About

headshotI’m a neuroscientist and science writer, most recently the author of Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession with Weight Loss, published by Penguin Random House. I also serve on the Board of The Center for Mindful Eating. My talk at TEDGlobal 2013 on why I stopped dieting and switched to eating mindfully has received over 3.5 million views.

Before that, I wrote two books in collaboration with Sam Wang from Princeton. Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys But Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life was published by Bloomsbury US (March 2008) and twenty-three international publishers. The American Association for the Advancement of Science named it their Young Adult Science Book of the Year in 2009.

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College was also published by Bloomsbury US (September 2011) and sixteen international publishers. My science writing has been published in The New York TimesWashington PostEl Mundo and the Times of London, among other places.

Before becoming an author, I was the editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, a leading scientific journal in the field of brain research. I received my undergraduate degree in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University and my Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Rochester. After four years of postdoctoral research at Yale University, I joined Nature Neuroscience at its founding in 1998 and was editor in chief from 2003 to 2008. During my career at the journal, I read over four thousand neuroscience papers and wrote many editorials on science policy. I’ve also presented talks to parents, schools, non-profits, companies, universities, and scientific conferences.

My husband and I live on eight acres in Northern California with a dog and two cats. A few years ago, we sailed our ketch across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to New Zealand and back, via many South Pacific islands, including Tahiti, Bora Bora, Suwarrow, and Palmyra. I love dancing, truck camping, travel photography, hiking, cooking, and having written.

Contact:
sandra.aamodt[at]gmail[dot]com
twitter: @sandra_aamodt

36 thoughts on “About

  1. Enjoyed your talk on TED. God Bless you and thank you for all the hard work and thought you put in to help us understand ourselves.

  2. Your are an inspiring person!!I found out about u thanks to TED and i m so happy about that. We have some ideas in common about mindfulness and listening ourselves, our bodies and minds (that unfortunately is not so easy nowadays).
    Congrats and good luck for your future projects.
    Sandro

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  4. Dear Sandra,

    I loved and agreed with what you said 1,000000000%. I started dieting at a very early age and ended up with every eating disorder in the book. That on top of the yo yo dieting which caused me to feel like an epic failure in my eyes and the eyes of all those around me. It would stand to reason (though it’s flawed logic) that if you gained the weight back it’s because you failed or gave up or self sabotaged. All false logic. No one wants to be fat, least of all a young kid in school who knows that being that way=social rejection, ridicule and a lack of acceptance.

    only until I had trial and errored a billion times having “successfully” lost weight over and over again did a lightbulb go on in my head suggesting perhaps I was not the problem. This came as a huge relief to me as I could not bear the stigma, shame and disappointment in myself.

    I continued reading and looking into this theory and found a lot of evidence to support it. I finally did as you did and quit dieting several years ago and for the first time in my life my weight finally stabilized. I don’t go up and down anymore than 5 pounds on average. All my clothes in my closet are the same size and I have jeans from years ago that still fit. I do believe diets are the disease and not the cure. I do believe in set points too and while I don’t LOVE being a size 12 I can accept this as my average body size; one that my body does not reject and can remain stable at. While the lure of being thin again can be somewhat enticing I cannot and will not destroy myself again to try and make myself into something that is impossible to maintain and will only give me outer beauty but leave me feeling empty, hungry and desperate on the inside.

    There’s nothing better than having a piece of birthday cake without any shame, guilt or fear of weight gain. I’ve come to realize that one cookie, even two or three does NOT cause weight gain. What DOES is obsessive dieting, a diminished metabolic rate from years of dieting, binge eating because you are going to “start again on Monday”….

  5. I started practice mindfulness three month ago and I’ve lost 7 kg(12 Pounds?) without eating helthier or exercise more. I have relized its because Im more aware of what and how much I’m eating. Thank you for a good TED-talk.
    /Fredrik from Sweden

  6. Sandra, I want to marry you! Well, except that you’re married and so am I, but hey, in the world of imagination, anything is possible. I love your work, your humor, and your indescribable lightness of being. Most of the time, I think of the world as a field of opportunities to get hurt and humiliated. Watching your TED talk made me think about what it would take to see the world as a field of opportunities to do cool stuff and get paid for it. Maybe you can do another TED talk on the neuroscience of how people ARE in the world. My stepson (23, brilliant, funny, handsome, athletic) has come very very close to suicide. Never far away. Why? I understand, I’m largely a depressed creature myself. Why?
    Next Question. In what way are the struggles around weight, dieting, control, “Me” vs “My body” all culturally and not neuroscientifically determined? How do attitudes toward “body” and body image vary culturally? In short, where is “culture” in “neuroscience”?

  7. Hi. Loved your TED presentation, but the graph arose a discussion with my family, so we would like to know what is considered moderate drinking in your study?.

    Thanks in advance

    Nicolas from Venezuela

  8. Thank you for your TED talk – very timely for me who has just started Intuitive Eating. Will take about 12 months to re-learn my body signals!

  9. Sandra, thanks so very much for your TED talk on intuitive eating. I have been dieting off and on (and binge eating) since my teen years. I have never tried simply listening to my body. Your talk has inspired me to free myself of what is, I now realize, an unhealthy obsession with food and weight. Thanks, thanks, thanks!

  10. In your TED talk you have never once mentioned nutrition. All in my life I had struggled with weight untill one day I quit eating grains/ gluten and began to nourish myself with only organic food. My reason was rheumatoid arthritis. My pain and joint issues disappeared and the surprising sideeffect was that I began shedding my extra fat and gained energy. In your talk you have never once mentioned when the body is starving for nutrition ,the brain will crave. I wonder how many “expert ” like you keeping us in the dark about real truth . You are a mainstream scientist who is afraid to speak against greed. It is sad that you still don’t get it. Look int some me website of honest doctors like Mark Hyman and Peter Osborn.

    • I’m glad you found something that works for you, but the research indicates that low-carb diets have about the same long-term effect on weight as any other type of diet. That is, very little. This meta-analysis of studies involving about 3500 participants found that one year after starting a low-carb diet, people had lost about one pound on average. If experts knew how to make most obese people thin, I can guarantee that information would be published in the scientific literature and widely disseminated by journalists, not suppressed by Big Gluten or whoever you imagine is keeping us in the dark about real truth.

      • Marianna and Sandra,

        While the tone may leave something to be desired we believe Marianna’s comment about organic food has merit. We – husband and wife – tried something called the New Jersey Diet or NJDiet. It is more of a system than a diet which we started in August and ended mid-October 2014. 5-600 calories per day for 40 days, no carbs or fats, then add back fats for 3 weeks, normal calories, then eat normally. All organic food with some supplements. No chemicals of any kind! The promise is a guaranteed loss of at least 20 pounds in 6 weeks. We lost 28 and 35 pounds. The three weeks is intended to re-do that all-powerful set point and that is exactly what happened! In the 20 months since completing the diet neither of us has a variance of more than +/- 5 pounds from our October 2014 weight. Eat only organic food. Whenever we try to go to a non-organic restaurant we pay for it. We passed the diet along to others all of whom have had the same experience.

        • I’m glad that you found an approach that works for you, but we can’t rely on anecdotes to draw conclusions about weight loss in general. Only a randomized clinical trial lasting at least two years provides the necessary evidence to evaluate a weight-loss plan from a scientific perspective. If you can show me such a study, I’d be happy to consider changing my views.

  11. Your talk makes perfect sense to me – as an ex anorexic and yo-yo dieter and secret binge eater for over 20 years – I dieted myself progressively fatter. Over the years I worked with many others on The Mind over Fatter programme – an intuitive eating approach – and saw people gain control of their eating through NOT trying to control it.

    • I taught myself, by committing to check whether I was hungry every time I ate for a year. By the end of that process, I was able to notice hunger without concentrating on it, as I can still do today, five years later. People I respect have recommended Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays for a meditation-based approach, or the classic, Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

  12. I just watched your TED Talk with a smile on my face and I plan to share it with a large number of people. Thank you thank you thank you!

  13. You are so amazing. The way you view food is just simple, is natural. I just want to let you know how beautiful you are and that your words will be carried on to help this world to regain that knowledge of what just is and has always been. Thank you.

  14. Searching for materials on dieting and diets, I found your TED talk. It is very informative and interesting. I also like the way you look and talk.
    Thank you!

  15. Sandra, I found your TED talk eye-opening! I’m hoping you can clarify something for me: if your brain decides your set point is 300lbs after years of being at the weight, are you saying that mindful eating vs dieting can allow you to lose weight and keep it off? Or is the mindful eating method a means to prevent weight gain initially? I’m curious as to whether that 300lb person who may lose 150lbs is destined to continually struggle to keep that weight off, or will mindful eating allow them to change that? Would so much appreciate your scientific thoughts on this. Thanks so much!

    • Mindful eating is a way to stabilize weight at your set point because hunger and fullness are controlled by the part of the brain that determines the set point. Some people find that set point to be below their current weight, though rarely by 150 lbs, and many people find it to be near their current weight. For a few people, the set point may be above their current weight. So mindful eating is a better tool to prevent weight gain than to promote weight loss. That still makes mindful eating better than dieting, which seems to promote weight gain in the long run for many people and permanent weight loss for very few.

  16. You show a narrow view of science which can be dangerous. It appears you use the word diet as something people do to lose weight. Those with a modern knowledge of nutrition understand that in almost every case, switching to a healthy diet will naturally cause weight loss. Experts such as Dr. Mark Hyman or Dave Asprey can help you understand nutrition better.

    • My view of science is based on published research papers. If you can show me a randomized clinical trial in which more than half of the participants lost 10% of their weight and kept it off for two years on any diet, I’d be happy to consider the possibility that I’m wrong about long-term weight loss.

    • There is no One True Way to be healthy. Plant-based diets are healthy, and so are many diets that include meat, such as the Mediterranean diet. We can say for sure, though, that the standard American diet (SAD!) of refined grains, added sugar, and processed foods is not good for us.

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  18. Hello Sandra,

    Please tell what do you think about the Gabriel method weight loss system. Just a concept, not the commercial part of it, etc.

    Many thanks
    B.

    • As far as I can tell, there have been no randomized controlled trials of its effectiveness, so there’s no evidence that it works in the long term. All the approaches that have failed in clinical trials have led to weight loss in a few people, so “it worked for me” stories are not a good indicator that a method has a good success rate.

  19. I have just finished reading your book and I would like to thank you for your contribution to the field of weight loss. The field which I personally feel should be referred to as health optimisation! I am a PhD candidate and exercise physiologist in Australia and am in the process of developing a movement that focuses on improved health behaviour. I want to help people measure their ‘success’ by the size of their smile when they first stand up on a surfboard, or hike to the top of a mountain, or climb a set of stairs without holding the railing. To strive for an eating approach that fills the body with nutrition. To take delight in their journey towards a healthier, happier life.

    Your research and your message will always inspire me and for that I am very grateful!

    Thank you.
    Danielle

  20. Dear Sandra,

    I am struggling with YO YO weight loss , trying to decipher the code and looking for a permanent solution which is everlasting . I read with interest the new study by Dr Eran Segal which talks about biome – https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=0z03xkwFbw4 and then listen to your TED talk about mindful eating and recent articles in TED about your book which also talks about Biome and got bit confused . To me connecting the dots looks like there is some connection here ( mind + body ) between the type of food we eat and effect it have on our brain . Shall we solve the puzzle piecemeal as suggested by Dr Eran or as a whole and correct our own Eco system ( brain + body) first .. Pls can you shed some light on it.

  21. Hi Dr./Ms. Aamodt,

    Enjoyed your article in the NYTimes today, but i wish you would look at the Ideal Protein Diet scientifically. It is a high protein low carb diet (modern, healthier Atkins) that puts the participants in ketosis. I think that this diet may have success in metabolic reset. I was very resistant to this diet as I am a foodie and did not like the packaged foods, which is how the program makes its money. But after watching over 35 people participate in this diet AND KEEP THE WEIGHT OFF permanently (beyond five years) I had to recognize there was something to it. I think the science has something to do with burning fat cells, and resetting the metabolic steady state. Can you study this?

    • I do my research in the library, not the laboratory, but I can tell you what evidence to look for when you evaluate a diet plan. Don’t be misled by “success stories” – they’re usually cherry-picked and ignore many other people who’ve failed to lose weight or regained it on the same diet. Instead you should rely on randomized controlled trials that last at least two years. Despite frequent claims that low-carb diets do not suppress metabolism, careful measurements find that they’re no different from other diets in this regard, so I wouldn’t be optimistic about this one either.

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