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Why your brain doesn’t want you to lose weight

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Given the countless books, plans, and testimonials all claiming to have found the perfect diet strategy, it seems like we should have figured this out by now. Yet, as Jessica Migala writes for NBC News, most of the forty-five million Americans who attempt a diet each year finish with little to show for it. Many actually gain weight in the end, as their bodies attempt to compensate for what was lost during the diet.

Fortunately, studies show that it’s not necessarily your fault . . . well, at least not entirely. You see, as Dr. Sandra Aamodt describes, “Whenever your weight changes too much, your brain will intervene to push it back to what it thinks is the correct weight for you. And you might not prefer the same weight your brain prefers. Many of us don’t.”

The brain is a powerful thing and controls so much of your other senses that when y’all aren’t on the same page, losing weight turns into a constant struggle. For example, those cakes at the grocery store or the doughnuts in the break room really do smell better when you’re dieting because your mind makes it so. Moreover, attempting to deny those cravings increases your stress level, which in turn triggers hormones that make it harder to lose weight.

Studies show that the only way most of us can successfully shed those unwanted pounds is to essentially retrain our brains into accepting the new normal by losing weight without making our minds think we’re starving ourselves. Apparently, that means placing more of an emphasis on eating right than eating less, though even that must be done in moderation and with a reasonable goal in mind. All efforts will be in vain, however, unless we can get on the same page with our brains.

That harmony between our minds and our actions is also essential in our walk with God. Despite his salvation and the presence of the Spirit in his life, Paul writes of the struggle he faced to live as he knew he should (Romans 7:15–20). His struggle is often ours as well.

All of us find it difficult, at times, to give up on the sins that were inherent to our fallen natures. In a way, our minds were trained to think of such behaviors as normal, even if we want nothing more than to leave them behind. That’s why Paul goes on to write about our need to allow God to transform and renew our minds according to his will (Romans 12:2).

Unless we can retrain our brains to accept a holy standard of living as the new normal, following the Lord will be a constant struggle.

As with dieting, a necessary first step is setting realistic goals for yourself. That doesn’t mean accepting sin as inevitable, but it does mean understanding that you’re probably not going to be able to spend three hours a day reading the Bible if it’s been a few years since you last cracked it open. Ask God what those goals should be, and then make it a point to go back and check with him to see if you’ve matured enough in your faith for them to change.

Second, keep your focus on living like Christ rather than not living like your old self. The best way to ensure that you will fall back into your old, sinful patterns is to focus all your energy on trying to avoid them. Instead, keep your eyes fixed on the example of Jesus and model your life after the characteristics he exuded throughout his ministry.

If we can learn to master those two steps then, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we will soon discover that the gap between who we are and who God has called us to be will begin to narrow. That process won’t finish this side of heaven, but the Lord is ready to help us renew and retrain our minds according to his will.

Will you let him?