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Posts tagged ‘maintenance’

Obese Brain May Thwart Weight Loss: Diets High in Saturated Fat, Refined Sugar May Cause Brain Changes That Fuel Overconsumption

Diets high in saturated fat and refined sugar may cause changes to the brains of obese people that in turn may fuel overconsumption of those same foods and make weight loss more challenging, new research indicates. (Credit: iStockphoto/Geo Martinez)

Just because you lose the weight doesn’t mean you regain the brain function. This could help explain why it is so difficult for formerly obese people to keep the weight off.”


ScienceDaily (Oct. 1, 2012) — “Betcha can’t eat just one!” For obese people trying to lose weight, advertising slogans such as this one hit a bit too close to home as it describes the daily battle to resist high calorie foods.

But new research by Terry Davidson, director of American University’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, indicates that diets that lead to obesity — diets high in saturated fat and refined sugar — may cause changes to the brains of obese people that in turn may fuel overconsumption of those same foods and make weight loss more challenging.

“It is a vicious cycle that may explain why obesity is so difficult to overcome,” said Davidson, also a professor of psychology at AU.

Davidson recently published his research, “The Effects of a High-Energy Diet on Hippocampal-Dependent Discrimination Performance and Blood-Brain Barrier Integrity Differ for Diet-Induced Obese and Diet-Resistant Rats,” in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

Fat Rats Suffer Memory Impairment, Damage to Brain’s Armor

Davidson, formerly with Purdue University, focuses his research on the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

For this study, Davidson and his team trained rats given restricted access to low-fat “lab chow” on two problems — one that tested the rats’ hippocampal-dependent learning and memory abilities and one that did not. Once the training phase completed, the rats were split into two groups: one group had unlimited access to the low-fat lab chow, while the other had unlimited access to high-energy (high-fat/calorie) food.

The high-energy food was high in saturated fat (animal fats, such as those found in cheese or meat or certain plant-based fats, such as cottonseed oil and coconut oil) — considered to be the most unhealthful dietary fat as research has linked it to cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

When both groups of rats were presented the problems again, the rats that became obese from the high-energy diet performed much more poorly than the non-obese rats did on the problem designed to test hippocampal-dependent learning and memory. They tested the same as the non-obese rats on the other problem.

When the researchers later examined all of the rats’ blood-brain barriers (if the brain were an exclusive nightclub, the blood-brain barrier — a tight network of blood vessels protecting the brain — would be the bouncer at the door carefully policing who gets in), they found that the obese rats’ blood-brain barriers had become impaired as they allowed a much larger amount of a dye that does not freely cross the blood-brain barrier into the hippocampus than did blood-brain barriers of the non-obese rats (the dye was administered to all of the rats).

Interestingly, the non-obese rats group included rats from both the low-fat lab chow group and the high-energy diet group. But this isn’t a matter of some rats having a super-high metabolism that allowed them eat to large amounts of the high-energy food and remain a reasonable weight.

“The rats without blood-brain barrier and memory impairment also ate less of the high-energy diet than did our impaired rats,” Davidson said. “Some rats and some people have a lower preference for high-energy diets. Our results suggest that whatever allows them to eat less and keep the pounds off also helps to keep their brains cognitively healthy.”

A Vicious Cycle

The hippocampus is also responsible for suppressing memories. If Davidson’s findings apply to people, it could be that a diet high in saturated fat and refined sugar impacts the hippocampus’s ability to suppress unwanted thoughts — such as those about high-calorie foods, making it more likely that an obese person will consume those foods and not be able to stop at what would be considered a reasonable serving.

“What I think is happening is a vicious cycle of obesity and cognitive decline,” Davidson said. “The idea is, you eat the high fat/high calorie diet and it causes you to overeat because this inhibitory system is progressively getting fouled up. And unfortunately, this inhibitory system is also for remembering things and suppressing other kinds of thought interference.”

Davidson’s findings are compatible with other studies finding a link between human obesity in middle age and an increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive dementias later in life.

“We are trying to figure out that link,” Davidson said. “We have compelling evidence that overconsumption of a high fat diet damages or alters the blood-brain barrier. Now we are interested in the fact that substances that are not supposed to get to the brain are getting to it because of this breakdown. You start throwing things into the brain that don’t belong there, and it makes sense that brain function would be affected.”

A Lifelong Battle

As evidenced by contestants of NBC’s reality show “The Biggest Loser,” formerly obese celebrities who undergo gastric by-pass surgery, and other numerous examples of extreme weight loss, it is possible for obese people to win the battle of the bulge. Unfortunately, the attempt to keep it off is, more often than not, a lifelong battle that requires permanent lifestyle changes. Davidson says this could be due in part to permanent changes in the brain.

“I do think it [the damage] becomes permanent, but I don’t know at what point it becomes permanent,” Davidson said. “Other research has found that obese people and formerly obese people have weaker hippocampal activity when consuming food than do people who have never been obese. Just because you lose the weight doesn’t mean you regain the brain function. This could help explain why it is so difficult for formerly obese people to keep the weight off.”

Huckabee Regains Weight Why is it so Hard to Maintain Weight Loss? Is it a Food Addiction?

by Barbara Berkeley, MD

AUGUST 30, 2012

More on Weight and Politics


This post written last year is getting an enormous number of hits from online searches during the Republican Convention.   I thought I’d recycle it here for other readers.  It seems like a great many people are paying close attention to the weight sagas of our politicians.  The struggles of men like Huckabee and Christie  should be more than just tabloid fodder because they illustrate the extreme difficulty of weight control in the modern environment….even for closely observed public figures.

Huckabee: Eating His Words, Unfortunately Pancakes Too

by Barbara Berkeley, MD


Ah, the addictive power of modern food.  Never underestimate it.

On a recent trip to New York I happened to be flipping through the channels on my in-flight TV when I ran across Mike Huckabee doing an interview on Fox News.  I was surprised to see that he had gained his weight back.  The former governor of Arkansas and presidential candidate had staked quite a bit on the success of his 100 pound reduction in 2003.   He ran marathons, wrote a book about diet and made obesity and healthy living a central issue in his political portfolio.  He was appointed to expert panels and interviewed endlessly about his success.  Yet even this very public and seemingly committed person could not avoid regain right in front of our eyes.  In other words, he did an Oprah.

Huckabee thin
Huckabee’s weight loss was motivated by a doctor who told the Governor that he would likely die in less than 10 years if he remained obese.  To his credit, Huckabee took this message seriously, lost the weight and became a flag bearer for the healthy living movement.  What could have caused him to put it all back on?

Huckabee-fatI have worked with enough maintainers over the years to know that even long term, successful POWs(previously overweight persons) fear that they are just one wrong spoonful from total regain. Huckabee’s weight saga and the many other cautionary tales that play out in the public arena validate this concern.

Did anything that Huckabee said during his lean years foreshadow his return to obesity?  I believe he left some clues.

1. In an interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta , Mr. Huckabee said this about his weight loss:

“I had to learn that it was a change of lifestyle. And my goal wasn’t to lose weight. And that’s why this time I was successful, as opposed to previous times in my life. And I would lose weight, but then gain it back and add some to it.”

Whether it’s Huckabee speaking or someone else,  there is rarely a discussion about weight loss that doesn’t include the words “change of lifestyle”.  For me, this phrase is a red flag, a shorthand for nothing.  Governor Huckabee’s words sound very reasonable because they restate the conventional wisdom.  But conventiona wisdom can often be just that: conventional.  Few realize that it is crucial to delve into the details of “lifestyle change”.  The assumption is that it means fewer calories and more exercise.  But truly successful maintainers would tell you that a maintenance life is something quite different.  It is a well-reasoned, controlled existence that is structured around a healthy avoidance of specific trigger foods.  It involves a specifically designed and executed eating style, a reliance on supported environments, specific and consistent exercise routines, and the maintenance of extreme vigilance.  This is because modern food is addictive, and it takes several layers of planning to oppose it.

2. In 2010, when Huckabee’s weight regain was already apparent, he wrote an opinion piece for Fox called, In Praise of McDonald’s.  It was written after efforts by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to eliminate toys from Happy Meals.  Here are some exerpts:

“Blaming the packaging of a toy for overeating and under-exercising of kids makes silly what ought to be a serious issue: Obesity is a serious problem that has stunning health consequences and staggering economic consequences. But it hasn’t been caused by toys and won’t be resolved by getting rid of toys.

When a person is overfed and then under-exercised so that more calories are consumed than used, there will be weight gain. A 3-year-old probably isn’t counting calories, but parents can. The 3-year-old probably isn’t measuring activity levels and aerobic activity, but parents should.

Unless you take your kids to McDonald’s and drop them off to be parented, it’s stupid to blame McDonald’s because they put a toy in a Happy Meal. When I was a kid, there was a prize in the Cracker Jack box, but I really can’t blame my own weight challenges throughout my life to overdosing on Cracker Jack because I was digging for the prize. A person would have to be addicted to crack, not Cracker Jack, to blame the toys in the box for eating too much stuff in the box.

What makes my Happy Meal happy is that as a corporation, McDonald’s didn’t cave to the pin-headed pressure to political correctness, but pushed back to the loons on the left who seem to forget that Americans not only have personal freedom, but personal responsibility.”

This also sounds logical.  Parents should protect kids.  Toys don’t cause obesity.  But it reflects a crucial misperception of the larger problem.  Toys in Happy Meals are just one of the many marketing ploys used to lure buyers to an addictive drug: modern, processed food.  And the practice is a particularly heinous example as it plays on the vulnerabilities of kids.  It also sets up an unneccessary situation which pits the child’s desires against those of a concerned parent.

The misperception is in play when we shift the argument to personal responsibility.  If we believe that a lack of personal fortitude causes obesity,  we can hoist Huckabee on his own petard.  He talked the talk, led the charge, and failed.  By his reasoning, he must be weak…just like all those parents who give in to the Happy Meal.  I don’t believe that.

Karen Tumulty, who  interviewed Huckabee in February for the Washingotn Post observed this scene:

“Huckabee was tucking into a breakfast of eggs and butter-slathered pancakes at a trendy New York hotel overlooking Times Square. His much-discussed diet – he famously lost more than 100 pounds after a diabetes diagnosis in 2003 and wrote a book about eating right – is apparently on hiatus.”

What are we to make of a man who has been told he has a possible death sentence if he’s over-fat,who writes books about the importance of avoiding obesity,  who stakes a political career on advocacy for better habits and then goes ahead and chows down in front of a reporter for a major newspaper?  Unlike Huckabee, I wouldn’t call him irresponsible.  I’d say he’s acting like someone with an addiction.  An addiction that has re-established itself.

What else but a powerful, powerful urge could motivate someone to behave in a way that makes him look foolish?  To betray an entire belief system once espoused?  To perhaps give rivals a powerful wedge against future political ambitions?

The key to successful, permanent maintenance lies in a healthy respect for the damaging effects of the food that got you fat.  To avoid being overwhelmed again, each maintainer needs to build many walls of defense.  Otherwise, and sadly, he might easily find himself eating more than his words.

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