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Weight Loss

Top MD: These Strategies “Work Like Gastric Bypass for Your Brain” to Help Boost Weight Loss

It worked for Jean McLain: "As my head got in a better place, my body did the same"

Wish it didn’t feel so hard to resist unhealthy foods and oversize portions? Then consider this surprising solution: Simple strategies that strengthen the brain area behind your forehead, called the prefrontal cortex, “can work like gastric bypass for your brain,” reveals renowned psychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD, who came to this realization while analyzing more than 200,000 patient brain scans. “The same way gastric bypass restricts the amount of food you want to eat, a strong prefrontal cortex activates your internal portion controller and cravings buster.” That means slimming down becomes pretty darn effortless. “We’ve had people lose over 400 pounds in their brain-health journey,” says the doc. Keep reading for how to strengthen your prefrontal cortex for weight loss.

What is the prefrontal cortex?

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) doesn’t strictly regulate our weight. “It’s the CEO of your brain,” explains Dr. Amen. “It supervises your behavior and is involved in all planning, decision-making, impulse control and follow-through. When the prefrontal cortex works right, you work right. You’ll make better decisions about your job, finances, relationships — really everything.”

That said, we average 227 decisions a day about food, plus hundreds more choices about things like exercise and hydration that also impact our waistline. So it’s no wonder a European study found that stimulating the prefrontal cortex helps folks slim down significantly. “Weight loss is a pleasant ‘side effect’ when you optimize your PFC,” Dr. Amen notes.

How to boost the prefrontal cortex for weight loss

Why might your prefrontal cortex be struggling? Culprits include stress, poor sleep, a diet that clogs blood vessels or inflames brain tissue and even head trauma. Dr. Amen adds that excess weight itself also dampens prefrontal cortex function. So if you’re carrying spare pounds, you’ll almost certainly benefit from one (or all!) of these 5 techniques to give your PFC some TLC…

1. Feed your prefrontal cortex 

Diets high in sugar and blood sugar–spiking ­processed foods “wreak havoc on the PFC and entire brain, increasing erratic brain-cell firing and brain inflammation,” explains Dr. Amen. (We also accumulate inflammation from aging, called inflammaging.)

His fix? Compounds in wild salmon, blueberries (aka “brainberries”), pumpkin seeds and cinnamon are particularly good at restoring prefrontal cortex function. In general, he prescribes a mix of high-quality protein (which “fires up the PFC”), plus antioxidant-rich produce and healthy fats to soothe inflammation. Swedish scientists found this style of eating works so well, an average postmenopausal woman will drop 20 pounds without limiting portions.

Bonus booster: Eat a late breakfast. Why? A longer break without food gives the body and brain time to heal, so the prefrontal cortex and entire body works better, says the doc. (Learn more of the benefits of fasting for menopause weight loss.)

2. Sip smart

“Your brain is 80% water, and even mild dehydration impacts function,” notes Dr. Amen, who suggests 8 to 10 glasses of water daily. Compounds in green tea are proven to give the PFC a significant boost. But do limit caffeine, which is dehydrating. Alcohol also inhibits PFC activity.

Related: How Much Water Should You Drink in a Day? A Doctor + Nutritionist Settle the Debate

3. Have a blast

Dance, ski, even Hula-Hoop! (Yes, weighted hula hooping for weight loss does work!) In fact, any form of movement pumps blood to your PFC. And as the brain region is optimized, hunger drops and the desire to get moving surges. Says Dr. Amen, “Physical activity is like a wonder drug for your brain.”

The fun keeps coming: You can specifically strengthen your prefrontal cortex “with language and strategy games like Scrabble, Boggle, crosswords and chess,” he notes.

4. Say a little prayer

“Spend 10 to 20 minutes a day in prayer or meditation,” suggests Dr. Amen. “Both improve blood flow to the PFC and boost mood.” Indeed, a UCLA study found daily meditation increases the thickness of the PFC.

Related: Writing Meditation Is Like Therapy Without the Therapist — Here’s How To Do It

5. Consider a supplement

“Omega-3s are critical for brain and PFC function, and most people don’t get enough. At Amen Clinics, we tested 50 consecutive patients and found that 49 had suboptimal levels,” says the doc. His daily Rx: a 1,400 mg. omega-3 supplement that’s mostly EPA and DHA fatty acids, such as BrainMD Omega-3 Power. (And the benefits of omega-3 go far beyond just weight loss.)

Want to learn which strategies may help you most? Take Dr. Amen’s free quiz at

Prefrontal cortex healing success story

Dr. Amen says one of the best tools is comparing before-and-after brain scans and seeing how well his strategies are working. But the difference is evident even without scans.

“Take my patient Nancy: She was in her 80s when she found one of my books in a used bookstore. She decided to start with one strategy at a time and began by simply drinking more water,” shares Dr. Amen. “Then she started taking brain-healthy supplements. By the time I met her, she was 83, dancing, playing table tennis and taking French lessons. Her energy, mood and memory were remarkably better, plus she’d lost 70 pounds. One of the most important things we’ve learned is that it’s never too late to have a better brain, a better body and a better life!”

Prefrontal cortex healing before & after: Jean McLain

Before and after photos of Jean McLain who lost 80 lbs with tricks to strengthen her prefrontal cortex for weight loss
Joey Ambrose

Battling lingering sadness after the loss of two close friends to COVID-19, University of Arizona professor Jean McLain began looking for ways to lift her spirits. Her husband said that swapping processed food for lots of protein, produce and healthy fats had improved his mood and health. “He used the MyFitnessPal app and made it sound fun.” So Jean tried it, also resolving to hop on her old Nordic Track ski machine for at least 5 minutes (and up to 30 minutes) a day.

She had no idea how much she was helping her prefrontal cortex, “but as my head got in a better place, my body did the same. I lost so much faster than in the past by cutting carbs or using ready-made meals.”

Jean’s habits soon became automatic, “and I found I could enjoy chips without an urge to eat the entire bag.” In just over a year, she was down 80 pounds, her prediabetes gone, her sleep far sounder. “I used to avoid exercise; now I look forward to being active. And I’m just so much more confident and happy!”

Prefrontal cortex healing meals

To get the “gastric bypass for your brain” effect, eat your first meal around 11 am and skip processed food in favor of quality protein (at every sitting), healthy fats and colorful/high-fiber carbs (like veggies, fruit, beans and sweet potato). Use lots of herbs/spices. For optimal results, limit or skip gluten, corn, soy, sugar and dairy, which may trigger inflammation. We’ve got ideas to inspire you here. Dr. Amen’s wife, a nurse, also shares great recipes at

Late breakfast

Blitz 1 cup frozen cherries, 1 cup spinach, 14 cup stevia-sweetened protein powder, 14 cup pumpkin seeds and a dash of cinnamon.


Mix wild-caught canned salmon or tuna with avocado mayo. Roll in a gluten-free wrap with veggies to taste. Add a side of fruit.


Enjoy grilled chicken breast or burgers; for easy sides, roast sweet potato and veggies with olive oil and herbs.

Bonus recipe: ‘Brainberry’ French Toast

French toast sticks with blueberries for brain health

This healthy twist of a classic makes a tasty meal or snack. Makes 2 servings.


  • 2 eggs, plus 2 extra whites
  • 1⁄2 cup unsweetened nut milk
  • 1⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 slices gluten-free bread
  • 2 tsp. coconut or avocado oil
  • 1 cup organic blueberries
  • 3 Tbs. pure maple syrup


  1. Whisk eggs, milk and cinnamon.
  2. Soak each side of bread in mixture 30 seconds.
  3. Heat oil over medium.
  4. Add bread; brown both sides. Enjoy with berries and syrup.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

For more on over-50 weight loss, check out these stories:

How Adding Nuts to a Low-Carb Diet Boosts Mood and Burns Fat Faster: Breakthrough Study

This Meno-Belly Diet Heals the Hidden Nerve Glitch That Makes It Hard to Lose Weight After Age 50

Intermittent Fasting for Menopause: Top Doc Shares Easy Twist Just for Women Over 50

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