Body Weight and Willpower

The following article is excerpted from my latest book, Matt Hoover’s Guide to Life, Love, and Losing Weight by Matt Hoover (winner of “The Biggest Loser” Season 2) and Sheri Colberg, Ph.D.

Fact or Fiction?
“You’re only overweight because you have no willpower when it comes to eating.”

Fiction. Your body weight is determined by a large number of factors, including your genes (affecting your body’s ability to burn calories and store fat), level of physical activity, diet, cultural attitudes, and financial situation. Apparently, your brain and fat cells also have something to say about what and when you eat, so you can’t blame all of your weight gain on your lack of willpower, your environment, or your genes.

In fact, a new study recently showed that an urge to snack, even after just eating, may be due to an overactive chemical feedback system that regulates your appetite, food intake, fat metabolism, and body weight together. Remember the “munchies” that people get when they’re exposed to the cannabinoids in marijuana? Well, there’s an endocannabinoid (EC) system in your brain, and when it’s activated, it increases your drive to eat and decreases your ability to feel satisfied. In fact, there are cannabinoid receptors all over your body, including in your brain, fat cells, stomach, and intestinal tract. The EC system interacts with other hormones to make you feel hungrier and increase your body fat stores. It has also been shown to be overactive in obese individuals. Other hormones like leptin and insulin also interact with the EC system, telling the brain how much you have eaten and how much fat has been stored.

Knowing that you have the EC system working against you makes a stronger case for avoiding certain types of foods: it appears that high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods are more likely to activate it and drive you to eat even more. You can also trick the system using some proven strategies that help you defuse the urge to snack or overeat, such as waiting five to fifteen minutes for a craving to pass, distracting yourself with other activities (such as taking a walk), or even drinking a glass of water or other calorie-free fluid. Also, choose foods that increase your sense of fullness (ones high in water and fiber content), such as fruits and vegetables. Finally, realize that it takes about twenty minutes for your brain to receive the message from your stomach that it’s full, so slow down when you eat to promote earlier feelings of satiety.

At present, one weight loss drug called Rimonabant is actually available to block EC receptors. Although it doesn’t appear to cause more than moderate weight loss in users, even their five percent weight loss, on average, after a year greatly reduced their risk for health problems like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

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