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Health & Fitness

The heavy matter of weight loss via mental training

depression
Doctors have noted the fact that many depressed people have diabetes. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Qn: “Is it possible to keep my weight in check through mental training without having to go through torturous dieting and gym sessions? I attended a seminar where a speaker claimed that we can condition our minds to avoid weight gain”

Your question seems to confuse a number of thoughts and it is possible that you and the speaker at the seminar might have been singing from different hymn books.

It is possible that the speaker intended to convey the message that the mind is so powerful in the processing of anything that we do, that even in weight gain/loss the mind has a role to play.

If this was his line of thought, then he might have gone on to explain that in the act of controlling one’s weight, the mind, to some extent dictates the flow of events.

One’s motivation for weight loss is critical. A middle aged woman told to bring her weight down to stop the complications of diabetes and high blood pressure would use her mind to follow this medical advice.

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A young woman who after childbirth decides to go back to her original body size could use her mind to get into shape because that way she feels good about herself.

It is possible that the speaker at the seminar further explained that weight control is a function of two things. The first is the amount of food you put in your mouth.

The second is a function of how much you burn that food (calories). Any amount eaten and not burnt, finds its way into storage as fat. In this context he might have told you to use your mind to eat only what you can burn as calories, and also to tune your mind in the direction and discipline of regular exercise.

If only life was that simple! The problems of weight gain and loss can be very complex indeed.

What, for example tells you that you are hungry and that it is time to eat? On the other hand, what tells you that you have eaten enough food and you must stop eating.

The answer to these questions is surprisingly easy. You eat when a gland deep in your brain (hypothalamus) tells you that you are hungry and therefore time to find some food. This part of the brain in turn is stimulated to “give the order” to eat by a hormone (leptin) which is released by fat cells in your body. When functioning well, one is able to maintain a normal weight, by this mechanism.

For obese people, this system does not function as it should, and even after the individual has eaten large amounts of food, the hormone (leptin) fails to convince the brain that enough food has been had! Obese people therefore have, in their blood large amounts of leptin which somehow fails to press the brain button – STOP eating.

Current thinking therefore is that whereas the mind has a role in weight control, hormones have an equal if not greater control in what goes on. Both mechanisms clearly complement each other.

Life, sadly is not that simple because weight is also affected by your genes! You are who you are because of the genes given to you by your parents. You will, I am sure, have come across families with problems of obesity while some families are “thin”.

So, to some extent, you can thank (or blame) your parents for the weight problems you have, or don’t have. They, in turn might blame your grandparents.

Life would be easy if things ended there, but as you might expect, things are more complex. You are what you are today as a result of the interplay of your genes as well as the environment that those genes express themselves.

Put simply, if you inherit genes that could lead to obesity, then you might “use your mind” to put in place strategies to reduce intake and increase calorie utilisation. It is therefore possible that this is what your teacher at the seminar had in mind.

In the recent past, a debate has raged in medical circles, regarding the relationship between diabetes and depression.

Doctors have noted the fact that many depressed people have diabetes. In the same vein they have noted that many people who present with diabetes also have, on close examination features of depression. This conversation is dubbed, the dialogue on depression and diabetes.

What, many have sought to know, comes first. Is it the diabetes leading to the depression or is it the other way round? The scientific jury on the question is still out but it seems that the two conditions might be inherited through a similar genetic system. What, many now want to know is the link between weight gain, diabetes and even depression.

Yours is a very good question that is sure to stimulate much thought and conversation.

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