According to an exciting new weight loss plan taking the US by storm, it could be that the diet youre on simply isnt right for the way your brain works.
According to an exciting new weight loss plan taking the US by storm, it could be that the diet youre on simply isnt right for the way your brain works.

Successful dieting is all in the brain

By Louise Atkinson Time of article published Nov 2, 2011

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Have you ever wondered why other people can launch themselves into a diet plan and lose weight while you are left floundering in frustration, driven demented by your cravings?

According to an exciting new weight loss plan taking the US by storm, it could be that the diet you’re on simply isn’t right for the way your brain works.

By comparing more than 66 000 brain scans, American neuro-scientist Dr Daniel Amen has discovered that if you struggle with your weight, you are most likely to have one of four different brain types – and your type will determine the kind of diet plans that are most likely to work and the ones that won’t.

These types are compulsive (which suits a healthy carbohydrate plan, such as WeightWatchers), impulsive (fares best on a high protein, low-carb diet), emotional (needs healthy fats, proteins and carbs) and anxious (suits a macro-biotic diet combining wholefoods and vegetables).

Amen believes the brain types explain how high-protein diets, such as Atkins, can be so successful for some personality types but disastrous for others.

“Almost all diets have a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says, “but our research over the past 20 years shows that giving everyone the same diet plan may make some people better, but it will make a lot of people worse”.

His research has identified patterns associated with brains that tend to be compulsive, impulsive, emotional or anxious in various combinations. These patterns, he believes, have a strong correlation with the way people eat – and specifically the way they overeat.

“It is your brain that pushes you away from the table, telling you you’ve had enough, and it is your brain that gives you permission to have that second bowl of ice cream,” he says.

Contrary to popular belief, Daniel is adamant that metabolism has far less to do with obesity.

His ongoing studies have shown that only when you know about your own brain type can you pick the diet, supplements and exercise plan that suit you best.

This, he says, should make losing weight — and keeping it off — a whole lot easier.


You tend to get stuck on thoughts of food, often feeling a compulsive drive to eat. You may be a night-time eater and you may have trouble sleeping. (or prone to a glass of wine in the evenings to calm yourself down).

Compulsive eaters can be late-night snackers so should avoid eating in the evening.

Scans show compulsive eaters generally have too much activity in the front part of their brains, especially the ACG (anterior cingulated gyrus) — the area that allows us to shift our attention and adapt to change.

When there is too much activity in this part of the brain, we tend to become stuck on negative thoughts or behaviours. Amen believes over-activity in the ACG is commonly caused by low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Diets that won’t work:

High-protein diets (Atkins, Dukan). These tend to be “concentration diets”, which help people focus, but they can make compulsive eaters home in on the things that upset them, making them angry and aggressive.

Diets that will work:

Plans that include healthy carbohydrates (Low GI, Carb Lovers Diet, WeightWatchers) because carbohydrates raise serotonin levels.

Also try:

* Eating foods that boost serotonin to calm the brain (bananas, beetroot, brown rice, cottage cheese, herbal tea, mackerel, salmon, sunflower seeds, Swiss cheese and turkey).

* Aerobic exercise boosts serotonin levels and helps you stop thinking about fatty foods.

* Avoid eating in the evenings. This confuses your body clock and encourages your body to store fat.

* Give yourself food choices rather than edicts – compulsive eaters don’t like to be told what they can and can’t eat.


You may begin each day with good intentions but if you are an impulsive eater you probably have trouble controlling your behaviour. Although you don’t think about food constantly, when you see it you find it hard to resist and will rarely say no to a second slice of cake.

Brain scans of impulsive eaters show decreased activity in the PFC (pre-frontal cortex) area of the brain, which controls judgement, planning, organisation and learning from mistakes. The PFC works as the brain’s brakes, stopping us saying silly things or making bad decisions.

When it’s working well, it helps you say no to that cheese burger or muffin. But when it isn’t, you may find yourself troubled by a short attention span, poor judgement and impulsivity. Alcohol lowers activity in the PFC, which is why people tend to act less responsibly when drunk. Low PFC activity is linked with low levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Diets that won’t work:

High-carb diets. Anything that boosts serotonin levels (as carbs do) will calm the brain and make impulsive eaters worse by further lowering impulse control.

Diets that will work:

High-protein diets, where carb levels are kept low (it’s OK to eat carrots, but not carrot cake).

Also try:

* Make sure your diet is rich in chicken, turkey, cottage cheese, eggs, oats and yoghurt, which are all brain foods.

* Avoid or cut down on alcohol, caffeine, sugar and stress, which deplete dopamine levels.


Try a form of yoga that includes meditation to sharpen your focus and strengthen your PFC.

* Green tea, which has been shown to enhance brainwave activity and increase focus.


This brain type is most common in women who tend to eat when they’re feeling low, in the hope that it will make them feel better.

If you are an emotional eater, you struggle with feelings of loneliness, depression and low self-esteem. You may also have low energy levels and a tendency to feel guilty, helpless or worthless.

If you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), these traits will intensify in winter.

Amen’s scans show this type have increased activity in the deep limbic areas of the brain. This can induce negativity, lowering drive and self-esteem. Scans also show decreased PFC activity, which explains poor food choices.

Diets that won’t work:

High-protein or high-carb diets.

Diets that will work:

The Mediterranean diet (oily fish, fresh fruit and vegetables), the Zone (a mix of healthy fats, proteins and carbs).

Also try:

* Getting your vitamin D levels checked. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and obesity.

* Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

* Get plenty of sleep.

* Don’t become isolated from family and friends.

* Finding the motivation to exercise is hard for this brain type, particularly in winter, but studies show exercise is more effective than anti-depressants at improving brain activity.


You tend to “medicate” your feelings of anxiety and fear with food. You are a “glass half empty” type with a propensity to predict the worst.You may feel uncomfortable in your skin and plagued by feelings of panic, fear and self-doubt.

Scans show increased activity in the basal ganglia area of the brain (which sets your anxiety levels and integrates thoughts, feelings and movements).

High anxiety can lead to over-eating, especially sugary, high-carbohydrate foods that have a calming effect.

But studies show highly refined carbohydrates activate the basal ganglia area of the brain in the same way cocaine does, triggering the release of dopamine.

Diets that won’t work:

Very low-calorie diets, as hunger increases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Diets that will work:

The Zone, or macrobiotic diets that combine wholefoods and vegetables.

Also try:

* Brain foods high in the amino acid glutamine.

* Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, which exacerbate stress.

* Try yoga or tai chi.

* The herbs valerian and kava kava may help you sleep.

* Vitamin B6, magnesium and lemon balm can reduce anxiety levels. – DailyMail


If you answer “frequently” to three or more statements in the below sections, that eating style applies to you.


* Do you get stuck on negative thoughts?

* Worry excessively?

* Have a tendency for compulsive or addictive behaviours?

* Hold grudges?

* Get upset when things don’t go your way?

* Feel emotional when things are out of place?

* Tend to be oppositional or argumentative?

* Dislike change?

* Need to have things done in a certain way?


* Do you find it difficult to concentrate?

* Lack attention to detail?

* Are you easily distracted?

* Have a tendency to procrastinate?

* Are you restless?

* Do you lose things?

* Often blurt out answers and frequently interrupt?

* Say or do things without thinking?

* Need caffeine or nicotine in order to focus?


* Are you rather negative?

* Get dissatisfied or bored?

* Suffer low energy levels?

* Have little interest in fun things?

* Do you ever get a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness?

l Cry a lot?

* Have low self-esteem?

* Shy away from family and friends?

* Do you often feel sad?


* Are you generally quite nervous and anxious?

* Prone to panic?

* Do you have tension headaches and tight, knotted muscles?

* Have a tendency to predict the worst?

* Avoid conflict?

* Scared of being scrutinised by others?

* Are you a workaholic?

* Lack confidence in your abilities?

* Always expecting something bad to happen?

* Are you easily startled?

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