Weight Loss and Nutrition
If you are on a diet right now, you are not alone! Unfortunately, losing weight and gaining it back (yo-yo dieting) is a vicious cycle that leaves millions of people frustrated and unhappy.
In spite of what the $20 billion weight-loss industry wants you to think, traditional and fad diets simply do not work. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- An astonishing 69% of adults are overweight or obese, with nearly 79 million Americans classified as obese—that’s more than 1/3 of adults!
- Even more startling is that 1/3 of all American children are overweight, and 17% of them are classified as obese!
The obesity epidemic is fueled by a culture of food pushers.
Corporate America is highly skilled at getting you to eat and drink things that are not good for you. Every day, we’re bombarded with the wrong messages: TV commercials, billboards and radio ads show us misleading images of happy, attractive people enjoying greasy fast food and dehydrating caffeinated drinks that decrease brain function and lower your self-control.
Did you know?
As the size of your waistline goes up, the size of your brain goes down?
In other words, the more overweight you are, the greater the stress on your physiology—particularly the increased inflammation in your body—which affects the volume of the grey matter between your ears, in addition to putting you at risk for serious medical problems.
Obesity is an underlying cause of many preventable diseases that result in lowered quality of life and even death, such as:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain cancers
To lose weight, the body part you need to be most concerned with isn’t your belly, butt or thighs… IT’S YOUR BRAIN!
The brain is your command and control center. It’s how you make good or bad decisions about behavior and food and tells you:
- What, when and how much to eat
- What to buy at the grocery store or order in a restaurant
- When and how often to exercise
The Problem with Diets
Most diets fail because they take a one-size-fits-all approach (no pun intended). Our work with SPECT imaging has shown us that there are multiple types of overeaters:
- Some are compulsive
- Some are impulsive
- Some are compulsive AND impulsive
- Some eat to improve their mood
- And, some eat to calm their worries
A diet that works well for one person may be completely wrong for another person. Why? Different brain systems drive different tendencies and behaviors.
The Five Types of Overeaters
Type 1. Compulsive Overeaters
People with this type tend to get stuck on thoughts of food. They hear the ice cream in the freezer calling their name… over and over and over again. They often feel compulsively driven to eat and might say they have no control over food. They also tend to be nighttime eaters because they worry and have trouble sleeping.
Compulsive overeaters tend to get stuck on thoughts or locked into one course of action. They often:
- Get stuck on thoughts about food
- Get stuck on their worries
- Are rigid and inflexible
- Have trouble seeing options
- Hold grudges
- Are oppositional or argumentative
- Feel like they MUST have things their way, or they get upset
SPECT scans show that compulsive overeaters generally have too much activity in the front part of their brains, especially in the anterior cingulate gyrus. When there is too much activity in this area, people tend to become stuck on negative thoughts or actions.
Overactivity in the anterior cingulate gyrus is most commonly caused by low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin; therefore, compulsive overeaters do best when we find natural ways to increase serotonin, which is calming to the brain. In addition, learning how to get “unstuck” from their thoughts about food and worries is very helpful.
Type 2. Impulsive Overeaters
People with this type struggle with impulsivity and have trouble controlling their behavior, even though they may begin each day with good intentions:
- They don’t think about food constantly, but whenever they see something they like, they can’t resist
- They have a hard time saying “no” even if they aren’t really hungry
- They have a hard time bypassing a second—or third or fourth—slice of pizza, piece of cake, or helping of mashed potatoes.
The most common brain SPECT finding in this type is decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex which is most commonly associated with low levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Impulsive overeating is common among people who have ADD, which has also been associated with low dopamine levels in the brain. People with ADD struggle with:
- A short attention span
Research suggests that having untreated ADD nearly doubles the risk for being overweight. Without proper treatment, it is nearly impossible for these people to be consistent with any nutrition plan.
Impulsive overeating may also be the result of some form of toxic exposure, a near-drowning accident, a brain injury to the front part of the brain, or a brain infection, such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Overweight smokers and heavy coffee drinkers also tend to fit this type.
Impulsive overeating may worsen with food or treatment that boosts serotonin because this neurotransmitter calms the brain and although it can decrease worries it also decreases impulse control.
Things that deplete dopamine levels are also a problem, so we help impulsive overeaters by boosting dopamine levels and strengthening the prefrontal cortex.
Type 3. Impulsive-Compulsive Overeaters
People with this type have a combination of both impulsive and compulsive features. On the surface it seems almost contradictory, but people can be both impulsive and compulsive at the same time (think of the compulsive gambler, who cannot stop focusing on placing a bet and has no restraint to prevent him from doing it).
- These people often think about food all day long
- Many people with bulimia have this type
- This type is particularly common in children and grandchildren of alcoholics or people who have a significant family history of alcoholism
SPECT scans of impulsive – compulsive overeaters tend to show:
- Too much activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus, so people get stuck on their thoughts
- Too little activity in the prefrontal cortex, so they have trouble putting on the brakes and saying, “no.”
The high activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus is associated with low serotonin levels while the low activity in the prefrontal cortex is likely due to low dopamine levels. People with impulsive – compulsive overeating therefore, do best with treatments that raise both serotonin and dopamine (using serotonin or dopamine interventions by themselves usually makes the problem worse). It is also very important to strengthen the prefrontal cortex and practice strategies to increase mental flexibility and “get unstuck.”
Type 4. Sad or Emotional Overeaters
People with this type tend to use food to medicate underlying feelings of sadness and to calm the emotional storms in their brains. They often struggle with:
- Low self-esteem
- Pain issues
- Decreased libido
- Periods of crying
- Low energy levels
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of interest in usually pleasurable activities
- Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
For some people, these feelings come and go with the seasons and tend to worsen in winter. Others experience mild feelings of chronic sadness, called dysthymia. Still others suffer from more serious depressions. This type is more frequently seen in women.
The SPECT findings of sad or emotional overeaters typically reveal markedly increased activity in the deep limbic areas of the brain—commonly seen in mood disorders and in people who have had emotional trauma—and decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Treating mood disorders with behavioral interventions, natural supplements, and medication when needed, can be the key to weight loss.
Type 5. Anxious Overeaters
People with this type tend to use food to medicate their feelings of
They may be plagued by feelings of panic and self-doubt, and suffer physical symptoms of anxiety, such as:
- Muscle tension
- Nail biting
- Abdominal pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Sore muscles
It is as if anxious overeaters have an overload of tension and emotion. They tend to predict the worst and often complain of waiting for something bad to happen. They may be excessively shy, easily startled, and freeze in emotionally charged situations.
Certain behaviors and substances can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and make anxious overeaters more likely to eat in an attempt to make those feelings go away. For example:
- Focusing on the negative
- Believing every negative thought they have
- Too much caffeine or other stimulating substances
- Drinking alcohol
The SPECT scans of anxious overeaters often show increased activity in the basal ganglia, which is commonly caused by low levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA. Interventions to boost GABA combined with relaxation techniques that calm the brain are generally the most helpful.
Why We are Different
By discovering your particular brain type, we get very important information that helps us create the best nutrition and lifestyle plan to help you:
- Lose weight
- Optimize brain function
- Become healthier
- Increase energy
We can help you break the weight loss/weight gain cycle for good!
The Amen Clinics Method—developed through 26 years of clinical practice—uses a detailed clinical history, SPECT imaging to understand brain function, neuropsychological testing and laboratory studies to target treatment specifically to your brain using the least toxic, most effective means.