FNCE® 2018 Session Review: The Neurobiology of Dieting

November 30, 2018
By: Michelle Iannacchino

woman smelling flowers

The Neurobiology of Dieting: Evidence for Improving Mental Health with a Self-Care Approach

FNCE® 2018

Date: Tuesday, October 23

Speakers: Sandra Aamodt, PhD, Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, EP-C

Session Description: Dieting is a topic that has consumed our society for quite a long time. Whether it’s due to medical reasoning or personal preference, most people have or will attempt weight loss at some point. Diets were developed to promote weight loss and healthier eating habits. However, scientific research and life experiences suggest that dieting may have the reverse effect. Dieting may damage mental health by contributing to body image issues, depression, and eating disorders. The biological reason that diets do not work lies in the brain’s role in defending a weight range that is specific to each individual. Learning new habits contributes to better mind and body health even without weight loss. Encouraging a self-care approach for bodies of all sizes will be essential for our society to embrace and for professionals in the field to help promote. Some key points included the following.

  • The hypothalamus in the brain is considered the “weight thermostat” since it controls homeostatic regulation. Issues begin to occur when levels begin to go below or above the desired range.
  • A study on the Biggest Loser contestants six years after the show illustrated that 13 of the 14 contestants regained the weight, and four of them are heavier now than they were before.
  • Dieting increases the risk of the following: gaining weight 1-15 years later, binge eating, developing eating disorders, eating when not hungry, eating for emotional reasons, and eating because food is available.
  • The highest weight-related causes of stress include dieting, body dissatisfaction, discrimination, and poverty.
  • A self-care approach has been shown to help the brain with repeated, rewarding actions without centering on weight loss.
  • Higher levels of weight stigma doubled the risk of high allostatic load.
  • Weight discrimination has been associated with an increase in mortality risk of nearly 60%.
  • BMI is not always the best indicator of health. Emphasizing weight loss as the positive outcome to improve health in most people can be misleading and may be harmful to some.
  • Dieting affects a person’s mental state and metabolism.
  • Some of the physical effects include suppressed metabolism, weight gain, increased body fat, muscle loss, gallstones, osteoporosis, and inflammation.
  • Shifting towards a self-care and mindfulness-based approach should come from value-centered decision making: Presence, Acceptance, Choosing, and Taking Action.