All this time, you probably thought that overeating was the reason your belly is fat. And that may very well be true, but one study indicates that your stomach may in fact be the cause, and not the result of your problem.

It turns out that people who have trouble maintaining weight loss may have nerves in their stomach to blame, according to a study published in July in the International Journal of Obesity.

Researchers divided mice into three groups, and for 24 weeks, one group received a high-fat diet, another ate low-fat foods, and the third ate an equal mix of fatty and low-fat foods.

The results showed that mice that ate a high-fat or mixed diet were less likely to feel full, the researchers said.  The nerves in their stomachs seemed to be desensitized. Even after those same mice returned to a healthy diet, scientists did not see an improvement in their eating habits.

Humans have the same nerves in our stomachs, however, further research must be done to see whether the finding is also true of people, the researchers said. [10 New Ways to Eat Well]

But if the results are true for humans, that means willpower is even more important for those who have a history of dietary indulgence. So, here are my top tips for staying strong and sticking to a healthy diet.

  • Sleep well. Kelly McGonical of Stanford University published the findings of her research linking willpower and sleep in the book, "The Willpower Instinct" (Penguin Group, 2012). In her study, she looked at people addicted to hard drug addicts. One group slept for seven hours, and the other group slept a full eight hours. The group who slept less showed impairment in the section of the brain responsible for distinguishing between short-term gratification and long-term goals.
  • Meditate. Meditation is all about controlling the thoughts in your mind. Can you turn off your thoughts? If you can't, you may not be in full control, which can leave you susceptible to cravings. If meditation is new to you, start by meditating for just one minute each day. You can work your way up as you get more experience.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol decreases self-awareness, and self-awareness is exactly what you'll need to stay strong and fight those cravings.
  • Be your own best friend. If you had a good friend who asked you to help keep her diet on track, what would you say when she was eying a cupcake? It's not worth it? Walk away? Say these things to yourself. It may not work 100 percent of the time, but you'd be surprised at how often it does help.
Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!

Related on LiveScience and MNN:

This story was originally written for LiveScience and was republished with permission here. Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company.