The Surprising Reason You Gain Weight – It’s Not Just the Food You Eat

Dr. Janet Zand

January 31, 2020

Do you struggle to keep your weight down? And does it seem difficult, if not impossible, to follow a skincare routine? If that describes you, it might not be your fault. Researchers have discovered a scientific reason behind these never-ending internal battles.

What’s more, their discovery can help you deal with these struggles and finally find success. In fact, you’ll be able to maximize your overall health, protect your brain, and see a younger looking you.

It’s always exciting to discover research that shows how our anti-aging strategies dovetail to protect us inside and out. Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (known as the Neuro) have been looking at MRIs and cognitive test results. They’ve gathered data from 1,200 participants. And they’ve found some surprising correlations between body mass index (BMI) and how your brain functions.

In particular, the participants with higher BMIs tended to have lower cognitive flexibility. This means they had a harder time delaying gratification. That can translate to failed diet and exercise plans. It also means it can be harder to stick with healthy skin routines, like washing your face before bed.

When the researchers looked at the participants’ brain scans, they found that the high-BMI participants tended to have thicker left prefrontal cortexes. Their right prefrontal cortexes were thinner. Here’s why that’s important.

We know from other studies that damage to the right prefrontal cortex is associated with increased food intake. And the left amygdala, which helps give food cues, was larger in the high-BMI people as well.

Together, these brain differences may indicate that people with thinning in the brain have a harder time with visual food cues. When they see food, it triggers a desire to eat whether they’re hungry or not. They may also have trouble putting the negative effects of poor food choices in context. That can lead to weight gain. And it can mean that you consume more of the fatty, sugary foods that can harm your skin and fewer fruits and vegetables that give you a healthy glow.

A number of sibling and twin sets participated in the study. So the researchers were able to consider some genetic factors in their findings. As the twins and siblings who participated in the study show, genetic programming may drive some of the thinning.

However, this doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be obese or suffer from breakouts because of your genes. Other research has linked thinning to poor habits as well. Unfortunately, this can create a vicious cycle. So it’s important to be aware of how these habits harm the brain. But all of this does provide some key clues that people struggling with their weight or their skin should keep in mind. And it gives you an idea of how you can overcome these struggles.

Tip #1: Set Up Some External Accountability

The first thing you need to do is provide yourself with more external accountability. For some people, this might be something as simple as setting up a reminder on their phone to wash their face at night. For others, diet programs such as Weight Watchers that have external accountability in place can be especially helpful. This could be one reason these programs are so successful. They help people overcome these issues in their brain.

Cognitive training can help as well. Knowing how your brain may be structured can help you understand the challenges you’ve had in the past. And it can help you come up with new strategies to overcome them. For instance, training your brain to think differently when food is placed in front of you can help you overcome the food cues that are hard to resist.

Tip #2: The Impact of Exercise

As we discussed earlier, it’s important to avoid brain thinning. And a sedentary lifestyle causes thinning of the brain. And it does so quite fast. Sadly, the thinning it causes are in the brain regions involved in the formation of new memories.

Researchers looked at MRIs from 35 people ranging in age from 45 to 75. They asked about physical activity levels as well as how many hours per day they spend sitting.

Sure enough, the researchers found that being sedentary for much of the day is a significant predictor of thinning in the medial temporal lobe (MTL). The MTL is responsible for helping the brain form new memories. And unfortunately, even strenuous but concentrated exercise isn’t enough to offset the effects of sitting for most of the day.

The researchers are planning to continue their investigations to confirm causation. But this study is a very important reminder of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Following an appropriate exercise program is vital for your brain, your waistline, and your skin.

Look for ways to incorporate activity throughout the day. Getting your blood flowing regularly will boost circulation throughout your body. This will help your brain and move nutrient-rich blood all the way to your extremities – including your skin.

Apps and trackers that remind you to get up and move every hour are a good start. But a minute or two out of every 60 probably isn’t enough. Try to turn phone calls or conferences into walking meetings. Spend time cooking or gardening instead of outsourcing these activities. A bonus is that you’ll probably eat better! Play tag with your grandkids instead of watching from a park bench.

Tip #3: Get Up and Get Outside

Getting outside is a particularly good way to be more active. And it can benefit your brain in other ways too. In fact, researchers from the University of Alberta have found that your brain functions differently when you’re outside – even if you’re doing the same activity you do inside.

A standard neuroscience task that researchers use is asking participants to identify changes. For example, they flag a beep that sounds higher than the other sounds. The Alberta researchers asked participants to perform such tasks on stationary bikes in the lab.

Then they took the tasks outside. The researchers loaded their EEG equipment into backpacks and put the participants on real bikes.

The researchers were surprised to find that being outside actually changed the participants’ brain activity. The researchers knew the participants were dividing their attention between completing the task and riding the bike. But that was true in the lab too. Outdoors, the participants’ brains spent more time sensing and perceiving information. This might be because the outside world presents additional distractions and stimuli.

The researchers are interested in learning more about what people pay attention to outside. They hope to eventually use this information to make places like roads and pedestrian walkways safer. But we can use this information to our advantage too.

You’ve probably heard that engaging the brain in new activities helps preserve cognitive function as you age. It’s true! But you might not want to start yet another new hobby. Many people feel like they hardly have enough time for the hobbies they already have.

Instead, try taking your hobby outside. Whether you do yoga, paint, cross-stitch, or do crossword puzzles, moving the activity outdoors can make it a whole new experience. Plus, the simple act of gathering your gear and taking it outside can help combat those sedentary habits I warned you about earlier.

Tip #4: Supplement With Your Diet With Brain-Healthy Nutrients

If you've ever gone through a very stressful situation, you know it can take a toll on your memory. It's not unusual for the death of a loved one, a job loss, or some other event to leave us feeling like we've been robbed of some brain power. We know that stress can cause memory loss due to this thinning mechanism. So what can you do to stop it? A new study has some tasty answers.

A recent study found that supplementing the diets of stressed young rats with blueberries and strawberries improves both behavior and cognitive function.

To find out just how helpful these berries are for the brain, researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and University of Maryland Baltimore County gave rats a berry diet for two months. Then they subjected the rats' brains to irradiation, a model for accelerated aging. After the diet, the researchers split the rats into two groups, one they evaluated after 36 hours of radiation and the other after 30 days.

The results were outstanding. According to investigator Shibu Poulose, PhD, "After 30 days on the same berry diet, the rats experienced significant protection against radiation compared to the control. We saw significant benefits to diets with both of the berries, and speculate it is due to the phytonutrients present."

The researchers evaluated the neurochemical changes in the brain, particularly studying autophagy, which regulates the synthesis, degradation, and recycling of cellular components. It's especially important because it's the method by which the brain clears toxins. And, according to Poulose, “Berries seem to promote autophagy, the brain's natural housekeeping mechanism, thereby reducing the toxic accumulation.”

Since the rat studies were so effective, the researchers are now conducting a study of people ages 60-75. The lead investigator, Dr. Barbara Shukitt-Hale, says, "We have a lot of animal work that suggests these compounds will protect the aged brain and reverse some behavioral deficits. We are hoping it will translate to human studies as well."

Of course, you don't need to wait for the results of that study to come in before adding more berries to your diet. They're full of nutritional benefits for your brain and your skin.

In addition to eating more berries, make sure you’re taking other brain nutrients, like those found in Advanced Memory Formula. These nutrients help preserve your memories during stressful times and help supercharge your brain's ability to fight and heal from stress-related damage.

Being called thick-headed might be an insult. But being thick-brained is a good thing! Having a thick brain can help you stay on track with healthy habits. You’ll be better able to choose foods that help you maintain healthy skin and stay at a healthy weight. And the regular exercise that supports a healthy brain can help your skin healthy too by boosting circulation. Altogether, you’ll be engaging in strategies that work together to keep you looking and feeling healthy and vibrant. That glow and energy boost you experience definitely won’t be all in your head.

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