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Resisting the call of sweets and treats: Brain power is better than willpower Print

By Andrea Holwegner, For The Calgary Herald   August 18, 2011

Do you feel like you know what you should do to lose weight but willpower has let you down?

Perhaps you can relate to Patricia, a 49-year-old nurse who knew plenty about nutrition and health. So why did her attempts to lose weight always fail?

When Patricia went to work each day, she packed a healthy breakfast and lunch, but mid-afternoon fatigue and hunger would set in and willpower would always let her down.

Although she vowed not to eat sweets in the afternoon, walking past the coffee shop at work tempted her with displays of freshbaked goods. Each time she gave in to the tasty treats she promised never to eat these forbidden foods again…until tomorrow.

According to a new study – published in the August 2011 edition of the American Dietetic Association Journal by behavioural and preventive medicine experts at Rush University Medical Center – you should focus on brain power instead of willpower.

Examining the way the brain controls eating behaviour in response to cues in the environment, known as neurobehavioral processes, can help with weight loss.

There are three neurobehavioral processes tied to weight loss and how much we eat:

Food reward

Your brain naturally has a strong motivational drive to find and eat tasty food.

It also intuitively seeks the experience of pleasure that comes about after eating enjoyable food.

If you experience higher food cravings, especially for sweets and high-fat foods, you may have a stronger biological preference to seek reward.

Inhibitory control

Your brain also has a varied response to suppressing the urge to eat high-calorie foods.

If you have found it hard to say no to tasty treats and high-fat foods, it may be because your natural biology has more powerful urges to eat than to abstain.

Time discounting

Research shows humans have a tendency toward immediate gratification rather than delayed positive results. When it comes to decision making about food, this means it’s natural to prefer the immediate pleasure of eating over the delayed health benefits of weight loss.

If you need to lose weight to improve your health, trying to follow the old rules that rely on willpower to eat less and say no to food cravings likely won’t work.

Here are some strategies that specifically tackle your brain’s genetic susceptibilities and the challenging environment we live in.

– Out of sight, out of mind

Keep your favourite foods such as potato chips and pop out of your house, car and work. Choosing to do this helps prevent the mesolimbic dopamine system in the brain from getting sensitized to seek reward.

If you love vending machine junk food or baked goods at the coffee shop, try leaving your cash at home.

Several of my clients have found bringing only a credit card to work has decreased their junk food consumption.

– Make a list

Another strategy that helps to avoid sensitizing the brain’s reward system is to make a list before going to the grocery store and follow it strictly.

Alternatively, shop online or go with a buddy who can help you stick to your plan.

– Minimize eating out

Most people find it hard to leave extra food on a plate or to dish up appropriate servings at an allyou-can-eat buffet. These environments challenge the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for inhibitory control.

With regular travels being a part of my job as a nutrition educator, I’ve learned that I always overeat at a hotel breakfast buffet and do better when served a single plate of food.

If you’re at a restaurant you know serves big portions, ask for half your meal to be served and the other half to be boxed for lunch the next day. The trick here is to be sure you do this when you order rather than hope to leave half to take home.

– Go near versus far

To help you manage the challenge of time discounting, try using a nearsighted focus on your nutrition goals; it will serve you better than focusing on longterm goals. For example, focus on how many servings of veggies you ate today, rather than your long-term goal to lose 30 pounds.

ANDREA HOLWEGNER, THE CHOCOHOLIC DIETITIAN, OWNS HEALTH STAND NUTRITION CONSULTING INC. VISIT WWW.HEALTHSTANDNUTRITION.COM OR PHONE 403-262-3466 TO SUBSCRIBE TO HER FREE MONTHLY EZINE.

Read more: http://tinyurl.com/3e3bfno

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"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
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Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
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Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
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Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

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I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

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Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
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Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

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