Do you have self-control? One study says weight loss is linked to brain functions

Weight loss is difficult at the best of times, but you can give yourself a fighting chance by hacking your brain to lose weight

(Image credit: Oliver Sjöström/Unsplash)

Sure, you might be able to swap your usual chocolate shake with one made from the best protein powder for weight loss. You might also pick up one of the best treadmill deals to make sure you always have an accessible way to do cardio at home. However, without making sure you have plenty of self-control, you could struggle to stick to a weight loss programme. 

Science claims that when it comes to our diet, self-control is down to our hormones. A study conducted by researchers in the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital in Canada looked at the body's production of leptin and ghrelin, which control our appetite, during periods of weight loss, and the results were quite surprising. 

"What we found is that in humans, the control of body weight is dependent largely on the areas of the brain involved in self-control and self-regulation," says Alain Dagher, one of the study authors. "Everybody who loses weight sees this change in leptin and ghrelin. It is just that some people, for reasons we do not know, are able to maintain their self-regulation in the face of that signal."

Vitamin D foods: salmon and brown rice

(Image credit: Unsplash / Travis Yewell)

The study examined 24 subjects from a weight-loss clinic over three months, finding people who lost more weight had better levels of self-control, and were able to ignore the hormones telling them they were still hungry. 

This was especially common in times of stress, which elevates those hormone levels and creates food cravings: the term "stress eating" is very apt. However, eventually, the hormone levels settled down to a baseline in successful weight losers, creating a "new normal".

The study suggested cognitive behavioural therapy would be a good tool to retrain the brain and exercise some of that self-control. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a tool which helps people "rewire" their responses to certain thoughts and stimuli. It's often used to help people with anxiety or depression, but it can aid in weight loss by breaking what seems to be an overwhelming problem down into smaller parts.

The UK's NHS and the American Psychological Association both offer guidance about getting started with CBT. You can also get started with some of our own self-control tools, such as our portion size guide and our articles on how to meditate to quell some of that stress stimuli.

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.