THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS
Well, it’s nearly been one year of studying and my last blog was in January, just after my shoulder reconstruction and two months into my MSc. In that time I have been studying constantly leaving me little time to write or even post as much as I’d like to.
My intention has always been to evolve Trystan Nolan Training, finding better ways to get effective and lasting results utilising every corner of knowledge that will enhance physical health and mental well being. Studying an MSc in psychology has allowed me to connect the two and been invaluable in providing me with a deeper understanding of human behaviour and (most importantly) from an accredited scientific perspective. No made up mumbo jumbo or something I read on google or mens health magazine. The mind and body are so interdependent. After all, the body will only do what the mind allows, and it is often this battle that hinders any kind of success. If this wasn’t the case we would all be fit and healthy, and there would be no need for personal trainers or psychologists!
This blog shares some of what I’ve learned so far. It focuses on neuro plasticity (the malleableness of our brain) which enables new neurological pathways that allow for a change in behaviour, in this case, obesity.
Obesity is becoming the biggest health problem the world faces (W.H.O., 2013). The full extent of its health risks let alone management are yet to be completely understood, however, what is clear are the knock on effects it has not only physically but mentally.
Neuroplasticity allows an individual to create new neural pathways in the brain that can override a former behaviour. Over time the old pathway can become dormant and sometimes extinct producing a lasting effect. However, if the new behaviour is not adhered to, the old neural pathway that lays dormant can become fully operational once more meaning the old behaviour returns as a default. So if we take the example of dieting, taking up a new exercise regime or adopting a new work life balance, this can become long lasting and even life changing so long as there is commitment to it.
Neuro imaging techniques support the findings of neuroplasticity and in relation to obesity, help shed light on its effects on the brain (Ng, Stice, Yokum, & Bohon, 2017). Sadly, more compelling evidence points to an almost impossible reversal in individuals suffering from sustained obesity at a high level. We aren’t talking about the individual that has piled on a few pounds that used to be relatively active and healthy. We are talking about the individual that has had long-term issues with weight usually combined with depressive episodes for many years. This individual often will look to food as a release (temporary high) or what is often termed “comfort eating” from their depressive episodes or low mood.
A study by Wijngaarden et al. (2015) found increased functional connectivity between the hypothalamus and the left Insula in obese subjects. The findings of the study showed that the brain is responsible and linked to the functional connectivity between food reward and salience. Prolonged fasting highlighted the differences between Hypothalamic connections with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the insula between lean and obese participants. This lead the study to conclude that there are in fact distinct cognitive processing differences regarding the perception of food reward and nutrient deprivation in obese individuals compared to lean individuals.
What does this mean? For one, there are clearly bigger factors at hand than being able to get “lean in fifteen”. Genetic factors are at play and studies like the one mentioned suggest that some people are predisposed to being obese no matter how hard they or we as professionals try which makes it impossible for a PT to have a 100% post-training success rate (once the client leaves and tries to go it alone). This doesn’t mean that everyone will fail at weight loss, but a majority will purely because the neural pathways are too rigid to be reversed, or a new neural pathway is created but doesn’t last long enough with the old circuit taking over again.
So what are the options if you are one of these struggling individuals? Well, you could find a PT that is also studying to become a psychologist (haha). Or the most immediate, long-term, cost effective and sensible intervention would be bariatric surgery if you have maintained morbidly obese levels for years no matter how hard you have tried to diet and exercise.
Before I embarked on this MSc I always thought bariatric surgery was the easy way out. I thought it was cheating and avoided hard work. My clients Sue and Jo (both GP’s) tried to change my views when we debated this topic but I wasn’t having any of it! But after researching this from a neuropsychological perspective for one of my modules, it is evident that bariatric surgery is the future for those struggling with severe obesity. It even shows the immediate positive effects in food perception due to altered gut hormone signals to the brain (Shin & Berthoud, 2013). This begs the question if obesity can actually be realistically managed with training in severe cases and if in all honesty the best thing to do is see your GP to make a case for a bariatric surgery?
It is no wonder that in the U.S., bariatric surgery is given for free by medical insurance companies as it effectively reduces the ancillary health problems associated with obesity that cost billions every year. This thought-provoking new research sheds light on the struggles with obesity and will challenge anyones ideas or concepts that bariatric surgery is detrimental to an individual or a lazy way of achieving a healthier life.
Breedlove, S. M., & Watson, N. V. (2013). Biological Psychology: An Introduction to Behavioral, Cognitive, and Clinical Neuroscience: SINAUER ASSN (MA).
Garcia-Garcia, I., Jurado, M. A., Garolera, M., Marques-Iturria, I., Horstmann, A., Segura, B., . . . Neumann, J. (2015). Functional network centrality in obesity: A resting-state and task fMRI study. Psychiatry Research, 233(3), 331-338.
Garcia-Garcia, I., Jurado, M. A., Garolera, M., Segura, B., Marques-Iturria, I., Pueyo, R., . . . Junque, C. (2013). Functional connectivity in obesity during reward processing. Neuroimage, 66, 232-239.
Marques-Iturria, I., Scholtens, L. H., Garolera, M., Pueyo, R., Garcia-Garcia, I., Gonzalez-Tartiere, P., . . . van den Heuvel, M. P. (2015). Affected connectivity organization of the reward system structure in obesity. Neuroimage, 111, 100-106.
Ng, J., Stice, E., Yokum, S., & Bohon, C. (2011). An fMRI study of obesity, food reward, and perceived caloric density. Does a low-fat label make food less appealing? Appetite, 57(1), 65-72.
Shin, A. C., & Berthoud, H. R. (2013). Obesity surgery: happy with less or eternally hungry? Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 24(2), 101-108.
Szalay, C., Aradi, M., Schwarcz, A., Orsi, G., Perlaki, G., Nemeth, L., Karadi, Z. (2012). Gustatory perception alterations in obesity: an fMRI study. Brain Research, 1473, 131-140.
Wijngaarden, M. A., Veer, I. M., Rombouts, S. A., van Buchem, M. A., Willems van Dijk, K., Pijl, H., & van der Grond, J. (2015). Obesity is marked by distinct functional connectivity in brain networks involved in food reward and salience. Behavioural Brain Research, 287, 127-134.