Why Dieting Doesn’t Usually Work, How Intermittent Fasting Does

Sandra Aamodt was 13 when she did her first diet. For the next 30 years, she was constantly on and off diets, with the same recurring result being that no matter how hard she tried, the weight would always come back .

What eventually got Sandra off the diet merry go round was an epiphany she had some three and a half years ago when she made the decision to give up dieting, stop worrying about her weight and learn to eat mindfully. Since then Sandra eats when she likes and has settled into a weight which remains stable, and is one that she is comfortable with.

diets don't work, intermittent fasting does

As a Neuro Scientist Sandra felt compelled to tell her story via a Ted Talk. Apart from the wisdom brought on through experience, it appears the intuition that finally brought Sandra to a mindful place, was coloured by the knowledge gained in her profession.

At this point you might be wondering why if Sandra Aamodt made such a compelling argument against any form of dieting, why would I be writing a piece espousing the benefits of Intermittent Fasting ? I feel its around the point of mindful eating where intermittent fasting has something to offer. I’ll return to this point in concluding later.

The Brain’s Regulation of Body Weight

The key message that Sandra Aamodt raised in her TED Talk was that the hypothalamus exerts  an extraordinary level of control over our body weight. It basically has “in it’s own mind” a idea of what weight you should be, and allows deviation from that point to around 5-10 kilograms (for most people).

The hypothalamus acts then like a thermostat, adjusting hunger, activity and metabolism, keeping your weight around the level which it has deemed correct. In other words if you lose a lot of weight, your hypothalamus will respond by using tools to push your body back to what it considers normal. Hormonally this is reflected in what happens to “insulin”.

Insulin: an Evolutionary “Fat-Storing” Hormone

Insulin’s role in the body harks back to our evolutionary history when food on the whole was scarce (for 90% of our evolutionary history it has been scarce). When food becomes scarce (i.e famine or modern day dieting) the hypothalamus gives insulin the message to start storing fat. Insulin becomes “resistant” to burning nutrients, so that it can instead stores those nutrients (calories) as fat. Our very survival as a species depended on being very good at that.  The problem of course now though, in our modern world where food is plentiful, is that we’re still hard-wired to efficiently store fat.

Perversely what was once a survival strategy, has now become a major underlying source of premature death in our modern world. Unfortunately, “insulin resistance” it turns out, also comes about in reverse, when we consume too many calories. Researchers have found an obvious link with excess consumption of refined carbohydrate, others such as Dr Ron Rosedale extend the link to excess protein consumption as well.  * Interestingly fats don’t tend to cause excess insulin production leading to insulin resistance.

With too much refined carbohydrates and or excess protein coming in,  the cells start to “resist” them. Those nutrients (calories) are then either not absorbed or get stored as fat. With “insulin resistance” in place constant hunger ensures, coupled with the body thinking it’s back in famine times. To top it all off, this cascade of physiological events further locks us into the vicious cycle of increasing weight gain.

So How Can Intermittent Fasting Help?

Most of the better modern day “diets” are working on bringing about the same remedy, that is to lower “insulin resistance”. Paleo Diet for instance tends to helps in weight loss because it cuts out most refined carbohydrates, thereby lowering insulin resistance. Thereafter the body is no longer actively storing fat, but can actually burn stored fat. For the same sort of reasons, diets emphasizing more fat (which don’t tend to cause insulin resistance) can also be effective.

Intermittent Fasting (IF) also serves to ultimately lower insulin resistance. Typically Intermittent Fasting works on the basis that for a period the body goes into the “fasted state” where it is forced to access glycogen and fat stores to fuel metabolism.  IF can be done on a daily basis such as when skipping breakfast and then eating only between lunch and dinner (an 8 hour window). The other 16 hours is the period in which the fasted state is accessed. Alternatively an IF Diet, like The 5:2 Fast Diet  by Micheal Mosley has you eat normally for 5 Day and then for 2 Days eat a very low calorie diet. Either way, at some point the body goes into the “fasted state” which acts to lower cellular inflammation (food is often the catalyst of inflammation). With food out of the way, the body has an opportunity to re-set itself, which includes (over time) the gradual restoration of insulin sensitivity.

Coming to a Point of Mindful Eating

The underlying truth remains that the hypothalamus is the primary regulator of weight and because it is so dominant, diets are far more likely to ultimately put more weight back on you than what you lost initially.

Diets that restore healthy insulin levels however, take our metabolisms back to where they innately should be. That is, they enable you to burn stored fat to fuel metabolism in between meals. Re-adapted to effectively burn fat, instead of sugar (as most people these days are), energy levels are then able to remain far more stable.

The fact is there is far more to diet than what we simply consume and what we burn off. Our unique physiological constitutional type is also especially important, as is our psychological profile when it comes to our relationship with food. Michael Mosley from The 5:2 Fast Diet I think was spot on in commenting on this study, saying that we need to take an integrative approach to modelling individual diet.

Sandra Aamodt simply stopped warring with herself and settled into a more mindful relationship with her eating habits. That is is where we all need to get to. If you’re ready to take that pledge, then all the power to you.  There are however many paths to finding peace of mind.  I say if a diet helps you get there, then that can’t be a bad thing.

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Aaron Travers is author and creator of “ The Boda Cleanse– The 4-Step Intermittent Fasting Program to Detox, Burn Fat and Restore Vitality.”   Aaron writes at www.thebodacleanse.com.au giving tips and personal insights on how to bring more health promoting simplicity into our lives .




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