Lean Thinking

Your brain can overcome starvation syndrome to spur weight loss—with help.

By Lisa James

September 2010


 

You’ve really—really—tried to eliminate body fat. Eating portions of taste-free food that would starve a baby gerbil. Running the treadmill until you are a sweaty, exhausted mess.

And your reward for all that effort? A bathroom scale stuck on the same number week after week.
Before deciding that you’re a failure (and consoling yourself with a pint of double-fudge chocolate chip), you need to realize that the problem isn’t your willpower. It’s your brain.

Hard-Wired Weight Gain

Thousands of years ago food wasn’t always easy to come by. The day’s hunt might not yield a catch, or droughts and pests could cause crop failures. This made starvation a constant hazard; in response, the human body became very good at hanging onto every calorie that came along.

Today in many places calories are plentiful, with a coffeeshop or burger joint on almost every corner. However, our bodies haven’t caught up with the change. Cut back on your calorie count and your brain goes into starvation mode: Increasing appetite and food cravings, decreasing metabolism and storing fat against what it believes to be hard times. The result is a yo-yo effect in which weight loss is followed by weight gain, over and over again.

What’s more, the body’s fight-or-flight system was designed to deal with short-term stress, such as running away from hungry beasts. The long-term stress of modern life can destabilize this system, causing hormonal shifts that make weight loss even more difficult.

Brain Retraining

There are ways to override your brain’s weight-retention directives. One involves dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to those “reward centers” in the brain that reduce stress and produce a sense of well-being. Genetic makeup helps determine dopamine levels; a brain that can’t make enough dopamine, or that can’t respond to it in the normal manner, will have a hard time controlling food cravings and stress.

Scientists believe that supplementation may help overcome carbohydrate cravings, a significant reason for weight-loss failure, by addressing either low dopamine levels or the body’s inability to use dopamine properly (Medical Hypotheses July-August/07). One key ingredient in this effort is DL-phenylalanine (DLPA), an amino acid the body needs to create dopamine.

Recent research has found DLPA to be most effective in controlling appetite when used with other nutrients, such as the complementary amino acids L-tyrosine and L-glutamine along with
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), an amino acid long used to fight depression and encourage sleep; vitamins B1 and B6, required for energy production; the mineral chromium, which supports healthy blood-sugar regulation by encouraging proper insulin function; rhodiola, a Siberian herb that helps the body adapt to stress; and passion flower, recommended by herbalists to help ease anxiety and insomnia.

Clinical trials using various DLPA supplement formulations have shown promising results. In one study, participants reported weight loss in addition to fewer cravings, increased energy and better sleep (Advances in Therapy 9/08). In another, participants not only lost weight but had lower BMI (body mass index) readings at the end of the study, an indication of fat loss (Gene Therapy & Molecular Biology 2008). Some formulations also use whole-food plant concentrates to support functions such as immunity and energy production.

Don’t fight a losing battle with your brain over weight loss. Instead, put nutrition to work in helping your brain help you shed pounds.

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