By John Salak –
Dieting is like gambling in Las Vegas; the odds are against people. Gamblers may have better odds of success than dieters, as an estimated 95 percent of those looking to shed pounds through trimming calories fail in the long run.
Nutritionists, fitness experts and doctors all give a lot of reasons for this sad set of statistics, including that diets tend to have unrealistic goals, induce stress and focus on short-term gains.
Now, this is another unsavory reason. The brain works against diets, undermining their ability to shed pounds. It is like having the deck stacked against dieters, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute. They report that during a diet, the brain changes how it communicates, leading nerve cells to send stronger hunger signals.
The pudgy endgame leads to people eating more after a diet and gaining any lost weight back quickly. Dieters may gain even more weight than they shed because of these enhanced signals.
“People have looked mainly at the short-term effects of dieting. We wanted to see what changes in the brain in the long term,” explained study leader Henning Fenselau of the institute.
The researchers warned that these enhanced hunger signals were particularly counterproductive because they continued well after the diet ended, resulting in “long-lasting excessive hunger.”
The work helps to explain why so many dieters experience a “yo-yo effect” when trying to lose weight, which translates into pounds coming off and then back on.
While the research is depressing for those looking to sheds pounds, Fenselau said dieters should take heart. The findings related to diet and the brain show that drugs and therapies can be developed that can help block these post-diet hunger impulses.
“This could allow us to diminish the yo-yo effect,” he said. “In the long term our goal is to find therapies for humans that could help maintain body weight loss after dieting. To achieve this, we continue to explore how we could block the mechanisms that mediate the strengthening of the neural pathways in humans as well.”
At least, that’s an appetizing hope.