5 Smart Steps to Weight Loss That Are Backed by Science

Your brain is your biggest ally in your weight-loss battle.
Image Credit: Dziggyfoto/iStock/GettyImages

I have one goal as a weight-loss coach — to never have to treat anyone twice. That's why I rely on brain science. I want this year to be the last that you resolve to lose weight.

For decades the weight-loss industry has been telling people that success can be found in an expensive gym membership or food-replacement systems. It isn't, and it never has been. The seat of our body's weight-loss function isn't in the thighs or the fat cells, it's in the brain. That's right: The human brain is causing people trying to lose weight to fail.

But how? Research shows that the foods you consume — and the way you consume them — trigger changes in the brain that ultimately sabotage your weight-loss efforts by creating insatiable hunger and overpowering cravings.

The main culprits are flour and sugar, which are in nearly everything. They hijack your hormones and neurotransmitters and change your neural pathways and reward systems, rewiring them to ensure that we continue to eat more and more of both. In other words, they're highly addictive.

But as with other addictions, you can exert control over your brain and make it work for you (not against you) to achieve permanent weight loss.

Here are five simple steps:

Your brain craves sugar like a drug.
Image Credit: michaelpuche/iStock/Getty Images

1. Eliminate Sugar and Flour

Flour and sugar are as addictive in your brain as cocaine. They overstimulate the brain's nucleus accumbens (its seat of pleasure, reward and motivation). To protect itself, the nucleus accumbens turns off some pleasure receptors so it won't be bombarded as hard the next time. Thus, you need increasingly larger doses to experience the same level of pleasure. That's addiction.

These two ingredients also cause insulin levels to rise. This not only puts you at risk for Type 2 diabetes, but also blocks the brain from recognizing the hormone leptin, which signals that you're full. If leptin isn't able to do its job, you might go from a big dinner straight to the couch with a bag of chips and wash it down with a carton of ice cream — and still go to bed feeling unsatisfied.

Healing begins when sugar and flour are taken out of the equation. Not only does excess weight come off, but the insatiable hunger ends.

Read more: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Sugar

2. Eat Regular Meals

A steady schedule of three meals a day at regular mealtimes trains your brain to eat the right things at the right times and to pass up the wrong things in between. Sticking to a schedule means you don't have to rely on willpower.

When regular meals become part of the scaffolding of your life, it takes the burden off willing yourself to eat more or less. Eating meals on a regular schedule also dramatically increases the fasting window (the length of time that you go without ingesting any food).

For example, you have a 13-hour fasting window if you finish dinner by 6 p.m. and eat breakfast at 7 a.m. the next morning. Longer fasting windows equate to increased fat loss, improved energy levels and better sleep.

Your plate doesn't always have to be full (or clean).
Image Credit: golubovy/iStock/Getty Images

3. Master Portion Control

Most adults no longer receive reliable signals from their brains to stop eating when they've had enough, causing for them to overeat. Eating properly sized portions will revive those signals over time and help the pounds melt off.

But there's a flip side: If you haven't been eating three regular meals with no grazing in between, you may not be eating enough at meals. Once you start confining yourself to three meals a day, don't forget that you need to eat an amount that fills you. The goal for eating should be to eat three beautiful, abundant, delicious meals a day — with nothing in between.

Read more: A Quick and Easy Way to Estimate Portion Size

4. Understand How Willpower Actually Works

People often think of willpower as an aspect of our moral character or as a tool that gets more effective with increased commitment. However, studies have shown that willpower is finite, and most of us have about 15 minutes of it at a time

It's the same mechanism that's in charge of emotional regulation, which helps you be patient. If working, parenting or driving in traffic saps your patience, you're going to fall into the willpower gap. You can't rely on willpower alone to change your eating habits!

Read more: 9 Tough-Love Tactics That Will Help You Reach Your Goals

5. Be Consistent

Like a drug-rehab program, make these rules non-negotiable. Doing so will take the burden off willpower, make good choices automatic and remove the ambiguity that leads to "just one more little bite." As an added bonus, eating meals at consistent times improves insulin sensitivity, lowers cholesterol and supports fat loss.

What Do YOU Think?

Have you ever resolved to lose weight? Were you successful? What tools helped you reach your goal? What rules did you set for yourself? Did you follow any of the above rules? If your current goal is to lose weight, will you apply any of these rules? Share your stories, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!

About the Author

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester and an expert in the psychology of eating. She is president of the Institute for Sustainable Weight Loss and CEO of Bright Line Eating Solutions, a company dedicated to sharing the psychology and neuroscience of sustainable weight loss and helping people live happy, thin and free. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.