By Daniel G. Amen, MD

Have you ever tried dieting only to lose weight and then gain it all back… and more? Based on our brain imaging work at the Amen Clinics with tens of thousands of patients from 90 different countries over the last 20 years, we have discovered TWO of the major secrets why most diets don’t work. And contrary to what you might think, they have nothing to do with your lack of desire to lose weight or your willpower.

In fact, as we will see, for some people the harder they try to lose weight the worse it gets. The first secret is that most weight problems occur between your ears. So stapling your stomach, may be working on the wrong organ.

It is your brain that pushes you away from the table telling you that you’ve had enough, or it is your brain that gives you permission to have that second bowl of ice cream, making you look and feel like a blob.

If you want a better body the first place to always start is by having a better brain.

The second secret is that there is not brain pattern associated with being overweight. There are at least 5 different patterns. And knowing about your own specific brain will make losing weight and keeping it off a whole lot easier. Later in the Daniel Plan we will talk about each of these five types.

I was at dinner recently with a friend who was NOT taking his weight problem seriously, even though he worked for a health care company! He was morbidly obese and ordered two soufflés for desert, on top of a huge meal. Dumbfounded by his bad judgment, I told him that he wanted to avoid the “dinosaur syndrome.”

“What’s that?” he laughed.

I said, “Big body … little brain … become extinct!”

A series of horrifying studies have shown that AS YOUR WEIGHT GOES UP, THE ACTUAL PHYSICAL SIZE OF YOUR BRAIN GOES DOWN! The first study of this kind was from the University of Pittsburgh where researchers found that the brains of overweight people, people who had a BMI between 25-30, had 4% less brain tissue, which means 4 billion less brain cells, and their brains looked 8 years older than healthy people! People who were obese, people who had a BMI over 30 had 8% less brain tissue, which means 8 billion less brain cells, and their brains looked 16 years older than healthy people!

When it comes to the brain, SIZE MATTERS. You do not want a smaller brain. At the Amen Clinics, we have also discovered that as your weight goes up, your thinking and reasoning goes down as well; which means unless you get your weight under control it will become harder and harder to make good health decisions.

Without a healthy brain nothing in your life is as good as it can be! Not your relationships, not your work, not your money, not your energy, not your memory, nothing. The fat on your body is not just a storage place for excess calories, it produces toxic chemicals that promote inflammation and damage your brain. Looking good and losing weight is not just about vanity. It is critical to both your physical and your emotional health.

Your brain is involved in everything you do, including how you think, how you feel, how you act and how you get along with other people. Your brain is the organ of judgment, personality, character and all your decisions.

When your brain works right, you work right.
When your brain is troubled, you are much more likely to have trouble in your life.

At the Amen Clinics we do a brain imaging study called SPECT to help us understand and treat our patients. SPECT measures blood flow and activity patterns. It looks at how the brain works. A healthy scan shows full even symmetrical activity.

Brain SPECT Imaging

With a healthy brain you are happier, healthier, wealthier, wiser and you just make better decisions. When your brain is not healthy, for whatever reason, you are sadder, sicker, poorer, not as smart and you make poorer decisions. I want you to develop BRAIN ENVY, and want to have a better brain; because with a better brain everything in your life will be better.

One of the first steps to getting healthy is to boost the actual physical functioning of your brain, so you have better forethought and you make better decisions.

Boosting your brain is very simple. It only requires two strategies:


  1. Avoid things that hurt your brain and;
  2. Engage in regular brain healthy habits.

For example:

Poor nutrition
Drug and alcohol abuse
Chronic stress
Smoking, excessive caffeine
Sleep deprivation, sleep apnea
Physical trauma
Lack of exercise
Overweight, obesity
Diabetes, heart disease, hypertension
Low thyroid, low testosterone
Too much computer or TV time
Negative thinking patterns
Low vitamin D levels
High or very low cholesterol levels
Cancer chemotherapy
Environmental toxins

Engage in:
Great nutrition
Adequate sleep (7-8 hours)
Maintain stable blood sugar
Continual new learning
Exercise, especially coordination exercises
Manage your stress
Killing the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts)
Supplements (multi-vitamin, fish oil, etc.)
Brain type specific interventions
Emotional support
Assertiveness to advocate for own health
Brain rehab if trauma is present
Calorie restriction
Treat any emotional or brain problems

Take Becca, 44, for example. She came to see me for impulsiveness and obesity. At 5 feet tall, she weighed 200 pounds and had tried many times without success to lose weight. When we scanned her brain, it showed very low activity in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, likely from a car accident in childhood. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for planning, decision-making, and impulse control. On treatment to enhance activity in her prefrontal cortex, Becca’s impulsiveness significantly diminished and she was able to stay on our program and lose 80 pounds over the next two years. If Becca had never addressed the problem with her brain, she never would have been able to follow through with a weight loss plan.

Make a commitment to brain health and you will make better decisions for the rest of your life!!


Dan, 55, used to think about food all day long! Before he came to see us he had no clue how many calories a day he ate and he suffered with terrible cravings. He had tried diet after diet, but nothing worked. When he joined our program his goal was just “to keep from putting on more weight during the holidays.” He did far more than that! In 40 weeks he has lost 86 pounds.

Dan says he feels healthier, more alert and his memory is better. For Dan, discovering his brain type, which we will talk about in the next step, was one of the major steps to solving his weight problem and he has “successfully dealt with his compulsive behaviors, mood swings and anxiety that drove his overeating.” And, he told us that for the first time, “The refrigerator has stopped calling his name.” Dan says that journaling was critical part of his success. You can see in the photo what 80 pounds of fat looks like. This is what Dan has stopped carrying around! Imagine carrying around a 40 pound dumbbell in this hand and one in the other hand and carrying it around all the time. Dan no longer has to do that.

You can do this too. None of this is hard. But NOW is the time to start, not tomorrow, which is something you have been telling yourself for decades.