Neuroscientist on why diets don’t work, and what to do instead- focus on behavioral/pschological change

Neuroscientist on why diets don’t work, and what to do instead- focus on behavioral/pschological change

The New York Times published “Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet: The problem isn’t willpower. It’s neuroscience . You can’t-and shouldn’t-fight back” on May 6, 2016. This is a fairly long, detailed, and very high quality commentary written by a neuroscientist who has had her own struggles with weight loss.

She is writing in response to a study published in the Journal Obesity, “Persistent Metabolic Adaptation Six Years after ‘The Biggest Loser’ competition,” on May 6, 2016. This study found that the participants in that TV show had regained 70% of their lost weight after discontinuing their participation in the show. The participants were found to be burning about 500 calories a day less than a matched control group.

The author of the NYT article provides a thorough summary of the current research about problems with diet plans. For example, one study of twins found that the twin bit tries to lose weight by dieting tended to, over time, weigh more than the twin that did not diet. The author explains, “in people, dieting … Reduces the influence of the brains weight-regulation system by teaching us to rely on rules rather than hunger to control eating. People who eat this way become more vulnerable to external cues telling them what to eat.”  She goes on to ask, “if dieting doesn’t work, which we do instead?” Her answer: “I recommend mindful eating – paying attention to signals of hunger and fullness, without judgment, and learn how to eat only as much is the brain’ s weight regulation system commands.”

MHconcierge’s take: this is, as is typical for the NYT, a thorough and high quality summary of the science and issues related to dieting and weight loss. It provides an excellent update for mental health professionals who work with people seeking to improve their health, including working on weight loss. It also could be provided as a resource to patients/clients who are interested in learning more about how to make behavioral changes that will increase their chances of weight loss.

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