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Trick Your Brain to Lose Weight
To Lose Weight, Exercise Isn't Enough

The next time you quit a weight loss program that isn't working, take comfort in this. It may not be your fault.

Losing weight is a combination of two things.

The first step is making sure you're getting exercise to strengthen bones, build muscle and be better able to fend off disease. Proper exercise, done on a regular basis can extend meaningful life by several years, even decades. But there's just one little problem. It's not going to make a huge difference in your weight.


Make a menu of what you're going to eat. Plan ahead and avoid temptation.

The muscles you build from exercise DO burn more calories than fat. But the calories you burn from a resistance training session are generally far less than what most people think.

In a study carried out on the Hadza (a hunter-gatherer tribe of people that live in Tanzania), researchers attached GPS devices to them and tracked their activity. Even though the Hadza people walked several more miles a day than the average westerner, researchers found that both the Hadza and westerners burned about the same number of calories.

That was a bit of a shock. It was assumed that all the activities would make a more significant change to metabolism. Our bodies are much more efficient than previously believed. As we build muscle, we burn more calories. But our bodies don't want to burn calories, so over time our bodies adjust and do what they can to lower our metabolism.

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If you're overweight, just going to the gym and working out isn't enough. The second step of weight control is modifying your diet. Here's where our biology really gets in the way.

When most people start a diet program, they approach it with the idea that they'll simply change what they eat by making healthier choices. Their rational brain will help them decide what's appropriate.

But it doesn't work like that. We don't use the rational part of our brains to decide what we'll eat. In fact, the whole idea that we have "free will" to make better decisions is really an illusion.

Several studies show our brains make decisions to do things, even before we're consciously aware of the decision. The neuroscientist Sam Harris summed it up by saying, "thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control..." That ice cream binge isn't something you planned, it's something your subconscious brain tells you to do.

So lets sum up the problems. Exercise doesn't burn off as much as most people believe and we don't have as much control over our decisions as we think.

That makes losing weight tough, but not impossible. The most successful weight loss programs take the decision making power away from the individual. Instead of constantly deciding what's appropriate for each meal, companies ship several days or weeks of food with each choice carefully decided in advance. Examples include Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Nutrisystems.

Those programs work, but they don't take into account special dietary preferences, they can be expensive and they don't do a good job of teaching people how to make better decisions in social situations.

Try this.

Start tracking your food, but don't do it as each meal happens. Instead make a plan in the morning (or the night before) of everything you’re going to eat in a day. Then write it all down in a food log or track it using free software like myfitnesspal (www.myfitnesspal.com). Print out that list and use it as a menu for everything you'll eat and drink.

Consider taking a picture of everything before you eat it and post the picture online. I asked my researchers to do that and they turned it into a blog. Visit our tumblr account (http://webefit.tumblr.com/) and see every meal one of the researchers ate and how long it took to prepare for an entire month.

By planning in advance what you'll eat, you won't be surprised or caught in situations without food as hunger creeps up. Taking pictures and logging your food makes you accountable and easier to say no to temptations. And finally, because you're writing the menu, it's based on foods you like, that are available where you live. You can beat your biology, it just takes a little planning.


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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.


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