When you begin a new diet, two brain regions in the frontal lobe battle it out. The dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (over the temples) controls memory and sensory input. The orbitofrontal cortex (above the eyes) controls decision-making, sensory integration, and emotion.
If you give in to the tempting treats, you’ll fail at your diet. But if you resist, over time the brain changes. The neural circuitry rewires itself so that the part of the frontal lobe that tells you to stick to your diet (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) actually becomes stronger over time.
The aim is to make your diet simple so anxiety and guilt don’t derail you from your goals. Keep in mind the following tips in order to stay on course:
• Set reasonable goals. Adopting a slow and steady weight-loss program will make it easier to lose those extra pounds — and keep them off.
• Eat smaller meals throughout the day. Your brain needs a steady supply of nutrients to think clearly and maintain a positive mood. Make sure that you eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with two nutritious in-between meal snacks.
• Stick to brain-healthy options. Be sure to get enough omega-3 fatty acids from fish, nuts, or flaxseed and try to cut back on fats and omega-6 fatty acids. Include several helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
• Maintain healthy hydration. Drinking water or seltzer can help curb your appetite and avoid sugary drinks that add unnecessary calories. Remember that alcoholic beverages also add unwanted calories, so consider cutting back on wine, beer, and spirits.
• No late snacks. Avoid snacking near bedtime. You will sleep through your hunger pangs and lose weight while you rest. Brush your teeth two hours before bed in order to deter snacking.
• Cut back at restaurants. When you eat out, try splitting an entrée with a friend or spouse. Don’t be modest about making special requests (e.g., no cream, butter, etc.).
• Make it nutritious and delicious. Use spices, herbs, garlic, salsa, and other healthy taste enhancers to distract you from tempting, high-calorie sauces and sides.
• Get physical. Always combine your diet program with regular exercise, including both aerobic workouts and strength training. Cardiovascular conditioning burns calories, but strength training helps build lean body mass, which raises your metabolism and helps burn more calories and shed more weight.
• Don’t go solo. Work with a doctor or nutritionist who specializes in weight loss, and maintain regular contact. Or try a support group such as Overeaters Anonymous.
Keeping in mind the strong connection between ideal body weight and mind health often motivates us to stay with a brain-healthy diet for the long haul. And when we start seeing results (even a pound the first week), it makes it easier to continue.
Remember, you can change your brain for the better and get those neural circuits in your frontal lobes to say no to tempting treats and say yes to a long future of better mind health.
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