Executive Function and Weight

Executive Function and Weight

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Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Oprah Winfrey. What do they have in common? These business leaders changed the world by creating a vision and making decisions that were often considered too difficult or insurmountable. As CEOs, their jobs were to guide their companies and keep them running smoothly for the long-term. Through hard work and wise choices, their businesses flourished in the face of significant challenges. Whether you realize it or not, your body is like a company, and you have a “CEO” of your own that can help out with weight loss. It’s commonly referred to as the “executive function.”

Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Oprah Winfrey. What do they have in common? These business leaders changed the world by creating a vision and making decisions that were often considered too difficult or insurmountable. As CEOs, their jobs were to guide their companies and keep them running smoothly for the long-term. Through hard work and wise choices, their businesses flourished in the face of significant challenges. Whether you realize it or not, your body is like a company, and you have a “CEO” of your own that can help out with weight loss. It’s commonly referred to as the “executive function.”

The executive function is the region of the brain where primary decision-making takes place. It manages attention, planning, problem- solving, working memory, and abstract thinking. It also regulates the regular monitoring of external stimuli and how to react to them.

Let’s take a look at how your brain’s executive function applies to external stimuli and weight loss efforts. If you love freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and you walk into your kitchen where a new batch is right out of the oven, you will need to make a decision. Viewed another way, the cookies are making you a business proposal. Will you accept or reject the offer to eat them?

This is where your executive function steps up to the helm. A strong executive function will help you objectively assess the situation and consider the benefits of short-term and long-term goals. Assuming that the long-term goal of weight loss trumps the short-term goal of instant gratification, the prudent course of action is to not accept the offer to eat the cookies. Conversely, a weak executive function might only see the value of the short-term solution, and therefore accept the deal. This of course will make investors (i.e., you) not very happy with that decision in the long run.

Studies have shown a correlation between people with strong executive functions and long-term weight loss. A brain activity study conducted by Brigham Young University found that participants who lost weight and kept it off for more than 12 months displayed the highest levels of activity in the executive processes area of the brain, compared to the overweight and healthy weight participants. Researchers suggest the group’s reliance on the executive processes may explain why they succeeded at losing weight and keeping it off.

So is it possible to improve your executive control? Research has shown that regular aerobic exercise can help people of all ages optimize it. A study published in The Journals of Gerontology found that older adults were able to significantly increase healthy brain tissue associated with executive control after six months of regular aerobic exercise. And it just so happens that regular aerobic activity is a key indicator of long-term successful weight loss. Do you see the link? Increasing aerobic activity is a weight loss one-two punch! You’ll be able to burn more calories and also enhance your executive functioning. Wouldn’t you say that’s a very wise investment?

Another way to enhance your internal CEO is through the delay of gratification. Better known as “willpower,” delayed gratification is the ability to put off an immediate reward, like those fresh chocolate chip cookies, for a greater one in the future, such as a slimmer, healthier body. Through a combination of behavioral intervention and visualization, everyone has the ability to master the skill of delayed gratification. It’s almost like a training programming for your CEO (hey, even the top dog needs to practice to stay sharp).

According to a Buffalo University study, 24 healthy weight and 24 overweight female participants underwent behavioral assessments to determine motivation levels, perspective on time, and how often they sought out fun and responded to rewards. The study demonstrated that overweight and obese women ate less when they imagined themselves in enjoyable future scenarios. The technique of projecting themselves into a happy future enabled them to delay the immediate satisfaction obtained through food.

The research of the executive function is fascinating and continues to provide key insights into how it can help with healthy weight loss.  Your medical provider can offer more information on the benefits of daily aerobic activity and other behaviors that can serve to strengthen your brain’s CEO. Remember, you’re in charge! And your body is counting on you to make decision that will help you thrive for years to come.

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