What if your body were equipped with an “auto-slim” system that kicked in whenever you started to gain weight — so instead of struggling with hunger and deprivation, you seamlessly switched into fat-burning mode and the pounds simply melted away. Sounds like a dream come true, yes?
As it turns out, the body is equipped with just such a thermostat: the adipostat.“But rather than regulating temperature, the adipostat regulates food behavior and energy use,” explains women’s health specialist Sara Gottfried, MD, author of Brain Body Diet ($18.89, Amazon). In a perfect world, the adipostat — which is located in the hypothalamus, or control center of the brain — receives metabolic messages from the body that dial down hunger when fat stores are sufficient and turn up hunger when fat stores are low, so the body effortlessly maintains its ideal weight.
The problem: Inflammation can damage the adipostat, making it unable to receive signals from our metabolic messengers. Inflammation in the brain can be triggered by stress, toxins, and the refined sugary carbs that abound in the standard American diet, making the adipostat unable to “hear” the metabolic messages properly. When this communication breaks down, the brain defaults to crisis mode. And because the brain’s job is to protect you by stocking up on fuel reserves in case of emergency, crisis mode is also fat-storage mode.
“Basically, it acts as if you’re in a famine even though you’re not — you have plenty of food and plenty of fat,” notes Dr. Gottfried. “But you still feel hungry all the time because the hypothalamus is doing everything it can to promote eating and weight gain.”
What’s more, while women are often advised to drop excess pounds by slashing carbs, doing so can make weight-loss all but impossible. “Studies show that cutting too many carbohydrates can decrease thyroid function and increase stress hormones, making it harder to burn fat and lose weight,” Dr. Gottfried points out. Indeed, a multi-center study published in JAMA found that extreme carb restriction lowered participants’ thyroid hormone levels by 22 percent within four weeks while upping levels of the fat-storing stress hormone cortisol by 21 percent.
And as neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD, author of Feel Better Fast ($13.11, Amazon), explains, “Restricting beneficial carbohydrates too much deprives the brain and body of the essential vitamins, minerals, and compounds they need to operate at their peak.” Fortunately, Dr. Gottfried has discovered the carbohydrate combination that stems brain inflammation and reboots your metabolic thermostat. The plant-based carbs on her plan are rich in nutrients that defend the hypothalamus against inflammatory damage; plus, they supply ample prebiotic fiber, which feeds friendly flora in the gut.
“That’s crucial since good gut bacteria help restore the adipostat’s sensitivity to insulin, so the body can produce less of this fat-storage hormone,” she explains. And the friendly proteins and healthy fats that round out her food formula rebalance hunger hormones and dial down appetite while boosting levels of fat-burning hormones by 32 percent.
“I didn’t feel deprived, and within days, I no longer craved a bacon cheeseburger,” shares Katie Green, 43, a busy mom who lost up to 10 pounds a week following a self-made plan similar to Dr. Gottfried’s. “This way of eating makes you feel incredibly good!” Once-and-for-all weight loss is just the beginning. “Brain inflammation is the root cause of concerns such as brain fog, depression, and anxiety — when you reduce it, all those problems get better,” Dr. Gottfried says. “What’s exciting is that women who follow the plan are reporting improvements in energy, mental clarity, and mood.”
Healing the brain’s “auto-slim” system fires up fat burn and dials back appetite to help you achieve your happy weight. The key, says Gottfried, is focusing on reducing inflammation that damages the metabolic control center in the brain and causes a breakdown in communication between the brain and the body.
How to Do The Brain Body Diet
On Dr. Gottfried’s 40-day plan, you’ll avoid the refined carbohydrates that damage the adipostat while filling up on 10 servings of antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory fruits and veggies that help reset your body’s slimming thermostat. You’ll also incorporate at least one prebiotic fiber pick (such as artichokes, onions, and asparagus) and 1⁄2 cup of probiotic foods (like sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi) daily. Dr. Gottfried explains, “These choices boost levels of good gut bacteria that fight body-wide inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity so you burn glucose for energy rather than storing it as fat.”
You’ll also include 3 oz. of protein (such as eggs, fish, and chicken) with every meal. As Dr. Gottfried notes, “Protein helps keep blood sugar steady to guard against excess fat-storage hormones. Plus, it preserves calorie-burning lean muscle mass in the body.” You’ll round out meals with friendly fats such as olive, coconut, and grapeseed oils, which contain anti-inflammatory fatty acids that help heal the adipostat.
And while signing off snacks is a key component of Dr. Gottfried’s healing food plan — because going for periods without food helps reset the chemical messengers that communicate with the adipostat — you’ll feel so satisfied that you won’t even miss your between-meal munchies.
“One of the best things about this program is how doable it is,” Dr. Gottfried notes. “Women are able to lose weight and keep it off without fighting against relentless hunger.” Credit goes to the fiber, protein, and fats on your plate, which all have the study-backed ability to boost satiety hormones, effectively banishing hunger. You can fire up fat burning even further with the following easy strategies that help restore adipostat function and improve slimming signals between the brain and body.
1. Tweak your food timing.
“Creating a significant gap between dinner and breakfast is such an effective weight-loss strategy that women become believers as soon as they see the results,” notes Dr. Gottfried, who suggests finishing dinner by 7 p.m. and holding off on breakfast until 9 a.m. “Research shows this strategy reduces inflammation and restores sensitivity to leptin, a hormone known as nature’s appetite suppressant.” Dr. Gottfried advises employing this timing tweak five days a week to support weight loss. And for your speediest slim-down ever, she recommends gradually stretching the time between dinner and breakfast, aiming to eventually finish dinner by 6 p.m. and have breakfast at 10 a.m.
2. Exercise just a little.
Incorporating short bursts of high-intensity movement into your day can raise levels of adiponectin, the body’s key fat-burning hormone, by 36 percent, according to researchers reporting in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. The reason that’s such good news: “The more of this hormone you have, the less brain-harming inflammation you have — and the more fat you burn,” asserts Dr. Gottfried.
And while the term “high-intensity” may seem daunting, putting it into practice really just means picking up your pace slightly. “Start with a 30-minute walk, alternating three minutes of walking at a moderate pace with one minute of walking more briskly,” she suggests. “Over time, work up the intensity of your brisk walk until you can jog for one minute, then walk moderately for three minutes.” Bonus: These sweat-producing sessions also help the body flush toxins that damage the adipostat.
3. Make time for calm.
Stress triggers a body-wide chain of events that produce the inflammation that damages the adipostat. “High levels of the stress hormone cortisol also cause fat to be stored in the abdominal or belly area and break down your muscles for energy,” Dr. Gottfried points out. “That’s bad news for weight loss because loss of muscle lowers metabolism.” Fortunately, Georgetown University researchers have found that guided meditation significantly tames stress and counters its toxic effects while increasing body levels of glutathione (a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that defends against adipostat damage) by 20 percent. That’s why Dr. Gottfried recommends setting aside 10 to 20 minutes for a simple meditation practice each day. To get the benefits, consider trying Insight Timer, a free app that lets you choose from more than 14,000 guided meditations based on your personal stress challenges.
“Sleep is so essential to healing the adipostat that it’s almost impossible for women to lose weight if they’re not getting at least seven hours a night,” asserts Gottfried. In a University of Chicago study, dieters lost 230 percent more fat during weeks that they got ample sleep, compared to weeks when they were sleep-deprived. To get the sleep that restores brain and body balance, Dr. Gottfried recommends taking 1 mg. of melatonin about 30 minutes before bed while you’re following her 40-day plan. If you don’t notice improved sleep, increase your dose by .5 mg. per night until you reach a dose of 3 mg. Adds Dr. Gottfried, “In addition to improving sleep quantity and quality, melatonin also has an antioxidant action that thwarts inflammation to further assist in adipostat repair.”
Metabolic Thermostat Diet Sample Menu
Morning Pick-Me-Up — Lemon Water: Stir the juice of half a lemon into 8 oz. of mineral water. Minerals and acids in the sip help the body flush toxins and protect cells against free radicals. Sip when you wake, even during the 14-hour fast.
Breakfast: Veggie Omelet — Prepare a three-egg omelet loaded with chopped spinach, sliced mushrooms, and halved cherry tomatoes. Garnish with parsley. Serve with a small side salad or sautéed vegetables.
Lunch: Garden Salad — Toss 2 cups of leafy greens with tomatoes, asparagus stalks, radishes, and cucumbers. Top with 3 oz. of chicken or turkey breast. Dress with 3 Tbsp. of vinegar and 1 Tbsp. of olive oil.
Dinner: Baked Salmon — Bake lemon-brushed salmon fillets at 420 degrees Fahrenheit until firm (about 10 minutes). Serve with 1 cup of asparagus tossed with olive oil and slivered almonds, 1⁄4 cup of sliced radishes, and a side salad.
Smoothie Add-Ins That Speed Slimming
For Fat-Burn: Avocado — Loaded with healthy fats that calm inflammation, avocados also stimulate the production of fat-burning hormones enough to help subjects lose 56 percent more stubborn belly fat in one study.
To Banish Bloat: Berries — These gems speed the removal of excess fluids to reduce puffiness, report researchers at Penn State University. They’re also rich in nutrients that repair aging nerves — enough to help your brain function as if it were 9 years younger, say Tufts University scientists.
To Beat Hunger: Spinach — Thylakoids in leafy greens dial down hunger hormones and help reboot the brain. In fact, Swedish researchers found that women who enjoy a spinach-spiked smoothie report a 25 percent drop in hunger for four hours.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.
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