This really is such a fascinating area that we are learning more and more about with every passing day. The most important point to make here is you CANNOT ignore the role of our brains and minds in your journey.
So perhaps not surprisingly the place we need to start today is our history as humans. Our humankind homo sapiens have for the vast majority of our existence lived in an environment of relative poverty. We evolved over millions of years in environments that were harsh and the food sources were generally low. If you have ever been out nature walking and especially if you have tried to survive out in the bush without taking food you will realise pretty quickly that it is not easy. It would be normal to go for periods without much food, constantly moving to feed on plants, roots, berries, honey, insects and hunting animals. We evolved to survive in such environments which meant we are really really good at living off a wide variety of foods, going for periods without it, and not needing a lot of it. Then came the processed food of the 1970s where all of a sudden for the first time in our history there was high calorie, high sugar, high-fat foods everywhere.
So if our brains and bodies are wired to seek high-calorie food to survive, which served us brilliantly for hundreds of thousands of years and then all of sudden the environment completely changes where high-calorie food is everywhere; is it much of a surprise we are where we are? The problem fundamentally is there is a mismatch between our biologies and our environments which is mediated through a variety of pathways like leptin. Some of us will crave more and retain more weight because you are used to storing energy for survival, and some scientists propose this is because you were the carers in the tribe, you retained weight to survive and look after others.
The problem is the food and other big industries know they can hack these aspects of our brain and minds and have been doing it for years. Your brain is already being hacked constantly and in many ways, we don’t realise. When we look at the average increase in food consumption over the past 40 or so years it is very clear. We have increased the amount of fat and refined carbohydrates we eat by about 30% on average. We are eating about a third more than we were 40 years ago. Ads and marketing are obvious examples of this manipulation but there are even more subtle situations. Next time you go to the supermarket you may notice a few things. Notice how the milk is at the back, why? Because it is one of the most consumed products and hence more people have to go through the entire store to get there and hence will buy more things. Look at the confectionery at checkouts, or end of the aisles on special, or in the most obvious corridors or at your eye level. Notice there are no clocks in the supermarket because they don’t want you to remember about the rest of your life and leave. These are just a few examples of techniques to get you mindlessly consuming more. If you don’t think you are susceptible to it, you are kidding yourself. Everyone is, but we can be more aware of it, defend against it and reclaim our minds.
The other challenge for our success is that when we start to lose weight the brain freaks out a little bit. It thinks that you are going to waste away and die so it does what it can to sabotage you and keep your weight on. It sends you hunger signals and it reduces your metabolic rate. So, these are manageable but the first step is to make you know that it may happen and that again – it is not your fault, it is not that we are weak or stupid or lazy or a have a lack of willpower, it is because our brains are simply wired to survive.