Understanding how the brain weight controller works


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Adjust Your Brain's Weight Regulating Controls

Serena Harstad

Have you ever watched someone who looks healthy and slender eating

a slice of chocolate cake and wondered how they stay thin? Part of the story is that a set-point in the brain keeps their body fat and weight level from varying much ~ that is, unless they do something that causes their brain to change the set-point.
That is what happened when I stopped smoking. After being slender all my life, I quit cigarettes and gained almost 25 pounds! I had unknowingly triggered a reaction that changed a weight control mechanism in my brain. My body began making fat out of everything I ate, where it formerly eliminated excess calories (quitting nicotine is only one of many life changes that can cause your brain's body-weight controls to be adjusted upward).

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I'll refer to the weight controller in your brain as the 'set-point.' A good image for understanding how the set-point works is to think of the thermostat for heating and cooling your house. If the temperature is set at 70 degrees, then the room's warmth doesn't change by more than a degree or two before the thermostat tells the air conditioner to cool it down, or the furnace to heat it up.
The set-point in your brain functions in a similar way, maintaining a consistent fat ratio and weight level through the interaction of metabolic activity and hormones. To cover the chemistry of how this process works goes beyond this article's scope. It's sufficient to know that if you've gained (or lost) weight, it's because your set-point has been changed. Therefore, if you'd like to lose (or gain) weight, there are specific actions to take to adjust the set-point to the level you desire.
First, eat the right things. This is not difficult, if you follow these clear guidelines: a) Keep refined carbohydrates to a minimum. That is, avoid foods made with sugar or flour. b) Eat less fat, but that doesn't mean to use products labeled 'low-fat' such as low-fat mayonnaise. Producers have to use so many chemicals to make low-fat, processed foods taste OK that you're better off just eating the real thing - only less of it. Also, eat less animal fat, like cheese, butter and marbled meat. c) Eat complex carbohydrates: whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Your body recognizes these as normal foods, so it will process them to give you energy now, instead of giving you stored energy (fat).
Second, drink water. Water is necessary for proper metabolism and it helps your body eliminate excesses, especially toxins. Tea, coffee, sweet juices, soda (diet or regular), and alcohol make no contribution to your health or metabolism. If you use them at all, keep it to a minimum.
Third, do the right kind of exercise: large muscle, rhythmic, and sustained for half to a full hour. If this seems like a long time, ask yourself how much you value your health - how important losing weight is to you. You won't change the set-point in your brain without a certain kind of exercise. Period. The exercise can be a pleasure if you do the right type. We're not talking about calisthenics, thank goodness.
For exercise that will adjust the set-point, 'large muscle' means in particular to use your legs. Walking is the ideal exercise to begin with; you don't need special gear or equipment. You could also swim, bike, or jog. Do something you can enjoy. 'Rhythmic' refers to exercise you do steadily, repetitively. 'Sustained' means continuous - no stopping. The minimum is 30 minutes a day. For quickest results, an hour daily is better. Your heart rate should be at a level where you exert yourself, but can still have a conversation. Go much higher than that level, and you're no longer doing set-point changing exercise. In this case, 'no pain-no gain' is undesirable.
If you make a habit of these three things, (eating, drinking and exercising the right way), your set-point will change. You'll lose weight. By adopting these habits, I shed the 25 pounds I had gained when I quit smoking. In the process, I developed some pleasant behaviors that have improved my overall health as well as the quality of my life. It's an enjoyable lifestyle to eat tasty whole foods, have the pleasure of a daily walk, and quench thirst with pure water. I feel good these days, and being slender is a nice bonus. You'll feel good, too when you adopt these habits. Your body will thank you, and bless you with glowing health.

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