Obesity and the Mind
Some research is suggesting that obesity can be associated with “addictive” qualities related to the stimulation of the reward pathway in our brains – somehow, food becomes the drug. However, to rid the body of a drug, the drug itself must be identified. It is still unclear what the exact culprit may be in the case of obesity, but here are some common weight-loss misconceptions that can be avoided by “detoxification” methods.
“BREAD IS THE REASON I CAN’T LOSE WEIGHT, SO I’M GOING TO QUIT ON MONDAY”
This idea of quitting an addiction “cold turkey” is common – but it is not effective. Usually, it will work for a short amount of time, and then old habits return. It is possible to “quit” a certain food for a few days, but you may begin to notice that you’re compensating with other types of food or constantly feeling hungry. Rather than give-up your favorite food completely, reduce your “dose”, or portion size, and train your body to eat less.
“MY FRIEND LOST 10 POUNDS IN ONE WEEK, SO WHY CAN’T I?”
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to weight-loss, and fad diets can create the illusion that there is a trick to seeing quick results. In reality, water-weight is being lost, and we may see the number on the scale decreasing rapidly – this makes the reward center in the brain happy. Then, suddenly, the number stops changing, and the withdrawal symptoms set in. That is when people relapse and find themselves returning to their tried-and-trusted methods of happiness – their usual diet.
“MY WHOLE FAMILY IS OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE, SO I’M DOOMED”
It is not uncommon for obesity to “run in the family”, but that does not mean a healthy weight cannot be achieved. There may be unhealthy food habits that are ingrained since childhood, and it may take some extra work to modify these ideas in the brain. Maintain those family traditions by making small recipe modifications to reduce fat content or eat less of Mom’s famous stuffing. Rather than re-training your mind to disassociate the food with the reward, modify the food itself and keep the reward.
Coordinated Master in Nutrition and Dietetics
Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition
School of Health and Rehab Sciences
University of Pittsburgh