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New study: why diets don't work


New study: why diets don't work

Ever struggled to lose weight on a diet? A new University of Cambridge study has found out why many diets don’t work. Essentially, when we don’t eat enough food, our brain cells stop the body from burning calories.
Published in eLife journal, the study pinpoints a specific mechanism that’s triggered when a person goes on a low-calorie diet.
"Weight loss strategies are often inefficient because the body works like a thermostat and couples the amount of calories we burn to the amount of calories we eat," said Dr Clémence Blouet from the Metabolic Research Laboratories at University of Cambridge.
"When we eat less, our body compensates and burns fewer calories, which makes losing weight harder. We know that the brain must regulate this caloric thermostat, but how it adjusts calorie burning to the amount of food we've eaten has been something of a mystery."
A mystery until now, that is.

How was the discovery made?

The research team used mice to test the affects of a low-calorie diet on particular neurons in the brain. Known as ‘agouti-related neuropeptide’ (AGRP) neurons, they help regulate our appetite.
When the neurons are turned on, we eat. But if they aren’t triggered, they can cause severe anorexia.
The researchers switched the neurons on and off to see what happened.
They discovered that when activated, the neurons increase our appetite and compel us to eat. But if we don’t eat (or eat very little), the neurons work to reserve energy. In doing this, they prevent the body from burning too many calories. And as a result, it becomes much harder to lose weight.
"Our findings suggest that a group of neurons in the brain coordinate appetite and energy expenditure, and can turn a switch on and off to burn or spare calories depending on what's available in the environment," said Dr Blouet.
"If food is available, they make us eat, and if food is scarce, they turn our body into saving mode and stop us from burning fat."

What’s the take away?

Why is this study significant? Well, it shows that limiting calories actually makes it harder to reach our weight loss goals.
As any dietician or nutritionist would say, it’s important to eat a wide variety of fresh, whole foods – combined with regular exercise – to manage our weight.

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