In this fascinating TED talk, neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt explains why typical dieting doesn’t work. She states what most of us already know — when we lose weight, we almost always gain it back and then we blame ourselves for failing to have enough willpower.
According to Aamodt, it has to do with our brains. Hunger and energy expenditure are both controlled by the brain, which works behind the scenes, so to speak, without our consciously knowing it. Our brains also have a sense of how much we should weigh — it’s called our set point.
The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates body weight. It produces a dozen chemical signals that tell your body to gain weight, and more than a dozen chemical signals that tell your body to lose weight. It works like a thermostat, responding to signals from your body by adjusting three things: hunger, activity and metabolism, to keep your weight stable.
Consider the thermostat in your house — it keeps the temperature the same in the winter. You can try to change the temperature by opening a window, but that won’t change the setting on the thermostat. It will continue to return to the same number.
While this may be intimidating to overweight, diehard dieters, Aamodt offers a solution — mindful eating — learning to understand your body signals so that you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. It has helped Aamodt to lose 10 pounds and also be able to enjoy what she eats instead of constantly fearing food.
We’ve talked a lot about mindful eating at Weight Watchers because we know from the work of scientists like Aamodt that it works. It’s a practical solution that makes sense, with one significant caveat: emotional eating.
There’s no such thing as mindful emotional eating. Well, there is if you consider thoughtfully munching your way through a half gallon of Rocky Road ice cream to be a plausible example.
Want to make a million dollars? Invent a chemical that turns off emotional hunger in our brains.