In this book, Dr. Cate shows how all calories are not created equal; food is information that directs our cellular growth. Our family history does not determine our destiny: what you eat and how you live can alter your DNA in ways that affect your health and the health of your future children.
If you find yourself fighting food cravings too many times a day to resist, if you’ve taken “just a piece” more often than you care to admit, you should know that your issue is no character flaw. In my experience, the motivation lapses that lead most folks into snacking excesses are coming from a serious metabolic problem, one that’s changing how your brain works. And this means that if you’ve been unsuccessful losing weight, there’s a strategy that you’ve probably never heard of before that just might make all the difference.
So far, the vast majority of self-help and motivation experts emphasize focusing on aligning your weight loss goals with other beliefs, judgements values, and expectations about yourself. They help people lose weight by identifying their reason for wanting to lose weight and adopting a new mindset of responsibility rather than rationalizations. This is all good stuff that has helped millions. But it would help so much more without the metabolic issues depriving your brain of needed energy.
From a metabolic perspective, motivation requires mental work. So, if you want more willpower, what you need is more energy—specifically for your brain. Getting energy to your brain cells is key to fortifying your willpower, and I make it the first priority when working with patients.
In other words, in order to lose weight, you need to boost your brain.
What does brain energy have to do with weight loss?
To lose weight you need to think clearly and be able to delay gratification. You need to plan ahead because planning is key to forming new, healthy and sustainable habits. There’s a lot of willpower that goes into forming new habits, too. It’s been my experience that the number one reason folks trying to eat healthier fall off the diet wagon has to do with a moment of low brain energy when they give in to a craving.
Let’s say there’s a Dairy Queen on your commute home from work. For the first few weeks of your no-ice cream New Year’s resolution, you’ve been able to resist the urge to pull over as you drive home. Then, after a particularly long and stressful day, your hands seem to work on their own to turn the wheel and the next thing you know you’re slurping down chocolate Blizzard bliss.
Psychologists call this kind of stress-induced loss of willpower “ego depletion.”
“Ego” is what gives us the ability to control our behavior. To psychologists, ego is not about being conceited or thinking highly of yourself. Ego is really about your perception of yourself, who you are as a person. your sense of self-control. According to psychologists, maintaining self control requires resources that exist in limited supply and can be depleted.
There is a physical basis for willpower lapses
Willpower requires mental work. Mental work, like all work, demands energy. If you have a damaged metabolism, your whole body requires more sugar (for reasons explained in The FATBURN Fix). And that leaves less sugar in the system for your brain. When brain cells don’t get enough sugar, your brain’s ability to do mental work declines.
According to Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, a social psychologist at Florida State University, “I discovered the role of glucose in self-control, more or less by accident. While testing a different theory, we stumbled on the finding that people who got some food showed improvements in self-control afterward — regardless of whether they had enjoyed the food. This led us into several years of work aimed at finding out how glucose is related to self-control.”
In recent years, some aspects of Baumeister’s Ego Depletion theory have been questioned, but the energy basis of mental work is based on 100 years of science. Authors of a wonderfully detailed popular science summary make this conclusion on the topic: “Local, temporally limited depletion of glucose within specific brain regions that is caused by increased cognitive demand, and limits performance on tasks mediated by those regions is now well established as fact: this component of the glucose model should no longer be controversial, despite the critiques of this element of the model.”
What’s abundantly clear is that acts of self-control require brain activity, and the science consistently shows locally reduce blood glucose levels in the most active areas of the brain after sustained work.
In simple terms, glucose sugar is one of the main chemicals in the bloodstream that carries energy to the brain. In even simpler terms, glucose is fuel for the brain. Like anything that requires energy to function, the ability to work is impaired when energy declines.
What’s more, low levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks and tests. Replenishing glucose, even just with a glass of orange juice, consistently improves self-control performance.
But, if your weight problems stem from sugar addiction, obviously this puts you in a real bind. To improve your willpower you need more of the very thing you’re trying to avoid.
Ego depletion means your sugar addiction is not just about pleasure
Sweet taste is one of the most addicting experiences known to man. Studies in lab rats given the options of sucrose water or cocaine have revealed that the animals will work harder for the sweet reward than for the drug.
Most of the psychologists who help folks with weight loss are well aware of this hedonistic challenge. But if low brain energy depletes willpower, this means in choosing to cut down sugar you’re fighting two battles at once.
I had a terrific sugar addiction. I used to run ten miles a day just so I could sit down to an entire 1 pound bag of peanut M&Ms reward. Then, I discovered Starbucks. My whole day soon revolved around arranging some kind of rendezvous with a mocha Frappuccino. I was so hooked that, while stationed in Jamestown North Dakota, I have to drive 100 miles each way to the nearest Starbucks once a week. On one occasion I got there moments too late, the person in front of me in line ordered the last of the mocha mix, and my whole week was ruined.
I never in my life thought I’d get over sugar. Especially not chocolate. But after I discovered how toxic seed oils are to the human body and started including an abundance of healthy whole food-based fats, I was shocked at how easy it was to get sugary treats out of my life.
How did I do it?
The Answer is Metabolic Flexibility
The job of your metabolism is to provide cells with energy. To do its job, your metabolism must be flexible and healthy.
Metabolic flexibility takes away the struggle to curb your cravings. It naturally boosts your willpower to such an extent that many people have told me the snack attacks that used to sabotage all their efforts just evaporated, as did mine. But because most of us are eating seed oils, most people lack metabolic flexibility. And without metabolic flexibility, any weight loss program becomes an exercise in self-sabotage.
What does metabolic flexibility do? It helps you access the energy stored in your body fat. In other words, it helps you burn fat for fuel.
You may be on a keto diet, which helps with burning dietary fat for fuel, but that does not mean you have metabolic flexibility. If you can’t burn your body fat, even if you do burn dietary fat, you’ll still experience cravings for snacks and find it difficult to cut calories, especially when mentally or emotionally stressed and “ego depleted.”
To achieve metabolic flexibility, your body fat must be cleaned of the high-PUFA seed oils that damage your metabolism. Once that happens, you will once again gain access to the energy stored in your body fat, enabling your body fat to work for you by sending your body’s cells the clean-burning energy that naturally suppresses hunger. Even better, the energy you get from healthy body fat supports brain function, enabling you to develop new habits necessary to effortlessly stick to a new way of eating once and for all.
To find out how flexible your metabolism is, I created a simple questionnaire.
To help you on your way and give you a leg up, I’ve created this handy quiz and worksheet for you…