Tired woman in bed refusing to wake up

There is ample advice out there on how to achieve a healthier lifestyle. By now you know to start up an exercise regime, eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting sugar, flour, alcohol and saturated fat.  What if you are doing all that and yet you are still not feeling your best and not achieving your goals?

The missing link may be sleep. Are you getting enough? Because if you are not, you may end up inadvertently sabotaging your healthy lifestyle plan.

The link between sleep deprivation and obesity has been established for some time, however, the biological reasons behind the correlation are not fully understood.

A recent study out of UC Berkeley1; however, has shed some light on exactly what is happening in our brains after a bad night’s sleep.

This study recruited 23 young adults to determine what effect, if any, a good night sleep and a bad night’s sleep would have on their response to food. It turns out, sleep has a significant effect.

After a good night’s sleep, the subjects chose to eat fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. After the restless night; however, the subjects opted for doughnuts, pizzas and burgers.   In fact, the extent to which the subjects craved the high-calorie food was associated with the severity of sleep loss across the participants, that is, the worse the sleep – the stronger the desire for junk.

The researchers analyzed the subjects’ brain activities through MRI. They found that after a poor night of rest, frontal lobe activity was impaired. The frontal lobe is involved with complex decision-making, such as deciding between right and wrong and analyzing the consequences of our actions.  Further, they also found an increase in activity of the amygdala. The amygdala, by contrast, is the part of the brain that responds to rewards. This increase in amygdala activity and decrease in frontal lobe activity is thought to partly explain why people with less sleep chose the unhealthier foods.

Other studies have shown that chronic lack of sleep, such as for those on shift-work, can reduce the body’s production of leptin. Leptin is a hormone involved in the regulation of appetite, in particular, leptin tells us when we are full. Without adequate supplies of leptin, our internal appetite controls become disordered and ineffective.

So continue to eat your vegetables, get your exercise in, but for goodness sake, get to bed!

Sleep well.


1. S. Greer, A. Goldstein, M. Walker, The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Food Desire in the Human Brain. Nature Communications 4, Article No. 2259. doi:10.1038/ncomms325, 

2. Patel SR, Hu FB, Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: a systematic review. Ovesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Mar; 16(3):643-53. doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.118. Epub 2008 Jan 17.

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The most important component of any weight control program is YOU. You must want to lose weight and you must take on the responsibility for achieving your goals. You must be willing to tolerate some discomfort as you make your lifestyle changes. So I ask the question….

Are you really ready for this?

Many people talk about losing weight, but it often just doesn’t happen. In some cases this comes down to the individual not being truly ready to take on the challenge. And that is ok. But making a half-hearted attempt at weight loss will never be successful. More importantly, it will leave you feeling disheartened, frustrated and defeated.

You are ready when you are ready, you can’t force it. Or perhaps you feel great, have loads of energy and do not mind the few extra pounds that have crept on over the last few years. You may feel no need to fit into the jeans you wore when you were 21. If that is the case, good for you and stop reading.

If, however, you are part of the 71% of Canadians who have tried to lose weight and would like to try again, pause for a moment and take stock. Print out the Readiness Questionnaire below and answer the questions as honestly as you can.  The Questionnaire will help you become more mindful of your true feelings towards yourself, your weight and ultimately your readiness to take on the challenge.

The good news – when truly ready, success will follow.


Why do I want to lose weight*?

What will change if I lose weight?

What will I gain or how will my life be enhanced if I lose weight?

Am I ready to start making healthier changes to my diet including adjusting my portion sizes, adding new foods to my menu and modifying how I eat my food?

Am I prepared to remove unhealthy foods from my home and replace them with those suggested by a qualified health professional?

Am I prepared to pay the cost of weight loss, that is, tolerating some discomfort in foregoing or limiting my favourite foods and drinks?

Is my desire to lose weight more important than my desire to overeat or to not exercise?

Am I willing to keep track of my food consumption in a food diary and reflect upon all that I put into my body each day and why?

Am I prepared to change negative eating behaviours that have sabotaged my success in the past (eating in front of TV, eating for comfort or stress, cleaning off my child’s plate)?

Am I ready to defend my efforts against those who may try to consciously or unconsciously sabotage my need to achieve a healthier lifestyle?

Am I willing to commit to 4-5 days of exercise/week (minimum of 30 minutes exercise on each of those days).?

Am I prepared to drink alcohol in moderation or avoid it completely in order to achieve my goals?

Am I confident that I am now ready to undertake all that is necessary to achieve a healthier life for myself?

* Data from the National Weight Control Registry indicates the key factor to successful weight loss and maintenance is to do it for yourself.

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