How Neuroplasticity Can Support Your Weight Loss Efforts

With around 40 percent[1] of U.S. adults considered obese and around 70 percent[2] overweight, weight loss is something that’s on a lot of people’s minds. People try all sorts of diets, supplements, and exercise plans to shed unwanted pounds, however, only about five percent[3] of people who try to lose weight ultimately succeed.

Why is it so hard for people to successfully lose weight and keep it off? The answer comes down to neural pathways in the brain, particularly in a primitive part of the brain called the limbic system[4]

In this article, we’ll be exploring the importance of using neuroplasticity to address weight loss roadblocks and the benefits you can expect from incorporating neuroplasticity into your weight loss approach.

What exactly is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change, both structurally and functionally, throughout a person’s lifetime. When we learn new things, whether it’s a new language or how to drive a car, our brain creates new connections between neurons[5], allowing us to remember how to do a certain task.

The repetition of every action, emotion, or thought reinforces particular neural pathways. The more the actions, emotions, and thoughts are repeated, the more deeply these neural pathways become ingrained in the circuitry of our brains. That’s why the more you practice something, be it playing the guitar, speaking Spanish, or eating cookies when you’re anxious, the better you get at it.

Neurons that are used frequently develop stronger connections, whereas those that are rarely or never used will eventually be eliminated. This process is known as synaptic pruning[6]. By developing new connections and pruning away weak ones, the brain is able to continuously adapt to its changing environment.

How is neuroplasticity connected to weight loss?

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with weight loss. Well, the major reason that the majority of people can’t lose weight and keep it off has to do with particular thoughts and behavioral patterns that hinder their efforts—and the more these thoughts and behaviors are repeated, the stronger the neural pathways relating to these thoughts and behaviors become.

These neural pathways make it very difficult to go against or resist certain destructive habits, such as overeating, eating in response to emotions, excessive snacking, putting off exercise, and craving (and giving in to eating) junk food.

In order to improve your odds of losing weight and keeping it off, you and your brain have to get on the same team. If you don’t change your brain, chances are you’ll eventually go back to your old habits and preferences and regain any weight you lost. Experts estimate that as many as 80 to 95 percent of dieters[7] gain back the weight they worked so hard to lose. That’s likely because they only focused on cutting calories and exercising without doing the neuroplasticity-based work that changes their brains.

That’s not to say that eating a healthy diet and exercising aren’t important parts of the weight loss puzzle—they are essential and always will be. You can’t “think” yourself thin without putting in effort by eating healthy and moving your body. What you can do, however, is create new, functional neural pathways in your brain[8] that support productive beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. In turn, these brain changes will make it easier for you to stick to your healthy eating and exercise plan.

A closer look at stress and weight loss

Overeating is the most common reason for people being overweight or obese. Many researchers are convinced that people’s struggles with overeating are based in the emotional part of the brain. The emotional brain, also called the limbic system, is the command center for fear, appetite, and reward.

When under stress, three brain structures in the limbic system[9]—the amygdala (“fear center”), the hypothalamus (“appetite center”), and the nucleus accumbens (“reward center”)—activate a cascade of biochemical changes that increase hunger, slow metabolism and favor fat deposition.

Additionally, when in this hyperactive stress state, feelings of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty arise—and what’s an effective (although destructive) way of quelling those uncomfortable feelings? Food, of course!

The more the habit of overeating when stressed is repeated, the more deeply it becomes rooted in the brain. The specific neural pathways that trigger stress eating and other stress-induced emotional and behavioral patterns are called survival circuits[10]. They encode instructions about how to feel, what to think, and what to do when stressed and, once encoded, reactivate automatically in response to stress.

In other words, the habit of overeating becomes conditioned[11], so when a person experiences a stressful situation, their brain automatically defaults to specific neural pathways, or “instructions,” for overeating.  

Change your brain to change your body

The process of changing your brain to support your weight loss efforts entails de-stressing the overactive limbic system and creating new neural pathways. This involves interrupting destructive thoughts, beliefs, and habits and replacing them with healthier, more functional neural pathways.

This can be achieved with the help of re-origin, a neuroplasticity-based treatment program. Our program involves applying an easy-to-follow neurocognitive technique that can be used to override and rewire faulty conditioning in the brain and create new neural pathways.

To be clear, re-origin isn’t a weight loss program and won’t magically make you lose weight. Rather, it helps undo the root causes behind why it’s so difficult for people to stick to diets and exercise plans—namely, stress, anxiety, and depression. Addressing these issues at the brain level can result in the alleviation of roadblocks to weight loss, such as emotional eating patterns and lack of follow-through.

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What benefits can you expect from retraining your brain?

By harnessing the power of neuroplasticity and creating new, healthy neural pathways that support your weight loss efforts, you can expect several benefits, including:

  • Overcoming sabotaging thoughts
  • Changing destructive beliefs
  • Resisting cravings
  • Handling emotions in a healthier way
  • Sticking to goals
  • Maintaining an exercise schedule
  • Eliminating overeating
  • A more enjoyable weight loss process
  • More control over your weight and health

The bottom line

Trying to lose weight without changing the brain’s habits is a recipe for weight loss failure. Using re-origin, you can use neuroplasticity to address the root causes of behaviors that are sabotaging your weight loss efforts, such as overeating. Through this program, you’ll learn to handle stressors in a different way, enabling you to stick to your weight loss plan and lose the weight once and for all.

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
  2. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity
  3. https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/obesity-research-confirms-long-term-weight-loss-almost-impossible-1.2663585
  4. Rajmohan, V., & Mohandas, E. (2007). The limbic system. Indian journal of psychiatry, 49(2), 132–139. Available From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917081/
  5. Chang Y. (2014). Reorganization and plastic changes of the human brain associated with skill learning and expertise. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 8, 35. Available From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3912552/
  6. Sakai, J. (2020). Core Concept: How synaptic pruning shapes neural wiring during development and, possibly, in disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(28), 16096–16099. Available From: https://www.pnas.org/content/117/28/16096
  7. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-people-diet-lose-weight-and-gain-it-all-back/
  8. Augustijn, M., D’Hondt, E., Leemans, A., Van Acker, L., De Guchtenaere, A., Lenoir, M., Deconinck, F., & Caeyenberghs, K. (2019). Weight loss, behavioral change, and structural neuroplasticity in children with obesity through a multidisciplinary treatment program. Human brain mapping, 40(1), 137–150.
  9. Mietus-Snyder, M. L., & Lustig, R. H. (2008). Childhood Obesity: Adrift in the “Limbic Triangle.” Annual Review of Medicine, 59(1), 147–162. Available From: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.med.59.103106.105628
  10. LeDoux J. (2012). Rethinking the emotional brain. Neuron, 73(4), 653–676.
  11. Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Long-Term Synaptic Potentiation. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10878/
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