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It’s that time of year again. Once you finish downing the champagne and take off your New Year’s freakum dress, you look in the mirror and realize that if possible, this year, you want to drop a few pounds.

But for some people, they’re looking to drop a lot more than a few. But what does it really take to make that happen? We hear people talk about the importance of eating right and how that’s a majority of the battle. We also hear people talk about the importance of being active. But what people rarely speak on is just how important it is to change your mindset before you even get started.

We talked to cognitive brain scientist Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D., an adjunct associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester and an expert in the psychology of eating. She said that what we eat may not just be impacting our waistlines, but our brains as well. And once our brains are wired for all things sugar, salt and flour, we can never get enough.

Check out what she had to say about cutting things out of your diet completely, how we really get addicted to sugar and flour, and why you need to save the workouts for after you flip your diet around entirely.

The Ways Sugar and Flour Rewire the Brain:

There’s two main ways. One is that they release a flood of dopamine. And that flood of dopamine is artificially high. It’s much more dopamine than anything created by any naturally-occurring substance, like eating brown rice or sweet potatoes or bananas. None of that affects the brain like that. When we take the inner essence of a plant and we refine and purify it into a fine white powder, we’ve created the drug. Just the same way we take poppy plants and create heroin or we take coca plant and make cocaine, we take wheat or rice or whatever and we create flour, and we take sugarcane and create sugar. Those substances flood the addictive centers of the brain with dopamine and what happens is that with time, those addictive centers of the brain thin out so that we don’t have a normal, natural, appropriate amount of dopamine available to us. That means we don’t feel right unless we go get more dopamine, which creates cravings.

Cutting Things Out of Your Diet Completely May Be Your Best Bet:

Sugar and flour increase insulin — both insulin spikes and baseline insulin levels. Insulin, as it turns out, blocks a very crucial hormone called leptin. Now the brain can’t see the leptin circulating in our blood and leptin is a hormone that tells us we’re not hungry anymore and that we want and need to get active. Without that on board, our brains show all the physiological markers of starvation. So even though we may be fat, we have the brain of a starving person. That’s why our brain is forcing us to be sedentary and to eat whatever is not tied down, essentially. That’s why we’ve got people in our society eating on the couch after they’ve had a full dinner. But now they’re sitting on the couch with a bag of chips eating more and when the chips are gone they’re reaching for ice cream. So we’ve rewired the brain for a type of hunger that I call “insatiable hunger.” It’s insatiable because eating food doesn’t actually satiate it. It’s a hunger that never leaves. If you’re high on the scale, it’s probably true that a bright line, or a clear, unambiguous line that you just don’t cross, is going to be a much better solution than trying to moderate consumption. That’s one of the big lies that our society currently believes, which is that a bright line for flour or sugar is extreme and not realistic. But the reality is, it’s no more extreme or not realistic than someone needing to quit smoking. For some people with some substances, abstinence is much easier than trying to moderate it.

Why Moderation Isn’t Possible for Everyone:

It depends on what type of brain you have. Not every brain is equally susceptible to the addictive pull of sugar or sugar and flour for that matter. I have a quiz on my web site, Bright Line Eating, that helps people know what kind of brain they have. If they’re high on the susceptibility scale, then it’s probably true that it’s not going to be possible for them to have small amounts of sugar and flour in their system and lose weight and be healthy. Those small amounts of sugar and flour will keep them addicted.

How Exercise Can Actually Weaken Willpower:

Exercise is counterproductive to people losing weight. There’s a 99.9 percent failure rate for diet and exercise programs. One of the big reasons is that exercise actually undermines your efforts. The reality is that exercise creates a compensation effect where you now rationalize that you deserve a muffin and a latte or some kind of sweet treat because you’ve been to the gym. And research shows that exercise doesn’t help you get thin in the slightest. It does cement your weight loss once you reach your goal weight. That’s the time to start exercising, after you’ve lost your weight and you’ve been maintaining it for a little while. But only if your eating has become really automatic. So the real secret to weight loss is learning healthy eating habits and making them as automatic as brushing your teeth.

Trying to fit exercise in there is absolutely the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Losing weight, in and of itself, is a full-time job. It’s really a challenging thing to get all of those habits right…learn how to shop and prepare food in a whole different way, and it’s a very consuming thing that takes months and months for all those behaviors to become automatic. So it’s really important to set exercise aside during the weight-loss process.

Why Support Is a Necessity in Your Weight-Loss Journey:

Don’t underestimate the challenge ahead of you. How people go to rehab, it’s as bad as that. You’re going to need a lot of support and a whole new way of living your life. Food interacts with every last bit of our life and we have come to rely on food for so much comfort and entertainment. It’s interwoven into all of our relationships with other people, so don’t underestimate the task at hand and get support.


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