Why do most diets fail? It’s not because we’re lazy or lack willpower. Almost every time, the reason diets backfire is because we restrict too much.
When you dramatically reduce your caloric count, your body instantly perceives danger. Your inner alarm system that protects you from starvation kicks in and slows your metabolism. You go into starvation mode and overeat. And inevitably when you stop dieting, you regain your former weight plus some.
Think about what happens when you skip breakfast, work through lunch, and finally return home in the evening. You eat everything in sight, right? You feel stuffed, sick, guilty, and regret ever entering the kitchen in the first place.
Why does this occur? After all, you are a reasonable person. You know you shouldn’t overeat.
You are neither weak-willed, morally corrupt or self-destructive. You don’t need years of therapy to overcome this problem.
The answer lies within your genetic programming: your body was designed to put on weight. Not coincidentally, your body doesn’t like it very much when you don’t provide sufficient calories.
We all know overweight people who say, “I don’t really eat that much, and I still can’t lose weight.” Their diet usually fails, and they usually regain weight. If they constantly diet, their bodies have been through this process many times.
I often hear that the obesity epidemic is a matter of personal responsibility. People should exercise more self-control. They should avoid overeating and reduce their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and processed food. Science suggests otherwise: Processed, sugar-, fat-, and salt-laden foods — foods created in a plant rather than grown on a plant — are biologically addictive.
Almost nobody sits down and eats four bowls of broccoli, but you might be able to polish off four bowls of ice cream. These behaviors arise from primitive neurochemical reward centers in the brain that override normal willpower. In the case of food addiction, these behaviors overwhelm the ordinary biological signals that control hunger.
Nobody chooses to be fat. Instead, we are biologically wired to crave sugary, processed foods and eat as much of them as possible.
7 Strategies to Stop Overeating and Lose Weight
Fortunately, you have the power to normalize eating — and none of these strategies involve counting calories. To lose weight, keep it off, and reduce risk for diabesity, I use these seven effective strategies with my patients:
1. Eat real food. The single most important thing to lose weight and avoid overeating is to include real, whole, unprocessed foods in your diet. That means switching to vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, olive oil, organic, range, or grass-fed animal products (poultry, lamb, beef, pork, eggs), and wild, smaller fish such as salmon.
2. Always eat breakfast. Skipping a morning meal means you eventually feel famished, and throughout the day you eat much more food than you need to feel full. A recent study of 3,000 people who lost an average of 70 pounds and kept it off for six years found that most of them ate breakfast regularly. Only 4% of people who never ate breakfast managed to keep the weight off.
3. Eat mindfully. You need to be relaxed for your gut’s nervous system to work properly. If you’re stressed, you don’t digest food properly and your stress hormones slow metabolism. When you eat quickly, you also overeat, since it takes your brain 20 minutes after you start eating to know it’s full.
4. Journal. Writing down everything — what you eat, but also how you feelafter you eat — becomes an excellent way to break mindless eating and other bad habits. A diet of words and self-exploration often results in weight loss. You metabolize your life and calories better.
5. Get sufficient sleep. Always get eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. You will reduce cravings and normalize fat-regulating hormones. One study found even a partial night’s sleep deprivation contributes to insulin resistance, paving the way for obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
6. Control stress levels. Demanding jobs, marital tension, lack of sleep, too much to do, and too little time to do it create chronic stress, which makes you overeat. Learn to actively relax with de-stressing techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing.
7. Exercise. The right exercise will help you lose weight, maintain weight loss, and control your appetite so you don’t overeat. Aim for at least 30 minutes of walking every day. Many people often require more vigorous, sustained exercise to reverse severe diabesity and normalize eating. Make it fun: Run, bike, dance, play games, or jump on a trampoline.
I hope you realize overeating is not your fault. What strategy would you add here to normalize eating and break your food-addiction cycle? Share yours below or on my Facebook page.
Dr. Mark Hyman