Three and a half years ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life. As my New Year's resolution, I gave up dieting, stopped worrying about my weight, and learned to eat mindfully. Now I eat whenever I'm hungry, and I've lost 10 pounds.
This was me at age 13, when I started my first diet. I look at that picture now, and I think, you did not need a diet, you needed a fashion consult. (Laughter) But I thought I needed to lose weight, and when I gained it back, of course I blamed myself. And for the next three decades, I was on and off various diets. No matter what I tried, the weight I'd lost always came back. I'm sure many of you know the feeling.
As a neuroscientist, I wondered, why is this so hard? Obviously, how much you weigh depends on how much you eat and how much energy you burn. What most people don't realize is that hunger and energy use are controlled by the brain, mostly without your awareness. Your brain does a lot of its work behind the scenes, and that is a good thing, because your conscious mind -- how do we put this politely? -- it's easily distracted. It's good that you don't have to remember to breathe when you get caught up in a movie. You don't forget how to walk because you're thinking about what to have for dinner.
For those of you who have come to the blog directly from TED..welcome!,
You might be interested in an earlier post on intuitive eating that explains my feelings about it. You can find it here. Thanks for visiting.
For my regular readers:
I found this TED video truly frustrating. See what you think. I commented as follows on the video page:
As an internist and obesity specialist for over 25 years, I can safely say that this is one of the more frustrating and misleading talks on weight I've heard. The information given by Ms. Aamodt is highly anecdotal and has many inaccuracies. The first red flag goes up in the earliest moments of the talk. Ms. Aamodt excitedly proclaims a loss of ten pounds on her new eating plan. She cites a lifelong struggle with weight, but there is nothing to suggest that she has ever been more than slightly overweight (including her picture at age 13). People who have never been severely overweight or obese fall into a different category than those that store fat avidly and easily and often make the mistake of believing that what works for them will translate to those who are significantly overweight. It is because she has misunderstood this vital point that intuitive eating seems like a solution to her. It may, in fact, work for someone her size, but is much, much more problematic for someone who is prone to extreme weight gain and who has many complex signals encouraging weight gain, not just in the brain but in the gut and adipose.
1. If the body controls weight by an unerring thermostat mechanism, why does weight rise? Clearly because the thermostat is not functioning.
2. Eating when "hungry?" What is hunger? Our modern environment makes us hungry all the time and modern foods stimulate appetite. How do you figure out what "true" hunger is?
3. Obese people often make large amounts of insulin which someone Ms. Aamodt's size does not. Insulin is hunger promoting. A heavy person will often suffer from stronger hunger than a thin one
4. I think it's reckless to suggest that people simply rely on what makes our body "feel good" to figure out what's best to eat. Our food environment is toxic and some form of defensive eating is crucial, especially for those who gain easily.
Diet (defined as a planned eating style) is NOT a four letter word.