Australian scientists have discovered a “brain switch” that could help women struggling with yo-yo dieting to take control of their weight.
The researchers from Melbourne’s Monash University released a study detailing their discovery of the mechanism by which the brain coordinates the energy we consume (as in what goes in our mouths) with the energy we expend.
The study also found the molecular switch can potentially control the way the human body stores fat, particularly after long periods of weight loss (or ‘famine’) most commonly experienced by yo-yo dieters when they regain the weight they’ve worked hard to lose.
Essentially, the results confirm what we know from experience of yo-yo dieting – restricting calories for a period of time and then returning to regular eating patterns isn’t conducive to healthy, long-term and sustainable weight loss and management.
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This is because, as Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s Associate Professor Zane Andrews explained, repeated dieting may lead to weight gain as the brain interprets these diets as short famines. The molecular brain protein in our hunger-processing brain cells then instructs the body to ‘switch’ into fat storage mode to replace lost fat and prepare for any potential future shortages.
“Manipulating this protein offers the opportunity to trick the brain and not replace the lost weight through increased appetite and storage of fat,” Associate Professor Andrews said, Science Daily reports.
“By regulating this protein, we can ensure that diet-induced weight loss stays off rather than sneaking back on.”
These findings were published on Wednesday in international journal, Cell Reports, according to Science Daily. The study goes on to explain how Associate Professor Andrews and his colleagues have identified the fat storage regulating protein called carnitine acetyltransferase (Crat) in the brain cells of mice.
This news is also important for the development of diabetes and obesity treatments, as manipulating this switch can control the way our bodies sense and produce insulin and coordinate eating with energy expenditure.
“What happens in the context of obesity is that the switch stays on all the time – it doesn’t turn on off during feeding,” researcher Professor Tony Tiganis said.
Obesity is a major health problem affecting Australians in 2018. Australian Bureau of Statistics data from an Australian Health Survey in 2014-2015 indicates 63.4 per cent of our nation's adult population is overweight or obese, and that number is steadily climbing.
Obesity aside, the culture of yo-yo dieting and the impact it has on our mental health isn't new, nor does it affect a minority of us.
Statistics from 2011-12 also showed over 2.3 million Australians aged 15 years and over reported they were on a diet to lose weight or for some other health reason, with around half (49 per cent) of those people describing the type of diet they were on as a "weight loss or low calorie diet."
It's an incredibly frustrating cycle many women find themselves stuck in throughout their lives - researchers are hopeful the discovery of this switch will help us break out of it, and achieve and maintain the healthy results we want.
“For a long time, the missing piece to the puzzle [with yo-yo dieting and weight gain] was always why this occurs in the body,” first author of the study, Dr Garron Dodd said.
If you are wanting more information about healthy weight loss or yo-yo dieting, please seek professional advice from your GP or a qualified medical professional.