The recipe for a healthier lifestyle is theoretically quite simple – exercise more and eat a healthy diet. However despite the constant advice, many people find slimming down incredibly difficult. Recent research by the American University’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience shows that high-fat, high-sugar diets can cause changes to the brain.
These changes can make weight loss difficult as the individual becomes trapped in a cycle of obesity and cognitive decline. The high fat diet you eat causes your inhibitory system to decline, which means you cannot stop eating at what would be considered a normal sized portion. The more you eat, the more confused the brain becomes.
In the “obese brain”, the overconsumption of high fat foods causes changes to the blood-brain barrier, which essentially means substances get into areas of the brain where they shouldn’t be. The chemical changes which occur here are thought to become permanent – although it is not known at what period of time they do so. This may be the reason why so many people find weight loss a lifelong battle. Even despite dietary changes, brain function may not return to normal which makes living a healthy lifestyle a constant challenge for formerly obese people.
The part of the brain which has thus far been experimented upon is the hippocampus – the area also responsible for memory and thought interference. The experiment’s findings are compatible with middle-aged obesity and Alzheimer’s disease – where obese people developed this and other cognitive dementia problems in their later lives.
So far the theory has only been tested upon rats, where two groups were trained and tested for hippocamal-dependent learning, then given unlimited access to different foods – one a high saturated fat diet and the other healthier “lab chow”.
The rats were then given the same hippocamal-dependent tests and the findings revealed the obese group performed worse than the healthy rats. The obese group were found to have suffered impairment to their blood-brain barriers which meant substances were able to enter the brain which should not have been able to get there.
However, some of the rats in the non-obese group had been given access to the high fat diet. These rats had simply eaten less of the high fat food they were offered. Because they had eaten less of the food their brains operated much more healthily. If the finding were the same for humans, it would explain that some people simply don’t have the craving for high-fat, high-sugar food that others possess. That’s why some people find it much easier to turn down food and stay slimmer and healthier. On top of that, it is why slimmer, healthier people stay mentally fitter.
What this means for weight loss
Unfortunately, this research points to weight loss being a result of both diet and pre-ordained genetics. The obese brain as a genetic occurrence is comparable to research from Cambridge University’s Institute for Metabolic Science. The university claims this is the reason why identical twins brought up in separate homes will usually look very similar in terms of the distribution of their body fat despite their upbringings.
In their research, Cambridge scientists have been concerned with identifying and treating gene mutations in children with extreme obesity. A daily injection of leptin – a recombinant protein – has been found to cure the most severe genetic conditions.
However, for the rest of the world, sometime may elapse before this research is sufficient to benefit “normal” people. What individuals can do is maintain their healthy eating and exercise routines to try to achieve the best possible results for their body type and genetic capacities. If anything, it is better to keep attempting to lose weight by changing your behaviour to prevent your brain being flooded with mind-altering chemicals which further the problem.
Try to find a sport or activity that you enjoy, as well as healthy food you like to eat and it will make weight loss and your perceived ideal body shape that much more attainable. For example, if you prefer strength-building sports, try body building to help you tone your muscles. Alternatively, if you enjoy aerobic exercise with a sense of achievement and team spirit, join your local football team. Or, if you are looking to tone up while punching out your frustration, martial arts may be a fantastic choice.