You know how to lose weight. Eat less and exercise more. Easy right? If it’s so easy, then why does almost every adult I know struggle with their weight. We are obsessed with diets, fitness programs, calorie counting and cutting out carbs. And if that worked, we’d all be stick thin.
Here’s the thing, your weight is not the issue. The problem started off as something else; family turmoil, trauma, watching others struggle with food and their weight or maybe low self esteem.
You turned to food to make you feel better and (surprise, surprise) you gained weight. Then the fun begins, you went on a diet. You may have lost a few kilos, but sooner or later your brain started to fight you.In order to shed the kilos and keep it off, you need to look at the way your brain works and also what emotions may be driving you to overeat.
Your brain has many different components. The part of your brain that wants you to be slim is the most advanced (we’ll call it your computer brain). Under that, lies more primitive layers which we will refer to as your animal brain.
Your computer brain wants you to look good in your jeans. Your animal brain wants you well fed and couldn’t give a toss how you look in your clothes. So when you go on a diet, your computer brain is taking over and saying “Right, I have had enough of you pigging out. We are cutting back on food until all this flab is gone!”
It may last a while, you might even lose weight. But in the battle between the animal and computer brain, the animal will eventually win. Every time. When you restrict you food intake, your animal brain assumes there some sort of famine and goes into panic mode. It floods your body with stress hormones which in turn make it even harder to lose weight.
To keep your animal brain under control, it’s important to try to relax and get in touch with what’s causing us to over eat in the first place. First off, if you have ever been on a diet, your brain and metabolism have been damaged.
There was a study done in the 1940’s called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. In the study, they took 36 healthy men between the ages of 22 to 33, with no previous health problems. They were considered the most physically and mentally sound out of 400 volunteers.
They were in a controlled study for 12 months in which 6 of those months their diet was restricted to the starvation amount of (wait for it) 1,800 calories a day. Far more calories than most diets recommend today!
The results were astounding. After only a few months, the men became completely fixated with food, thinking and talking of nothing else. They became angry, depressed, hopeless and humourless. They began stealing and hoarding food as well as anything else they could get their hands on.
Many began smoking, biting their nails and drinking coffee so excessively, they were limited to nine cups a day. Then came the bingeing, some of the men lost all control and would eat huge quantities of food and then experience guilt and self hate so great that they force themselves to vomit.
After the study finished, the bingeing became even worse, some of the men eating up to 10,000 calories a day for months afterwards. To top it off, the men’s metabolisms were an average of forty percent lower, making the cycle even worse.
So the moral of the story, diets can screw you up! When you cut way back on your food intake, your animal brain will send stress signals thinking a disaster has struck. It will pull every trick in the book to get you to eat, to gorge yourself until you’re sick. It’s doing what it thinks is best, keeping you alive. So the easiest and most effective way to lose weight, (without your brain and body freaking out) is to make gradual and gentle changes.
So how can you get this part of your brain under control? First of all, accept yourself, right now, just how you are. I know, I know, you want to change. But until your body stops getting messages like “you fat, bloody cow” and “you are a disgusting, tub of lard”, your body will feel stressed out and under attack. Which makes you, you guessed it, want to overeat.
Second, realize your brain has been damaged by dieting. Every time you restrict your food intake, your body goes into a flight or fight response. Telling yourself you can eat what you want, however most of the time you would like to eat healthy, helps keep you relaxed and not feeling deprived.
Eat whatever you want one day a week or have a small treat once a day. It will keep you from thinking about everything you can’t have. Telling someone they can’t have something is a sure fire way to have them become obsessed with it. When your body is sending you signals that you are hungry when you logically know you have had enough, a helpful exercise is to say the following statement to yourself. “I know that my brain is sending me the message that I am hungry when I am not. This is just a false alarm. I am okay.”
When you feel yourself wanting or starting to overeat, stop and take a deep breath. Ask yourself, what are you feeling right now? Are you stressed, angry at your spouse, lonely or bored? There may be a part of you that believes that you are safer being overweight.
I believe every extra kilo you hold on your body may equal a kilo of emotional trauma you’re carrying in your heart (not to mention tummy, thighs and arse). Healing your pain and beliefs will help you shed the fat that’s protecting you. If you have been on several diets and still find yourself gain back the weight, there may be an underlying issue you’re not dealing with.
Sometimes we are aware of what’s causing us pain, other times we know we’re not happy, but don’t know why. You hide the pain and bury it. The problem is, pain is not normal and it doesn’t go away by pretending it’s not there, so we seek relief from our pain with food, alcohol and drugs, etc.
Getting in touch with the pain and letting it go, will help release your need to overeat, have extra weight for protection and feelings of self blame and inadequacy. There is no separation from our mind and body. The more aware we are of what is affecting us and how to deal with it, the more control we have over our bodies and lives.