Brainpower needed for weight loss, not just diets

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 14th December 2016

An internationally acclaimed neuroscientist says brainpower, rather than willpower, is the key to healthy eating.

Professor Selena Bartlett is based at QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation. She has received international acclaim for her work on alcohol and sugar addiction.

Professor Bartlett says that diets alone were rarely successful because our brains dictate our behaviour in a way that has not changed since prehistoric times.

“Our brain responds to stress in an ancient way but it is possible to override it,” said Professor Bartlett who has just published a book on the subject called ‘MiGGi Matters: How to train your brain to manage stress and trim your body’.”

Overwhelming evidence

“There is also overwhelming evidence that for many people who lose weight through dieting, they quickly regain it. Diets can in fact make us fatter and more stressed. This is because we ignore our brain, which silently drives our behaviour as if we are still ancient humans living in prehistoric conditions,” she stated.

Professor Bartlett said when humans experience stress the brain seeks pleasure, such as unhealthy food, to counteract the stress.

“When our ancient brain demands a pleasurable experience, it is common to reach for alcohol, sweet treats and comfort food. This is a problem for two reasons – they are high in calories leading to weight gain, and they are addictive.”

Sugar increases levels of a neurochemical

Professor Bartlett’s latest research shows sugar increases a neurochemical that binds to nicotinic receptors in the brain in the same way as alcohol and nicotine. Regular consumption of sugar, alcohol and nicotine change the brain, leading to the need to consume more and more to feel the same level of pleasure.

“Just like alcohol and nicotine, a sudden decrease in sugar consumption will lead to withdrawal symptoms and cravings,” she said.

“To overcome this we need to override the ancient brain. When the rational brain is in charge; sustainable weight loss is possible.”

Overriding the ‘ancient brain’ for weight loss

Professor Bartlett’s recently published book (see above) sets out a number of steps to help override the ancient brain and make weight-loss plans more effective:

  1. Be compassionate to your brain – it is an amazing, ancient organ that can be severely damaged by stress, especially in childhood while it is developing
  2. Get to know the brain – an awareness of how the ancient amygdala drives your behaviour is critical to overriding unhealthy impulses
  3. Identify when your amygdala is taking over or when you’re having a “MiGGi moment” – in stressful situations acknowledge when you’re suddenly taken by the urge to eat comforting food, smoke or drink alcohol
  4. Replace food and alcohol with a MiGGi movement – deep breathing, stretching, walking, running; any movement that feels good
  5. Reduce sugar and alcohol intake and increase cardiovascular and high intensity exercise – these will help to heal your brain of its stress-induced damage and build a strong, healthy body

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