5 Simple Brain Hacks That Can Help You Lose Weight

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DaryaEmbedDarya Rose is the author of Foodist and creator of Summer Tomato, one of TIME's 50 Best Websites of 2011. She received her Ph.D in neuroscience from UCSF and her bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley. Darya spends most of her time thinking and writing about food, health, and science. She eats amazing things daily and hasn't even considered going on a diet since 2007.

When it comes to weight loss, knowing what to eat and what not to eat is rarely our biggest problem. Most of us understand instinctively that salad is a better choice than french fries. The real challenge is making the right decision often enough to have a lasting impact on our health and body weight.

The food and health decisions we make every day start in our brains, not on our plates. Here are five simple brain hacks you can use to make healthy choices easier instead of harder to implement.

1. Don’t call food “healthy”
While there is a small segment of the population that does not react negatively to the word “healthy,” most of us assume healthy food tastes worse and is less filling. Ironically, this is true whether or not the food is actually healthy.

Research has shown that reframing your food choices as “tasty” or “fresh” instead of “healthy,” will help you enjoy the food more and be satisfied with less.

2. Sleep and eat at the same times each day
Our brains have built-in clocks that do their best to predict our behavior and make sure our bodies are ready for things like sleeping and eating. It does this by regulating hormones that control hunger, satiety, alertness, sleepiness, and all the other things we do on a daily basis.

When we are on a regular schedule of sleeping and eating at the same times each day we are far better at regulating our body weight, because we are hungry at the appropriate times. An added bonus is that you’ll also get better sleep.

Be sure to click over for more brain hacks on page two.

Photo: Courtesy of Darya Rose
foodist3. Find healthy behaviors you enjoy
One of the reasons typical restrictive diets fail is because they rely heavily on willpower, which tends to be tapped at the end of the day. Building healthy habits that last long enough to be meaningful requires a different strategy.

All habits are formed because something about the behavior is rewarding. The reward then reinforces the cue that triggers the habitual behavior to repeat. This means that in order for a new healthy habit to stick, you need to actually enjoy it. Find healthy, tasty foods and physical activities you actually like if you want your weight loss to last.

4. Track your progress
It is hard to know which of your behaviors are helping and which are not if you don’t have a good understanding of what you’re doing each day and how it affects you. Keeping a food journal allows you to identify patterns in your eating habits and find things you can easily change to improve your health.

Similarly, keeping track of your steps using a pedometer or other motion tracker forces you to be honest with yourself about how active you really are. Digital scales that track your weight over time can show you what’s working and what isn’t.

Just as important, your brain loves knowing that the efforts you’re making are paying off. Tracking your progress is therefore another reward for your brain to reinforce your good habits.

5. Learn to eat mindfully
Mindful eating is a practice that involves removing outside distractions and focusing solely on the food that you’re eating. Though it may seem obvious that eating mindlessly is a bad idea, mindfulness can actually be practiced and cultivated until it becomes a habit that can help you eat better and be satisfied with less.

While there are many ways to develop the habit of mindful eating, doing things like chewing each bite of food 25 times, putting your fork down between bites, turning off the TV, and eating your first bite with your eyes closed can help get you started.

Know any other genius brain hacks? Speak up and spill them all in the comments below!

Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting, by Darya Rose, $18.78, available at Amazon.