Most people with problems controlling their eating think that it’s caused by some weakness on their part. In reality the problem has more to do with the human brain.

Compulsive eating problems are not rare today, but for the person experiencing the problem, it feels like no one could possibly understand what it’s like. Sadly, the person with compulsive eating problems or binging often thinks that the problem would go away if only they could gain more control. The cause of most compulsive eating is a control issue, not a lack of control, but rather a problem with over-control.

Why Diets Fail

Ninety percent of dieting attempts fail and most of these dieting attempts involve diets that have the following in common:

  1. Are too rigid – Rigid rules in dieting, such as dictating exactly what should and should not be eaten, do not teach a person how to change his lifestyle. Lifestyle change is important for lasting weight loss.
  2. Eliminate particular foods or food groups completely – Usually the foods eliminated by diets are those that the person likes the most. This creates a situation of psychological deprivation that leads to diet failure, overeating, and even binging with the foods that were eliminated.
  3. Do not provide enough calories – Not eating enough calories slows down metabolism and creates a situation where the body stores fat more efficiently and burns it more slowly. This is the opposite of what the dieter wants to achieve.
  4. Dictate what to do but not how to do it – People know what they should do to lose weight (eat well and exercise) but find it difficult to get themselves to do it. Most diets just tell a person what foods to eat or not eat; a few suggest exercise. These things are “easier said than done” because there are psychological barriers that are common to everyone and can get in the way.

Dieting and the Brain

The human brain responds well to some things but not to others. Most diets are designed counter to how the human brain thinks, leading to loss of control of eating and ultimate failure of the diet. However, there are ways to approach weight loss that will lead to long-term success. These involve how the person works with their brain. The brain responds best to the following:

  • Flexibility – The more flexible an eating plan is the more likely it is that a person can follow it for the rest of their lives, resulting in a lifetime of health and leanness rather than yo-yo dieting.
  • Praise – Just like a child learns better if praised rather than put down, the brain is motivated, encouraged, and energized by praise, not punishment or criticism. Pointing out successes and efforts, no matter how small, will lead to more success in the long run.
  • Small goals – Large goals are overwhelming. Breaking large goals down into smaller ones and focusing on one small goal at a time will prevent stress and, instead, lead to more motivation.
  • Focus on behaviors rather than numbers (e.g. calories and weight numbers) – Behaviors are what make a person lose weight, not numbers.
  • Adding things rather than omitting things – Psychologically, it’s easier for a person to think of adding things such as increasing the number of fruits and vegetable eaten, rather than omitting things like not eating sweets.

Anything that adds stress and focuses on negativity tends to make the brain resistant to a person’s intentions and goals. This is especially true when dealing with weight loss. Having control of eating is not so much a function of willpower or discipline but rather understanding how the human brain responds to characteristics of the weight loss plan being used. The smart way to go about losing weight and controlling eating is by working with, not against, the brain.

Copyright Lavinia Rodriguez. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.