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The Prefrontal Cortex

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Suppose you have decided to lose weight; how did you actually reach this decision? The answer is that you reflected upon it and then made a decision with your prefrontal cortex. Where to find it? Slap your flat hand, thumb up, against your brow, and you will have covered a large part of your conscious mind.

This is the area we use to truly think about things. We take things into consideration on the basis of the information we have, but also on the basis of information we can think of and picture. This is useful, since it also enables us to imagine how something could work out in the future. Then we can think of a plan – with the same prefrontal cortex – in order to actually achieve our idea.

The process of thought is a characteristic that provides us with unimaginable capacities for inventing, making or creating things. It is the trait that the electrician uses when assessing a switch box. The same trait the furniture maker uses when designing a chair. Or the painter, when he or she draws up an action plan for sanding and painting a house. The professor uses this characteristic when drawing up a mathematical formula. And Rembrandt used it to paint his famous Nachtwacht (Night Watch).

It is also the quality one uses when assessing one’s own situation (for example, being overweight), and when formulating an idea to do something about it (such as losing weight). You are using the same characteristic while you are reading this article.

Power by Focusing

It is almost unbelievable what you can do with your brain by focusing on something. Such a focus emerges because large groups of cells of the prefrontal cortex work on the same complicated task. Unlike the hypothalamus, where different groups of cells are busy dealing with different and simpler tasks.

People who want to start slimming also often exhibit this focus. They make a resolution, often at the beginning of the year, and then they make a decision and a plan. The plan might be a result of reading a book on a new diet, for instance. They get started, full of enthusiasm and with their full attention. More often than not you will see an effect. The kilos keep disappearing and the compliments are always accepted gleefully. This is exactly why many of these diets actually work. Or rather: they work in the short term.

Less Focus

Anyone will acknowledge that focus is not something you can switch on whenever you want. You are simply not always sharp, you don’t always concentrate for 100% on what you are doing. Therefore, the strongest point, being focused, can also be the weakest point of the prefrontal cortex.

You will quite often see a decline or loss of focus with people who have started to lose weight. Not at first, because their concentration is extremely strong at that point. People have their goal in mind: losing weight, and the means: eating less or differently, and exercising more. Sometimes they discuss this with others, which in turn will reinforce this focus. Especially when their environment is positive and encouraging. So far, everything works out, mostly.

Although, when other issues in one’s life demand attention, the story changes. These issues could be anything: work, assignments, relationships, financial problems, kids, etc. By the time these issues demand more attention, things often start to turn around. 

It is almost unbelievable what you as a human being can do with your brain by focusing on something.

You see, the focus of the prefrontal cortex is necessary to suppress the natural urge of the hypothalamus (the hamster in your brain) to stockpile food in your body. Here, the prefrontal cortex will need to use his veto to oppose the hamster. But the hamster does not agree. And although the cortex can be distracted, the hypothalamus cannot. This makes the prefrontal cortex the finger in the dam. Once you remove the finger, the water immediately starts flowing. A bit like a teacher in front of a challenging class. When he takes a bathroom break, they start messing about right away.

In the same way, the hypothalamus starts to steer the rest of the brain and body towards food, when the prefrontal cortex lets its guard down. This is the moment you mindlessly munch a bowl of nuts while you were actually slimming.

Therefore, focusing the prefrontal cortex is essential, but also very difficult. How can you retain this focus as well as possible? Among other things, by getting support and training. Support comes in many ways. For example, through the commitment of the people around you, who help you achieve your goal. But also through electronic tools, such as a dedicated app, or via the exercises we provide on our website Haus of Hamster . The prefrontal cortex is also trained by this. Actually, this training of the cortex is nothing new. You have already received such training at school, and maybe also in further education. Furthermore, you can also train your prefrontal cortex by engaging in hobbies, doing puzzles, playing games and reading. Using your cortex often and a lot can help you lose weight. This has already been demonstrated by studies.

Key Points in This Section:

  • The prefrontal cortex plays an important part in the whole slimming process. This role consists of knowing why something needs to happen and making a decision to do it;
  • Up to a certain point, the prefrontal cortex is capable of controlling the hypothalamus, also known as the hamster;
  • The prefrontal cortex does indeed need the focus of the person involved;
  • This focus is not continuous by nature;
  • Training and support are necessary to maintain this focus.
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