How to use your brain to change your weight
This week we’ve gone from consuming 5 course dinners every night in a lovely hotel on holiday in Wales, to thinking about weight and the brain. It’s sweetly ironic and rather timely.
As part of our mini series on health and wellbeing, this week we think about weight and if we can use our brains to help us lose weight. Today’s featured author certainly thinks so as Dr Daniel G. Amen devotes the second section of his book, ‘Change your Brain, Change your Body‘, to the subject.
Last week we looked at 10 brain principles for the body you’ve always wanted. Continuing with our exploration of the link between your brain and body and how having a healthy body and making healthy decisions all starts with your brain, we turn to the subject of weight.
Weight is an aspect of our bodies that many of us want to do something about. We might want to change our weight upwards or more commonly downwards, for our health and because we think it will make us feel better about ourselves.
So what does Dr Daniel G. Amen say about this?
How can you use your brain to achieve lasting weight loss?
Dr Amen, puts forward four major solutions to how to use your brain to change your weight.
1 – The Craving Solution
This is about using your brain to increase your willpower and calm the urges that prevent you achieving your goals.
How often do we have a day where everything’s going well and then someone offers us a cream cake? In Dr Amen’s case it was a caramel apple which he resisted it by walking away – but why was everything in him craving it?
Essentially, there are centres of the brain responsible for focus, judgment and impulse control – the pre-frontal cortex in the front of your brain – and there is also a pleasure and motivation centre deep within your brain plus we also have emotional memory centres that trigger behaviour. All this comes together to influence our behaviour.
By understanding these brain circuits of willpower and control you can work towards gaining mastery of your brain and body.
It starts with our first experiences of pleasure or intense emotional experiences. These first experiences can get locked in the brain and lay down the tracks for later behaviour and addictions, because we want to replicate and repeat what led to our first pleasurable experiences.
For Dr Amen it was linked to the pleasure he associated with some of his earliest memories of making fudge with his sweet-maker grandfather.
What about you? What are your earliest memories of pleasure or intense emotional experiences?
I remember eating ‘milky way’ chocolate bars at my Grandma’s house when I got home from school and my Mother’s sherry trifles were legendry at family parties and celebrations of every kind.
For Julian the stodgy puddings of school dinners and getting enough of it after it had been passed down the table of older children first, loom large in his memory (yes he is that person that loved school dinners)!
So going back to the idea there are different centres of the brain responsible for focus, judgment and impulse control plus a pleasure and motivation centre, it’s the relative strength and weakness of each of these brain areas that goes a long way in determining how much control we have over ourselves and how well we are able to stick to our plans.
Regaining control of these different centres of the brain depends in part on the area in question but it generally involves balancing your brain systems. If, for example your Prefrontal Cortex is out of balance, you might need to treat any PFC problems that exist but in more general terms you can strengthen this area by:
- Good sleep
- Maintaining a healthy blood sugar level
- And creating focused, written goals. All of which are designed to boost activity and blood flow to this area of the brain. (Couldn’t agree more with this and if you want to know more sign up for our Changeability Starter Kit)
Solution 2 – The Weight Solution
Here, you’re using your brain to achieve your optimal weight. While according to Dr Amen we might exhibit different clinical presentations and brain patterns and require different approaches, he outlines 13 things all of us should do to maintain a healthy weight.
- Know your brain type – not everyone has the same brain type. There are six main types (detailed in the book)
- Get a complete physical and focus on having healthy vitamin D, DHEA (a hormone in the body which can become depleted), and thyroid levels
- Know your BMI and caloric need numbers – the approximate number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. He gives you a formula which you can use to calculate the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight.
- Know the approximate number of calories you eat a day by keeping a food journal and calorie log and work on getting ‘high-quality calories in versus high-quality energy out’. This is useful because people lie about their food intake, or to put it more kindly, we often underestimate our daily intake and keeping a food journal overcomes this tendency. You start using your brain to become educated about the nutrition you put in your body and can then take control over it. You can not change what you can not measure.
- Exercise 4-5 times a week, starting with walking fast and light strength training.
- Optimise your hormone levels
- Get great sleep
- Use simple stress-management techniques
- Stop believing every negative thought that goes through your brain
- Use hypnosis to keep you slim
- Take supplements to keep your brain healthy
- Use the advice in his book, to keep your brain young and active in order to lose 10 pounds (5 kilograms)
- Take control of your weight and do not let other people make you fat
Solution 3 – The Nutrition Solution
This involves feeding your brain nutritious foods to look and feel younger, on the basis that we are what we eat, and that the foods we eat affect our moods and our energy levels.
We’re constantly getting the wrong or unhelpful messages about food. As a society we’re bombarded with messages encouraging us to adopt bad eating habits.
‘Do you want to supersize that?’, ‘Do you want bread first?’ ‘Do you want a larger drink? It’s a better deal’, the All you can eat buffet!
Many of us send out the wrong messages to our children ‘If you’re good, you can have a treat when you get home.’ We use poor nutrition as a reward for good behaviour which later in life translates to us rewarding ourselves with food that is not good for us.
To follow the Nutrition Solution of how to use your brain to change your weight:
- Drink plenty of water, some green tea, and not too many calories
- Watch your calories
- Increase good fats (unsaturated fats) and decrease bad ones (saturated and trans fats) Unsaturated good fats include: avocadoes (thought you’d like that one), olive oil, rapeseed oil, peanut oil and nuts such as almonds, cashews and pistachios.
- Increase good carbs and decrease bad ones. Carbs are a necessary part of a healthy diet, the amount you need depends on your brain type Good carbs are complex carbs which take longer to digest: fruit, veg, beans, pulses and whole grains. Bad carbs or simple carbs are digested quickly and provide little or no nutritional value: e.g. sugar, pastries, sweets, fizzy drinks, fruit juices, doughnuts, white bread, pasta and white rice
- Dump artificial sweeteners and replace with small amounts of natural sweeteners.
- Limit caffeine intake to one or two normal cups of coffee or three cups of tea a day.
- Eat great brain foods, which include Acai berries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, brussell sprouts, plums, broccoli, beetroot, avocadoes, oranges, red grapes, red peppers, cherries and kiwis
- Reduce salt intake and increase potassium intake
- Plan snacks. Interestingly, he says don’t listen to the idea of avoid snacking. Going too long without eating can wreak havoc on your brain function and make your blood sugar levels drop too low. But make them healthy snacks.
- Take a multivitamin supplement and fish oil
- Recognise when you or someone you care about has hidden food allergies.
Solution 4 – The Exercise Solution
Exercise your body to strengthen your brain.
“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” – Edward Stanley
We’re becoming more sedentary – driving to work, sitting all day at a desk, lounging on the sofa. This is bad news for our brains, our bellies, our backsides and our backs.
Exercise is part of the solution because it:
- Encourages the growth of new brain cells
- Enhances cognitive ability at all ages
- Enhances your mood
- Helps alleviate depression
- Calms worries and anxiety
- And helps us sleep better, amongst other things
Episode 95 of the Changeability Podcast
Join us to hear us talk about all of this and more in episode 95 of the Changeability Podcast
What about you?
Is this something you’d like to change – sign up for our free Changeability Starter Kit.
Links mentioned in the show:
- Take our survey. It’s super quick and easy.
- Changeability Starter Kit
- Change your Brain Change your Body by Dr Daniel G. Amen
- Episode 94 – 10 Brain Principles for the body you’ve always wanted