Brain Changes During Dieting Explain Yo-yoing

People who diet are familiar with the yo-yo effect. You work hard to lose weight only to quickly put it back on. Dieters usually regain half the weight they lost within two years and 80 percent after five years.  

New research in mice may explain the cause. The nerve cells in the brain that receive hunger cues get stronger signals after dieting leading the mice to eat more. If the same is true for people, it could be that listening to your body and only eating when you’re hungry can backfire as you’ll actually eat more.

People have looked mainly at the short-term effects after dieting. We wanted to see what changes in the brain in the long term,” explains Henning Fenselau of the Max Planck Institute, who led the study.

This work increases understanding of how neural wiring diagrams control hunger,” said co-author Bradford Lowell from Harvard Medical School.

The change lasted in the mice’s brains for a long time. The researchers did find ways of “selectively inhibiting the neural pathways” in the mice’s brains. And hope to create therapies for humans to stop yo-yo dieting.

It would be an incredible tool to have medication or treatments to help the long-term benefits of diets. However, research often takes years to create real-world solutions. That said, the knowledge we get from research can be helpful immediately. It’s not certain that the same changes happen in human brains that occur in mice brains. However, this could explain why yo-yo weight gain occurs, and dieters can change their behavior to combat the problem right now.

However, a more natural way to use this research in most dieters’ lives is to understand that there are steps to take after completing a diet. With this research, it seems that once a person has reached the end of a diet, they can’t simply switch to a healthy diet and pay attention to hunger cues. Instead, one has to finish the diet, switch to a healthy diet and still practice portion control.

While one may think “intuitive eating” is enough to maintain the weight loss that they worked hard for, it isn’t. The brain may be actively sabotaging a person’s best efforts by claiming the body is hungrier than it is. A person can maintain their loss and keep the pounds off by following portion control.  

Banner image: i yunmai via Unsplash

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