During my career as a neuroscientist, I researched mystery. I call it a mystery about obesity, but it applies to anyone who has ever taken more than one diet.
The mystery is why we capable, smart, fashionable women (and men) cannot lose the weight we know we need to lose.
As a species we become obese. Statistics are as bad as you think – about two billion people around the world are overweight, and in the UK almost a third of adults are obese.
Last week it was reported that one in ten hospital admissions in the UK is for type 2 diabetes related to weight, which costs the NHS $ 45m a day.
Throughout all people and all programs, diets have a 99 percent dropout rate, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, and less than 1 percent of overweight people can achieve a normal BMI within one year.
Why do people fail so badly? And why does no one question the fact that intelligent, competent, motivated people who want to become weak cannot?
I was one of them. As a young woman at university, I could get myself all I needed to graduate with the highest honors and doctoral degrees in brain and cognitive science, but I couldn't control my eating. It was a misery.
I knew, even as I put the swamp ice cream or ice cream in my mouth, that I was self-sabotaging, but I just couldn't stop. I was painfully disappointed with myself.
So how did I solve the mystery and, yes, get slim too?
In the end, I discovered, it's all up to our brains. The reason we can't lose weight is that our bodies have not developed enough to process modern foods.
No need to practice!
Waiting for the good news?
This is an exercise plan.
Dietitians deplete their will in the gym and overeat later – we've found people who still exercise at least.
Since Light Lines do not require will, then go back to exercise.
What we put in our mouths from the end of World War II hijacked our brains, retaliated to block any attempt to lose weight.
The frustrating hurdle that creates this depressing "less than 1 percent" statistic is in our heads.
The fact is, when we overload sugar and flour, our insulin levels increase. And when insulin is elevated, it blocks a key hormone called leptin. Leptin tells our brains that we have had enough to eat and therefore stop eating; when we increase leptin resistance, the brain thinks it's constantly hungry.
The result? An unsaturated hunger that drives people to put food in their mouths all day long – in other words, to graze.
But that's not all. Excessive consumption of sweet and processed foods means that our brains are flooded every few hours with a dopamine attack, a neurotransmitter that responds to pleasant stimuli such as sugar and sex.
But our brains don't like this overload and try to reduce it by weakening their dopamine receptors, which means you need to eat more starch, sugar to get the same hit.
Boom So you end up with food cravings and you fall into the trap that destroys your soul from eating.
What's more, our brains have only a finite amount of will for us to use.
When people fail to diet, they often blame themselves and their lack of discipline, but exercising self-control in one area of our lives – maintaining patience with our children, saying or concentrating on one task at a time – exhausts this a finite resource and prevents self-regulation in other areas.
At the end of the long day, our brains are not capable of making a wise choice about what to eat. It is not our fault – we have literally and inevitably disappeared from the will.
So what is the solution?
I believe that it is worth getting rid of those modern foods that help our brains by following four clear, unambiguous rules.
I call these Bright Lines You Must Never Cross: How Much Sugar. Trench flour. Weigh your parts accurately. Eat three meals a day. And that's it!
If you commit to these Light Lines, you are doing something important. You stop thinking about food and rely on uncertain will and instead let it take over your "automatic brain".
What do I mean by that?
Well, the difference between using the will and using your automatic brain to achieve something is huge.
If you've ever tried to add a new habit to your routine (jogging, doing workouts, meditation), you've probably experienced how to forget, get overwhelmed, or decide to skip it.
But now think about brushing your teeth. I bet over the course of a year that you will be able to brush your teeth 730 times, regardless of travel, pain or work stress. Can't negotiate.
What's more, you waste zero energy worrying that you won't finish it. When something becomes automatic, it frees up huge cognitive resources to use for other things. Best of all, this way of eating will help you lose excess weight quickly, which means that if you don't cross those Light Lines, they may pop up for Christmas.
On average, people lose 1lb to 3lb a week under these rules. It is important to note here that, contrary to widespread belief, there is no scientific evidence proving that it is better to lose weight slowly.
So let's start with those four immutable rules.
1. Say goodbye to sugar
This is the most important rule, or Light Line, without which none of the others stand a chance. Only by removing sugar from the equation can the brain and body heal.
This means eliminating sugar in all its forms: cane sugar, rapeseed sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, golden syrup, saccharin, NutraSweet, aspartame, sorbitol, and, yes, stevia and tru , as well as sucrose and dextrose.
Indeed, all you need to end up in the pledge is to avoid, except for the fructose that occurs naturally in the fruit – you will limit your fruit intake but not eliminate it.
2. Flour is not your friend
The flour is a pleasant seductive. So many people start a Bright Line eating plan, experimenting with giving up sugar, only to find that their consumption of flour, and as a result, their weight is a balloon.
We know that flour raises insulin and blocks leptin – and, remember, no one came out to rain at 3am to get tomato and mozzarella broccoli sauce.
Why do people rate pizza as the most dependent on food? That's the flour.
3. Hold up to three set meals
When regular meals become part of the scaffolding in your life, it takes on the burden of the will.
When you set a schedule where you eat three meals a day on regular meals (breakfast at breakfast, lunch at lunch and dinner at dinner), and at a specific place that is not your car, your sofa or a multiplex cinema, not only eating the real food becomes automatic, but also the transmission of wrong food between meals.
4. Cash scales
This is a rule that clicks everything in place and guarantees that your weight will melt: weigh all your parts.
It works even if you are post-menopausal, on drugs that increase your hunger or are genetically predisposed to obesity.
I recommend using a digital food scale. Seriously. Initially, when my parts were first measured to me, I refused to do so. And I struggled with my weight. But then I tried it, and what I found was that measuring my food digitally gave me psychological freedom.
The eating plan
At breakfast, eat one portion of protein (one serving equals two eggs or 8oz of yogurt), one breakfast cereal (1oz oatmeal, say) and one portion of fruit (quantity depends on size – one banana, three apricots or 6oz of grapes all equal to one part).
At lunch, eat a portion of protein (take this to be 2oz cheese; 4oz humus; or 4oz tofu, chicken or fish), 6oz vegetables, a portion of fat (1 tbsp. Butter or olive oil) and then a piece of fruit.
Dinner equals to another portion of protein (4oz of beef or lamb, or 6oz of lentils or beans), 6oz of vegetables, 8oz of salad, and one portion of fat (2oz of avocado or olives).
Whole grains, such as oatmeal or brown rice, are perfect for a Bright Line eating plan. We also consider potatoes and sweet potatoes as "grains", so try some for breakfast, maybe in Spanish tortilla.
For cold cereal cereals (Mixed Wheat, for example, which has no flour), weigh exactly 1oz and eat it dry or add milk or unsweetened yogurt, which you consider to be your protein.
DO NOT BRIEF!
Measure the food correctly. No BLT – bites, licks or flavors – while cooking, which means no vegetables in the mouth of the cutting board.
The first bite of food should be taken after sitting at the table with cutlery in hand.
Strange glass is good
The strange glass of red wine works for some, but not for me. Molecularly, alcohol is sugar plus ethanol. Ethanol makes you intoxicated. Basically, alcohol is sugar that lowers your resistance to doing stupid things. So beware!