not direct fat cells to release those stores without a fight. So people who go on diets end up battling with their own brain. Mind over matter isn’t just will power anymore.
The brain automatically responds to cues in the environment to signal the body to prepare to eat. Smells, the time of day, the food we see all indicate to the brain that food is on its way. When your brain sees food it automatically calculates how filling it is most likely to be and it sends signals to the stomach to squeeze out whatever is left from lunch to make room for dinner. We get hungry. We eat. We are happy.
In the short term, most diets appear to be successful because the brain will not release fat. Instead, when your body needs energy, it releases glucose supplies from the liver. Glucose is the sugar that muscles use and is almost instant energy. But glucose is stored in water and when it is released, water is released too. During the first week or two, dieters often urinate an extra two pints of water a day and that is a lot of weight.
This is why many diets claim to be successful, because people lose 10 to 15 pounds the first week or two. The problem is they are losing water weight, not fat. If the dieter stays true to the diet, the brain may take desperate measures. Hunger pangs surge, dieters become irritable, all they can think about is food, and their weight loss plateaus.
To make matters worse, the brain directs the body to “slow down” so it can keep its fat reserves. Metabolism drops. You burn fewer calories doing the same activities that you did before. This is the opposite of what you want to happen. This may eventually lead to the “splurge” that replaces glucose stores, and water, and the weight that was lost is suddenly back again.
The way the body responds to dieting may explain why those who skip breakfast, tend to eat more calories throughout the day than those who eat a healthy breakfast. Perhaps, when the body starts out with a good meal, it isn’t as worried about famine and gathering food for the rest of the day. (There are more scientific reasons, but I like this one.)
The truth is that most people who lose weight by dieting, gain it back again within a year, plus two to five pounds because the body will prepare for another famine. Many people who “diet” every year, no matter how much weight they lose, tend to weigh 20 to 50 pounds heavier after 10 to 15 years.
The other problem with dieting is that people usually go back to their old eating habits when the desired weight is lost, the same eating habits that got them into trouble the first time. Eating unhealthy after restricting calories can be detrimental to a person’s health, depriving them of much needed nutrients needed to repair and maintain the body.
If you have experienced any of this, don’t be discouraged! There is a way to lose weight and keep it off permanently. You can train your fat cells to release the grease! Look for the article, “Release the Grease!” to find out more.