Navigating the River of Misery

This refers to starting a new weight loss or healthy lifestyle plan. Remember our brain want things to stay the same. Our brain want to seek pleasure, avoid pain and stay efficient, this is called the motivational triad. When we change things up by committing to a new healthy eating or exercise plan, the toddler part of our brain throws a fit and reminds us how this is a bad idea, has not worked before and we can’t possibly sustain it so why bother?  But we have a secret weapon, the pre frontal cortex that is in charge and can provide new thoughts when the toddler wants to come out.

Being overweight is caused by overeating and over desire. Overeating has become a way to avoid pain and seek pleasure and we often do it without realizing it; mindless, emotion-numbing eating. Concentrated sugar and flour cause a big dopamine release in our brain. Dopamine creates desire and more desire for food. If we are constantly eating, we are creating more dopamine which the brain expects us to continue to do and it becomes an unconscious, mindless habit.

How do you change this habit? By not answering the desire to eat. If you are eating 6 times a day, you probably have no idea what hunger is because you don’t allow yourself to get hungry (this was me). Not to mention the increase in insulin that is released every time we eat which can cause insulin resistance and screws up our hormones that regulate feeling hungry (ghrelin) and full (leptin).

Physical hunger is a sensation you get in waves (it does not hurt us to feel hungry). We will not die (in the U.S.) if we are hungry. The sensation goes away after a few minutes.

Cravings are a desire for a specific food or type of food (related to a thought).

Withdrawal is the sensation mentally and physically from lack of sugar. This is real and can last 2-4 weeks and is the river of misery. You may feel fatigue, mild nausea, crankiness, headache, etc. Drinking lots of water helps.

Emotions are vibrations in our bodies caused by thoughts. We are often eating mindlessly to numb these emotions that we haven’t even named yet. We will experience a lot of negative emotions because when you stop numbing your emotions with food, things come to the surface.

Many reading this may say, this sounds awful, it is too hard; why would I sign up for this? The answer is because you have tried everything else and nothing else worked. You can do hard things. You just have to retrain your brain and actually allow yourself to feel your emotions instead of trying to medicate them with food.

To allow negative emotions, you have to be willing to feels the negative sensations in your body. Let’s say you have a stressful day at work and come home and have an urge to eat the rest of the Oreos in the pantry (substitute your favorite snack). Instead of eating the Oreos, you stop and think about what emotion you are feeling and once you identify that, consider what is my thought that is creating it? To resist the urge you need to allow the emotion; take a few deep breaths and allow the urge and the feeling for a few minutes, sitting, standing, wherever you are. Realize you can feel any emotion, it is not painful and you will not die. You may still want to eat the Oreos but realize you are not giving into the urge and you are a person who does not eat Oreos anymore. Don’t white knuckle it or use willpower because willpower only lasts so long. Just be present with the uncomfortable feeling and repeat that you can do hard things. If you give into the urge, do not beat yourself up but keep trying, it is a learned behavior and takes time. Have your own back. It often takes 100 urges to reduce the desire causing us to overeat; start writing your urges down today.

Next week: How to change your thinking.

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