image of brain with text: 3 neurological systems that make dieting difficult

Make Weight Loss Easier

adaptation brain science dieting dopamine energy balance homeostasis prefrontal cortex reverse dieting reward reward system self control May 02, 2020

When clients come to KJO Coaching, they often tell us that they’re looking to lose body fat but just can't seem to stick with the behaviors and habits necessary to make it happen. 

The truth is, your brain doesn’t care that you want to be shredded⁣. 

Your body and brain are adaptation machines with one main goal: survival.⁣

As you diet, your system will keep adapting and trying to *save* you from food *deprivation*

Your body trying to save you will ultimately make it more difficult to keep dieting over time or when your body is straight up sick of your bullshit.

There’s some stuff going on with your brain that makes this happen, so I’m going to zero in on three different systems in your brain that impact your ability to achieve weight loss and other fitness goals. 


Weight Loss and Your Brain

Your ability to lose weight is impacted by three different brain systems.

  • Homeostatic system
  • Reward-related system
  • Inhibitory system

Understanding how these brain systems work in relation to your fitness goals is the key to achieving and maintaining those goals. 



Your Homeostatic System

Your homeostatic system is the one that seeks homeostasis, also known as energy balance. 

This part of your brain is largely driven by your hypothalamus and seeks to level out your calorie or energy balance. (You can learn more about energy balance in this post.)

So as you’re eating fewer and fewer calories, your brain wants to balance out the energy you’re giving your body, which slows down your metabolism to decrease your energy expenditure. You may find yourself doing less thumb twiddling, hair twirling, and other “unnecessary” movements as your body adjusts to the lower energy levels. 

This downregulation is why at KJO Coaching, we often talk to our clients about the importance of reverse dieting.


⁣Your Reward-Related System

This system is the one that wants to get a reward. It’s driven by the dopaminergic signaling pathway. 

Remember, dopamine is the neurotransmitter that motivates your drive for reward, but not it doesn’t necessarily provide it. 

The reward system looks for perceived reward, whether it’s truly rewarding or not. 


Your Inhibitory System

The inhibitory system is the brain system that’s connected to self-control.

It is driven by the prefrontal cortex, and it seeks deliberate decision-making. This part of your brain is responsible for self-control and willpower while dieting. 

While short-term restriction can be sustainable and beneficial, trying to restrict for the long term is when you’re going to start having issues with willpower. That’s because long-term restriction is a lot more daunting than deciding to be in a dieting phase for four or six weeks. 

Check out this post to learn more about using short-term restriction as a learning tool to achieve your fitness goals. 


Dieting Brain vs. Non-Dieting Brain

In non-dieting times, the drive for eating to preserve homeostasis isn’t present because you aren’t restricting energy/calories, so there are no energy imbalances to “fix.”

However, when you’re dieting, you’re intentionally expending more energy than you’re consuming, so the homeostatic system upregulates the reward-seeking in your brain to balance out your energy levels. 

Have you ever noticed that cookies, chips, pie, etc., were never that enticing until you started dieting?⁣

The temptation comes from upregulated reward signaling, which can override your inhibition and make it more difficult to walk past the cookie jar⁣.


Achieve Your Fitness Goals With a Growth Mindset⁣


Okay, but before you go all fixed mindset on me like,⁣ “This is why I always fall off plan. My brain makes it impossible!”⁣

No, no, no.⁣

This is science. Knowing how your brain works when you’re trying to diet is helpful.⁣

Understand what you’re getting yourself into so you can prepare for the challenges and effort required to succeed.⁣

Above all, how you diet and how you stop dieting (read more about reverse dieting here and here) will impact the degree to which your brain kicks these processes into high gear in an attempt to *save* you.⁣

Approaches like crash dieting, shakes and liquid meals, cutting out food groups, 1200 calories, #nodaysoff, extreme restriction, and inflexible meal plans (all of which are typically followed by days of over-eating)⁣ are no bueno!

There are more sustainable and healthier ways to achieve your health and fitness goals.⁣

It will still be a challenge, and it will require effort, but I can promise you it’ll be 1000% easier than any fad diet or severe restriction.⁣

Know your body, know yourself, and diet responsibly.


Get Your Mind Right


When clients come to KJO Coaching, it’s not just to lose weight or start taking better care of themselves…

It’s because they know they need to work on their mindset, too.

They know they’re holding themselves back in some way…and we’re extremely well-equipped to help them do that.

This isn’t just “woo woo” mindset stuff. We’ll work with you using science-backed strategies from mindset and behavior change research.

BUT–you can also get started on this all on your own through our most popular free resource: The Science of Self Sabotage.

This is a totally free 5-day workshop series taught by me (Kasey Orvidas, Ph.D.) to help you better understand WHY you’re holding yourself back and how to start to get a handle on it.

Check it out HERE!


Of course, if you want a more personalized experience and find yourself needing accountability, you can also apply to work 1:1 with one of the incredible KJO Coaches who can teach you how to set up a nutrition and fitness plan that actually fits your lifestyle while improving your mindset so those changes you make actually last this time.

Click here to learn more about coaching. 

Check out my original post here.


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Email: [email protected]

IG: @coachkaseyjo @kjocoaching

Hi, I'm Kasey!

I coach, mentor, write, and teach with one main focus: Build strong bodies and healthy lifestyles, starting with your mindset.


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