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The science and psychology of winning the weight loss battle

Jun 14, 2016
Ashley Ann Lawrie

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Eat better and exercise – these are the basics of living a healthier, happier and more productive life. But weight loss and weight management is a real struggle for many people.

There is much more to it than just keeping your fingers out of that cookie jar or bag of chips. It’s a combination of nature and nurture — biological processes you can’t control, coupled with learned behaviours and personality traits you can manage with a little psychology.

This complex interplay between mind, body and soul has long fascinated Free Form Fitness trainer Luzia Jaeger Hintze. After earning her bachelor degree in kinesiology and a Masters with a specialization in physical activity and health in her native Brazil, the 29-year-old came to Canada in 2013 to pursue a PhD in human kinetics at the University of Ottawa.

Luzia’s focus is helping people with obesity. Her interest in the science of gaining and losing weight began in her teens, when she herself contended with an eating disorder.

“I want more tools to treat obesity, to know what variables should be looked at and how to address them to increase a person’s success rate,” she said. “I want to work in a meaningful area that can help a large number of people improve their health.”

But why work as a trainer at Free Form Fitness?

“As a kid, I was always into sports, I liked to be active,” she said. “when I started my undergrad, I joined and continue to be part of a group focused on treating obesity among teenagers. We always worked on exercise, nutrition and psychology. It was never just about training, but I was always in gyms and I liked to train people. I could apply what I was studying, not only on people who wanted to drop weight but also with people who wanted to change their lifestyle.”

She ended up working as a group class instructor and personal trainer through school. When she came to Canada, Luzia wanted that same opportunity. She learned about FFF from a former client.

“What I liked about FFF is that it works on that full circle of nutrition, psychology, exercise and accountability,” she said. “We use a brain quiz to see if a client has any neurotransmitter deficiencies that might make a change of habit more difficult. We investigate which habits we should work on more with each client. So you don’t come to FFF just to exercise and then go home – we work with different tools to improve each client’s lifestyle and this is what makes FFF unique.”

Luzia has been working as a trainer since October while she pursues her PhD. She brings to the gym her cutting-edge research into all the genetic factors and psychological traits that impact a person’s ability to manage their weight.

For example, few people realize that their sense of smell is enhanced when they diet, which increases cravings to eat the things they shouldn’t. Or that when you lose weight, your resting metabolic rate decreases, which slows down how fast your body will burn fat. But everyone is different. The challenge is to understand how these biological mechanisms impact a specific person’s weight loss efforts and what kind of dietary changes may be necessary to manage them.

Luzia has seen firsthand what happens when people look for the magical fix they believe will free them from the need to practice restraint. She has worked with many people who underwent bariatric surgery, which attempts to support weight loss by constricting the size of the stomach with a gastric band. (Think of those Slimband commercials.)

“Most would still recover all the weight they had dropped, because they didn’t change their eating habits,” Luzia said. “Only the people who changed their behaviours around what they were eating, who became more active, would maintain the weight loss.”

In the end, there is no substitute for making positive changes and staying accountable. Luzia and the whole FFF team are ready to help.

“As a scientist, I know that what is helpful long term is always in the brain, it’s in your motivation to change your behaviour, to have better self-control and to think better about yourself,” she said.

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