This is a question I hear all the time from many of my patients. At best, being overweight is annoying and disappointing; at worst, it’s a sign that something is amiss and can put our health at risk. Either way, there are several possible explanations why extra weight might be a constant companion.

I am going to explore the main reasons why that despite being smart, successful, and accomplished, we can’t lose weight.
Let’s break it down:
Why are we overweight? The simple answer is because we are overfed and undernourished. So if we are overfed, let’s stop overeating. Easy, right? But in reality, the answer is not so simple. It leads us to the next question, “Why do we overeat?” The responses I usually hear are “I just love food” or “I am always hungry”.
So, yes, we are overweight because we overeat, and we overeat because we have an over- desire for food and we are over- hungry for food. The problem is that most people deal with the symptoms by depriving themselves and relying on will power, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem.
Many assume that people who overeat simply lack willpower. However, what seems increasingly clear to me is that the drive to overeat has strong biological underpinnings. Food cravings have nothing to do with willpower and everything to do with balancing the brain chemistry.
Now, let’s dive into the science behind this OVER DESIRE or craving. Let me introduce dopamine to you. It is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good, and it is increased by a reward mechanism caused by substances like drugs, sex and even food!!! When we eat a concentrated level of certain nutrients, it triggers the release of DOPAMINE, the same as cocaine and heroin. When we eat sugar and certain types of carbohydrates, the more the dopamine propels us into the “desire” cycle for more and more food. In essence, sugars and carbs encourage the body to want MORE sugars and carbs.
But enjoying the dopamine high is not the only culprit in this equation. The patterns we have developed to cope with our EMOTIONS have a huge impact on our behavior. Many of us, instead of dealing with our emotions properly, have learned to eat them away! We eat as a way of numbing our feelings, and this starts to become a habit for us. We don’t know the alternative, which is how to deal with them in a more productive way.
Experiencing emotions such as stress, anger, frustration, are not the problem. Using food as your coping mechanism is the problem.
If we can bring dopamine levels down, then the desire for food decreases. If we can learn how to manage our emotions in a way that doesn’t require food as a coping mechanism, we can decrease or eliminate the over- desire for food.
Hang in with me, as we are almost half way there. The second thing we need to understand and solve is OVER HUNGER. There are three key hormones that communicate with our brain that help direct our hunger cues. The three hormones are insulin, gherlin, and leptin.
Insulin is the main “fat storage hormone” in the body. It tells fat cells to store fat and prevents stored fat from being broken down. Insulin also helps the cells in your body turn sugar (glucose) into energy. If you don’t produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise. This can also happen if you’re insulin resistant, meaning you aren’t able to effectively use the insulin you do produce. If you’re insulin resistant, your body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in an effort to keep your blood sugar levels normal. A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as starchy and sugary foods, can make insulin resistance, and therefore weight loss, more difficult to control.
Leptin is the “satiety hormone”, and it tells the brain that you are no longer hungry and to stop eating. Overweight and obese people, produce a lot of leptin, but they also get “leptin resistant” therefore leptin signaling is impaired. The message to stop eating doesn’t get through to the brain, so it doesn’t realize you are full. In essence, your brain thinks it is starving, so you’re driven to eat. A potential cause of this leptin resistance is chronically elevated insulin levels due to an excessive amount of carbohydrates consumption.
Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone.” It tells the brain it is hungry and to seek out food, so therefore the appetite increases. Studies have shown that after overweight people eat a meal, ghrelin only drops slightly, so the brain doesn’t receive a strong signal to stop eating. This is another contributor that can lead to overeating.
Today’s American diet typically provides our bodies with way too much insulin, lots of ghrelin, and plenty of leptin.
The hopeful part of all this is there is something you can do about it.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can start to bust those food cravings, keep your hunger at bay, and ultimately lose some weight!
The goal is to keep the dopamine under control and lower our insulin levels. The ways to help us be successful include:
Lowering or avoiding the intake of certain carbohydrates, such as starchy and sugary foods. This will help to reduce insulin levels, improve insulin resistance, and control dopamine output.
Adding healthy fats, particularly omega 3 fatty acids, like salmon, which will increase leptin activity and sensitivity, and will help to lower fasting insulin levels.
Getting enough sleep. Studies have shown that less than 6 hours of sleep a day leads to a drop in leptin levels, and therefore an increased appetite.
Exercising regularly. Engaging in moderate activity can improve leptin and insulin resistance.
Finally, successful weight loss also depends on becoming more aware and mindful of your behaviors and making a commitment to yourself to change them. When you experience an undesirable emotion, follow these steps:
Be Aware, Mindful, and RECOGNIZE YOUR EMOTIONS without taking any action.
Ask yourself if it is going to move you towards your goal or away from your goal. ***be specific as to what it refers to***
Learn how to RESPOND, how are you going to ACT, have a plan. For example:
Goal: not to eat candy bar.
Plan of action: Replace it with a fruit instead .
When you have a craving, if you interrupt the behavior for about five seconds, you’ll be interrupting the neuropattern, and that will help you to create a new habit. However, you also need to come up with a new strategy.The brain can change through repetition, and it will take about 100 days to become a new habit.
Instead of relying on willpower, this process demands skill power. “Skill power” is a powerful set of specific habits that can be the difference between setbacks and lasting success.
When your body systems don’t work properly, you may find yourself struggling with weight issues on an on- going basis.
Fortunately, these lifestyle changes can have a very powerful effect on our hormones and neurotransmitters and ultimately upon our health and well-being.
Your health matters…if you find that you need additional support, please reach out to me for private coaching at alenka@eatingrightmatters.com