Dilia Suriel’s book, The Thin Woman’s Brain; Re-Wiring The Brain For Permanent Weight Loss struck a nerve in me. Did you know that 10,000 diet books are released each year? Mostly variations on the Atkins or Paleo theme. The Diet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry yet 97% of dieters fail and gain all their weight back. That is so depressing! Do us humans really lack the willpower to fight overindulgence? Are we that weak?
There was a time for all of us when maintaining a slim, healthy weight was not a struggle. It was just natural. Yes! It’s not as simple as sheer willpower. Do you remember being a kid and having to sit at the table but wanting to get up to keep playing? I sure do. I could never finish my plate. I had so much more fun stuff on my mind other than food. I was a super skinny kid that became overweight as an adult because of chronic dieting. The question this book addresses is why naturally thin women stay slim without dieting and seem not to think about food obsessively and experience pleasure from food, not shame and self-hatred.
Science has proven that many things contribute to why chronic dieters fail and never achieve long term weight loss, including flavor enhanced, fake food, unrealistic body images and work that forces us to sit for eight hours a day. All of this has caused our brain chemistry to change. The amount of dopamine, the feel good chemical, produced in the brain of an obese person is lower than the amount produced in a naturally thin one.
The whole concept of a diet is totally new from a human evolutionary standpoint. Dieting or restricting calories to achieve a thinner shape didn’t catch on in our culture until the 1960’s! Our forefathers had to adapt to periods of food scarcity by eating a lot when food was plentiful to have reserves in times of famine. This is why overeating produces the pleasure chemical, dopamine. For human survival.
Most of us don’t experience food scarcity today but you better believe our ancient brain chemistry still has that built-in mechanism to ensure our survival. Our modern day brains don’t “know” we aren’t starving. What they do “know” is that when dieting we’re in jeopardy of losing fat stores. SOS! Hold onto the fat! Our system lowers the levels of leptin, the hormone that signals satiety and pumps up the ghrelin, the hunger hormone into the bloodstream. We don’t stand a chance against Famine Brain! Thank God for all us former dieters, all is not lost. Thanks to neuroplasticity we can adapt and re-wire the brain to get back to our naturally thin selves.
The book gives step-by-step instruction using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to restore your brain into what it used to be when you ate naturally, intuitively. They are:
1) Differentiate brain hunger from physical hunger. Can you tell the difference between when you want to eat out of boredom, procrastination or sadness and eating when your stomach is growling? This is huge! With brain hunger we often crave sugary or salty foods whereas if our body is truly hungry all different foods look appetizing – an apple, salmon, nuts, even a plate of broccoli!
2) Observe the symptoms of addiction and incorporate mindfulness practices into your eating, observing a craving but not feeling compelled to act on it. “Oh, I am super stressed right now about my finances. I want to eat a tub of cookie dough. That’s just my pesky brain talking. My body is not even hungry.”
3) Name the real need and address it. Similar to #1. What do you really need? For me, when I want to eat cookies I often am just tired and need a short nap instead of the sugar. Or I need to take a breather and write in my journal to name the issue or take a walk around the block to clear my head.
4) Experience success and measure progress. Celebrate your successes and appreciate your progress. The human brain needs to experience progress to keep going on a long journey.
There is no diet prescribed in this book but it has been scientifically proven that flavor enhanced foods with high sugar and salt contents are addictive. To get back to your natural hunger and eating patterns you have to get rid of that stuff.
Another distinction the author makes is the difference between naturally thin women and will-powered thin women. I live in Los Angeles, land of the size triple zero. Skinny women here are a dime a dozen but many do not eat naturally. They are size 000 through pure, unadulterated self-denial and strict exercise routines. There’s so many who suffer from eating disorders or are robotic in their no-carb eating and are more scared of gluten than a gun in their face. I’m not talking about women with legitimate food allergies or celiac disease.
Starving and deprivation are not what I’m after. I’m interested in women who find joy in food. Women who eat naturally, let their bodies get hungry, then they ask themselves, “what do I feel like for lunch?” I used to always eat salad for lunch. What I usually wanted was a turkey sandwich with mayo. It’s satisfying and what I really wanted, but a turkey sandwich slathered with mayo is never allowed on diets so I’d eat the salad. I hate salad. I would always feel unsatisfied and I’d begin to obsess about bread and cookies to have with it and sometimes break down and have those things on top of the salad. If I had just taken pleasure in eating the damn turkey sandwich mindfully, it’s less calories than the cookies and bread I shamefully ended up eating with my unwanted salad! Now I eat what I want.
I’ve re-wired my own brain in the last five years. It happened naturally for me when I got pregnant with my son and I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted. Instead of gaining weight endlessly like I thought I would, I found that I’m actually a moderate eater and I’ve maintained a healthy slim weight through two pregnancies. You can read more of my story here.
Naturally thin women take great pleasure in food and let their bodies get really hungry because they know food tastes so much better when they’re truly hungry whereas chronic dieters are terrified of hunger. Food isn’t something to fight against. Life’s too short. Food is a delight, something to luxuriate in. Eating is one of the great pleasures we humans get to experience daily. Food is life sustaining, wholesome and nourishing – not an enemy.