Why Some People are Overweight And Others Aren’t
“In most modern western societies over half the population are overweight and half of those are obese. About 85% of people embarking on a diet eventually fail; regaining the weight they lost, and often more than they lost.”
Why Do Many People Make Unhealthy Food Choices?
This is a trillion dollar question where many believe the answer is ‘lack of willpower’ or education; truth is it’s not that simple. It’s actually rather complicated and has little to do with either education or willpower, and everything to do with how our brain and endocrine satiety system work. The good news is, our brains are malleable; they can be changed, they can be rewired; as can our satiety endocrine system.
Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.
Human smarts is not due to the numbers of brain neurons we have been blessed with. Our smarts come from the number of “connections” made between these neurons. These connections establish memories, logic and the “how to’s” and “habits” of our lives. Including our eating habits.
When born, humans have few connections, but as we grow and soak up our environment the connections rapidly expand. When born the average human brain weighs about 350 grams (~12 Ounces) and has around 100 billion neurons. By age 5, the average human brain weighs about 1.3 Kilograms (~3 pounds) but still has around the same 100 billion neurons; the extra weight is connections, about a quadrillion of them (1,000,000,000,000,000) that’s a heap. Even then a single connection can be a part of many different patterns, it is truly mind boggling!
Neural Plasticity reaches its peak about the age of five, and then slowly declines. Most of connections and patterns we use to automate our lives have been formed.
I shall call some of the gazillions of patterns formed via the connections in our brain Mind Maps. Mind Maps make human life possible, without them we would not survive. We will have a Mind Map of how we get dressed; socks before pants or pants before socks. Whatever our Mind Map is (socks before pants or vice versa) the chances are we will do it the same way for the rest of our lives. Mind Maps influence our personality, whether we a conservative or liberal; they make us who we are.
We also develop Mind Maps of things. Driving our car is automatic, we don’t have to consciously think about it, it just happens. We don’t have to search for the accelerator or brake, or look each time for where to insert the ignition key, or read the user manual to find out how to put the headlights on high beam. After we have developed our Mind Map of the car, it’s all subconscious and automatic. The car Mind Map makes driving easy and effortless.
What happens when we trade our car for a new one? Driving is not so effortless or easy.
We have to consciously think about it, make decisions and answer questions; like how do I turn the radio on? In time the Mind Map of the new car will be developed (usually about three weeks with consistent driving) and will override the previous car’s Mind Map. It is important to note that the old car’s Mind Map will not be completely forgotten, it’s always there in the background. If we had the need to drive the old car again it would only take minutes for everything to come flooding back; driving it becomes effortless very quickly.
Without Mind Maps we would have to make conscious decisions and apply conscious thought to just about everything we do. If that were the case our human life would hardly be worth living.
Essentially this means that for most of the everyday actions we take we a running on autopilot. Eating is an everyday action.
Our Personal Mind Map.
Beyond how we get dressed and drive our car we each have a Mind Map of ourselves. This self Mind Map is thought to encompass many things like our personality, soul, ego, spirit; in short it is the computer program and description of about ourselves that we have. It is incredibly complex and includes our eating habits. This self Mind Map is subconscious. Just as our conscious view of ourselves may be different to our subconscious Mind Map of ourselves; how we think we are is likely to be different to what other people think of us.
The Mind Map of the self makes life easy and effortless because we don’t have to make conscious thought decisions about every single awake action we take.
Our personal Mind Map has been derived from the repetition of past experiences, it knows what we like and what we don’t like, what tastes good and what doesn’t. Our Mind Map has been determined by our past actions and it is the result from them. Our Mind Map makes decisions for us all of the time. These decisions are subconscious; they happen “under the hood” automatically without a conscious request from “us” and they are fast. They occur much more quickly than conscious decision making can be initiated and completed. Our personal Mind Map subconsciously influences the decisions we make everyday, based on what we felt provided the best result regarding that same decision situation in past.
This applies to which type of pizza we order, and whether we have our eggs sunny side up or over easy. Whether we choose the banana in preference to chocolate will be made by our Mind Map first, to override the influence of our Mind Map requires either willpower or self control; or a new mind map!
Does Willpower Actually Exist?
Modern neuroscientists are questioning whether the concept of “free will” actually exists. Their theory is based on the fact that our subconscious mind works much faster than our conscious mind. The emotional centres of our brain in conjunction with our Mind Map have decided on what our “choice” should be before any conscious thought kicks in. Further, the conscious logic we use to “justify”, or “or apply logic and reason”, to the decision is “made up” by the conscious “us” to fit with the subconscious thought that has preceded it.
Given 85% of weight loss diets fail, and humans are intelligent who know bananas are more healthy than chocolate; why is almost half the world’s population overweight?
Why do only15% of weight loss diet participants succeed long term?
The answer: most diets are based on food and exercise routines that do not fit with our existing eating habit and exercise Mind Maps, or our neural emotional reward systems. It can be viewed this way. Food and Exercise are are symptoms related to fatness not the cause. Diets deal with the symptoms and not the cause; its no wonder most don’t work.
Diets that require willpower do not work in 85% of cases. Although this doesn’t mean that willpower was responsible for all or any of the 15% success rate either. So what is?
Self Control Vs Willpower.
Willpower is about a battle with ourselves. Anyone who has dieted, successfully or not, knows about this battle. Self control and willpower are two entirely different concepts. A human’s degree of self control is a component of their personal subconscious Mind Map, whereas willpower is NOT. Our level of personal self control also seems to be set while we are very young. For more on this topic watch this this VIDEO.
What are our chances of losing weight?
Keep doing the same thing and you will keep getting the same result. Focus on food and exercise alone and rely on willpower for success, and the failure rate will remain at 85%. This is true, if and only if, our personal Mind Map with regard to our self control and eating habits remains the same.
Fortunately by understanding Neural Plasticity, we can change our Mind Map. As it changes for the better the need for willpower decreases, and in time, healthy eating decisions become more automatic, effortless and less stressful. That is, the emotional battle between the banana and chocolate will slow and eventually, disappear. Without struggle and in accordance with your new Mind Map. Permanent weight loss then becomes a reality we can live with happily and forever. It should be noted that the emotional battle varies from individual to individual. For some, it will be the banana Vs chocolate, for others it may be that they eat everything on the plate whether hungry or not, or it could be that eating helps dealing with stress, or just something they do when they are bored.