How not to fail with losing weight this time


The most popular new years resolutions and, at the same time, the ones that are most commonly broken, are about losing weight, getting fit or eating healthier. Year after year these resolutions come back and generally we put them on the list again, hoping that this year will be different.

We often have the impression that once we have decided something, that’s it. We should just be able to follow through. If we struggle, we see ourselves as weak, undisciplined or useless. However, to successfully achieve this new goal, we need to understand our brain, the art of delaying gratification and which parts of the brain we are strengthening.

There are different parts of our brain that come into play when we have a goal. There are parts that want us to feel good now (nucleus accumbens gives us the sense of reward and vetral pallidum that provides us with hedonic pleasure), which act more on autopilot and without thinking. The other part of our brain is more interested in planning and what we want in the long-term (prefrontal cortex that provides us with a sense of satisfaction for achieving long-term goals). Every time we use a specific part of the brain, we are strengthening it, similar to how we train our muscles. So when it comes to wanting to lose weight or eating healthier, we need to train and strengthen that part of our brain that focuses on the longterm. Every time we resist temptation, this part gets stronger.

When it comes to yummy food, it seems mean and difficult to resist or deprive ourselves of something that we want and enjoy like chocolate or a plate of french fries. The thing is, it’s all a matter of perspective. We can either enjoy this food now, and then feel guilty about it later because we realize we did something that is not in line with our goal, or we can resist and feel a bit frustrated in the moment, but feel satisfied afterwards for having stuck to our goal. It’s about whether we want to be satisfied now and suffer later? Or suffer now to be satisfied later? That is often the choice that we are facing.

Next time you are tempted to eat that cookie, take a minute before reaching for it, and think about which part of your brain you want to train? Is it the one who is more on autopilot and is looking for short term satisfaction, or is it more the part that wants long-term gratification? The more we practice resisting temptation and the more we focus on the longer term goal, the stronger this part of our brain becomes and the easier it is to resist such temptations in the future.

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Begley, S., Davidson, R., (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain, Hodder & Stoughton

Image: Nathalie Berger Photography

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