This Is What Dieting Does To Your Brain


The vast majority of us have tried a diet or two at some point in our lifetimes, aiming to lean out or shed a little holiday weight. And many of us are easily part of the 45 million Americans currently working through some sort of dieting lifestyle today. But according to neuroscience, dieting (in the true sense of the word) and the brain are not, and may never be friends.

It might seem strange, but the brain is largely responsible for the body’s weight-management mechanisms. Sandra Aamodt, PhD, author of Why Diets Make Us Fat, explains that the brain has a “set point weight,”  which is the weight and body fat percentage at which it’s most happy. Often times, a person’s preferred weight statistics and their brain’s ideal numbers don’t match up, so a losing battle ensues.

When you diet traditionally, meaning you restrict the number of calories your body consumes on a daily basis, you run the risk of pissing off your brain in several ways. First, if you shed pounds too quickly, your brain triggers the body’s instinctual starvation mode, leading it to retain stored fat for energy and making it virtually impossible to lose more weight. Second, if you constantly deprive your body of feelings of satiety, your brain will ultimately override your intended behavior and lead you to binge at your subsequent meals to achieve that feeling of fullness, which is another one of its survival tactics.


The third reaction is mainly a hormonal one relating to — you guessed it — stress. Dieting is a super freaking stressful process, constantly worrying about your next weigh-in or the caloric contents of your next meal, and all of that stress morphs into a hefty dose of cortisol pumping through your body. That cortisol then tells your body to store fat rather than burn it, and that fat is typically stored around your midsection. So again, your dieting goals leave you feeling even less satisfied with yourself than when you started.

But you don’t need to sit there feeling stressed, tired, frustrated and starving in order to achieve what you’ve set out to do. In fact, the best way to circumnavigate this struggle with your brain is to let go of dieting in the calorie-restricting sense. Shift your mindset from “I need to diet now to lose weight ASAP” to “I need to adopt a more mindful and healthy lifestyle” and let your body change gradually as you give it the nutrition it craves.

Sorry, but your brain won’t let you shortcut your weight loss journey and get away with it. (That actually leads to weight regain and then some for approximately 80 percent of dieters.) So you might as well succumb to its powers now and do it the right way.