How Your Brain Makes You Fat

If I asked you, “what makes people fat?” Would you say it was your brains fault? That’s the last thing I’m sure you would have guessed could be the reason. You probably thought to yourself unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, or genetics. These are the most common answers so don’t be discouraged if you didn’t guess brain.

Now you’re wondering what your brain has to do with making you fat, right? If you haven’t figured it out already, your brain is a pretty powerful organ. It controls everything! This article dissects the shocking reasons behind how your brain is responsible for making you fat and how you can change it.

Why It’s Your Brain’s Fault

Your brain is responsible for your thoughts, feelings, storing memories, and coordinating your actions and reactions. Anything that you think, say, or do all originates as a thought. That make’s your brain a pretty powerful organ!

Your brain initiates all of your behaviors, including what you eat, how much you eat, and  how you choose to use your body. Those three factors are the major keys to whether you gain or lose fat. So, in order to eat healthier and exercise more, you first need to learn how to train your brain to think that way.

Why We Eat How We Eat

We live in a society where you are trained to eat mindlessly and even for comfort at times. Why? Well, because it’s available! I understand there’s poverty and not everyone has unlimited access to food. However, the majority of the people reading this probably know exactly where their next meal is coming from.

This poses a problem because your brain is actually hardwired to tell you to consume calories. This dates back to your ancestors, a time when food wasn’t so plentiful. Back then people would eat for survival. Energy is critical to survival. Calories provide energy. Therefore, it’s no wonder that your brain is hardwired to tell you to eat.

So, when you add an unlimited quantity of food to an unlimited desire to eat, you can see how this is a problem! It wasn’t always a problem because the resources that we now have weren’t always so available. Consider your ancestors, they had to hunt or farm for their food. There wasn’t any processed food filled with an endless list of unknown ingredients. Now you can walk down to the store and buy a bag of Doritos with little to no effort at all. Speaking of Doritos, have you seen the ingredient label on those things? WOW!

What used to be a survival instinct is now becoming an excuse for over indulgence. People aren’t over indulging in salads either. They are choosing the highly processed goodies that are convenient and make them feel warm fuzzy inside. The issue with these types of foods is that they provide no nutritional value but have no problem providing you with a ton of extra calories…

“Calories In/Calories Out”

Food intake regulation, or how much you eat is probably the most important factor when it comes to fat gain or loss. Although studies have attempted to reveal alternative reasons, evidence shows that calories are the only proven property that impact your body fat. That doesn’t mean other possible reasons won’t continue to be exploded, but calories are all that there is evidence for at this time. Therefore, there is no doubt that if you restrict calories that you will lose fat!

Unfortunately, this is not how you were raised. As a society we have been taught to eat when we are hungry or see something that looks delicious. Seriously, who can resist that cheesecake? Once we start eating, we don’t stop until we are full either. That’s  how it’s always been so it’s normal for you.

This method of eating doesn’t call for any self regulation. By eating until you are full, you have no idea how many calories you have just taken in. Truth is, the amount of calories that most people eat each day are much more than they need. So, what does that mean for society? Obesity rates increase!

Dieting Trends

Low-fat, low-carb, paleo…. which one is it? With all of the different dieting programs that exist, it’s easy to see how people can be so confused on where to start! Another problem is that people want to see results quickly, they are impatient.

So, what often happens is that people will start one diet plan and won’t see results immediately so they try another one, and then another, and another.. You see the trend here. People never stick to anything long enough for it to start working! Fat loss takes T-I-M-E. Nobody wants to hear that. They want to hear about a secret pill they can take that loses all of the fat for them overnight. Maybe in some dream world, but not in the reality we currently live in.

To answer the question from earlier, ALL diets have potential to work if you actually stick to them! Although each diet seems so different, they all have one thing in common… they all involve you burning more calories than you eat in a day. So it’s not dietary fat or carbs alone that are making you fat. It’s eating too much in general that is the real problem!  Again, this makes sense because restricting calories is the only proven way to lose fat at this point in time.

How To Avoid The “Hungry Brain”

You now know that your brain is responsible for making you fat, that it is hardwired to make you want to eat, that calories are the most important factor when it comes to fat loss, and that ALL diets revolve around restricting calories. So, how can you take all of this information and make your brain start working for you? I am going to lay out 4 proven strategies that will have you burning through fat in no time!

1) Choose nutrient, not calorie, dense foods

Calorie dense foods are a real diet killer! So, what is calorie density and which foods fall into this category? Calorie density refers to the amount of calories per unit weight of a food. If you have a small piece of food that packs a lot of calories, you have a calorie dense food. Whereas nutrient dense foods have less calories per unit weight but are filled with vital nutrients!

Among plenty of other reason, it’s beneficial to eat nutrient dense foods because you actually have sensors in your stomach that detect fullness! As you eat and begin to fill your stomach, these sensors signal to your brain that you’re full. By consuming nutrient dense foods, you will fill up and feel full without eating so many calories!

You can probably already guess which foods are calorie dense. Basically all of your favorite foods including:

  • Cookies
  • Oils
  • Pizza
  • Milk Chocolate
  • Dried Fruits

On the other hand, here’s a list of some nutrient dense foods:

  • Salmon
  • Potatoes
  • Kale
  • Blueberries
  • Dark Chocolate


Photo courtesy of Jeff Novick, MS, RD

2) Avoid using food as a reward

When talking about food, the term reward value refers to the way you are motivated and pleased by eating a certain food. If you are highly motivated and get pleasure by eating ice creams, then ice cream would have a high reward value for you. Foods have different reward values to each person because it’s particular to how it makes that person feel.

Rewards make you feel good. They cause you to feel happy. You’re brain is wired to repeat behaviors that cause you to feel happy. That’s the reason cravings exist. Your brain is telling you engage in a behavior that is rewarding and pleasing, and you know that food your craving is a high calorie disaster filled with sugar and/or fat.

The food industry takes advantage of this fact by designing and marketing their foods in a way that is tempting to you. They fill their pockets by initiating those cravings that cause you to fall victim to that package of Oreo’s while you’re at the store. This all happens because you have been using food as a reward, therefore you train your brain to desire these foods to initiate that feeling of pleasure.

Changing this behavior is exceedingly difficult and will require time and self control. Since you are wired to crave high calorie, low nutrient foods, as soon as you try to make a change your body tries to resist. As you begin to restrict calories, your brain sends out signals of starvation, yikes!

This changes over time. As your body fat levels decrease your brain begins to create a new norm for you. It will be tough at first but resist those urges and allow your body time to adjust! So, put those Oreo’s back on the shelf and reach for that fresh salmon instead. You can thank me later.

3) Get your sleep

Sleep is important for many reasons such as improving judgement, memory, creativity, attention to detail, and losing fat! Losing fat? Yes, you read that correctly. Studies reveal those those who sleep less will gain more weight over time.

Again, we go back to calories. By sleeping less, you give yourself the opportunity to eat more. Since your brain is wired to get you to eat when food is available, you do thanks to your ancestors! Studies have revealed that by sleeping less, people over eat almost 400 calories each day, on average! So, if we crunch some numbers, that’s about 2,800 extra calories every week! There are 3,500 calories in 1 pound of fat and 52 weeks in a year. I’m sure you can do the math…

In addition to eating more, you are going to make poor decisions on what you’re eating more of. Why does this happen? Lack of sleep also impairs your judgement and decision making. So, when the time comes to eat, your thought process will probably go something like this…”well, I know there’s eggs, spinach, and tomatoes in the refrigerator. I could make one of my signature omelettes. Nah, I’ll just have these donuts instead.” This is dangerous to your waistline but you aren’t considering that thought at the time.

Another interesting study revealed that you eat more when you sleep less because your brain acts like your starving! Again, it’s a survival mechanism that’s wired in you to do whatever it takes for survival. That means eating when you are hungry. In this case, you’re not actually hungry, your brain is just sending those signals out because of your lack of sleep. This also happens when you start dieting.

Your body doesn’t like change. It will resist it however it can. Even if that means making your brain a trickster that sends out false signals to get you to act in a certain way. That’s where you need to make a good judgement and avoid falling pray to these false signals.

By sleeping less you are jeopardizing your judgement, memory, creativity, attention to detail, and fat loss efforts! The time lost by sleeping more you will regain in productivity. So, do yourself a favor and tap that snooze button one more time, you won’t regret it.

4) Create a healthy environment

People are impulsive. That’s the reason you act on what your brain is telling you to do. The reason that you buy those Oreo’s. The reason that you eat the ice cream that’s in your freezer. It’s available so you act on your impulses . In order to control your impulses, you need to create a healthy environment. One that allows you to make healthy choices without being tempted by unhealthy ones.

You have to design an environment that isn’t filled with calorie dense foods. You know the effects of calorie dense foods and that if they are available you will eat them. Begin by removing all of the calorie dense foods from your everyday environment and replacing them with your favorite nutrient dense options. This changes what’s available to you. Remember, you will eat what’s available so you will be forced to make a healthier choice!

Your environment also includes those people who are involved in your everyday life. It’s vital to get these people on board with your decision to create a healthier environment for yourself. If you don’t, they can easily sabotage your efforts by stocking your pantry with cookies or by bringing a box of donuts to work. Again, you know what happens when these sort of foods are available to you…

By taking care of your environment, you are training your brain to begin craving healthier options as you get hungry. By reprogramming your environment, you are setting yourself up for success. You will soon be indulging in nutrient dense options that won’t leave you feeling guilty later.

You now have all of the knowledge and tools that you need to avoid the “hungry brain.” You understand that your brain is programmed to make you fat and the only way to change that is by restricting calories. You can do that with any diet as long as you you stick to it long enough to notice changes. Lastly, you know the 4 proven strategies that will help you make all of this possible!

Related: Burn 2,00 More Calories a Day With NEAT


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