"We human beings have many feelings, both positive and negative . Some people tend to eat more when we are joyful, while others tend to eat less. Some people eat when they are sad or upset as a way of eating their feelings, hoping the feeling will go away. Food becomes a craving then rather than a source of nourishment. If we don't attempt to look deeply to understand our cravings, it will grow. When we take time to take care of our emotions with mindfulness and compassion, then we just eat. We can enjoy our food without craving and develop a healthy and positive relationship to eating." Thich Nhat Hanh
Hanhs philosophy blends well with a science known as Neuroplasticity; a giant science nerd word for learning and adapting. It basically looks at how our brains are hardwired to avoid pain and create pleasure and how our brains lay down these different pathways. What scientists have learned is that these pathways become habits. They can be really effective habits like brushing our teeth, or riding a bike. But we also lay down pathways that become destructive like our relationship with food.
Our brain chemically responds to the ‘feel good’ hormone dopamine that gets released from comfort foods. The same hormone released when addicts get their next hit. Our brains deem those foods pleasurable.Our brains lay down pathways that turn learned behaviours into habits. It's an efficient method really but it also creates these same pathways around behaviours that over time become unhealthy and unwelcome.
The good news is that we have the ability to create new pathways. We can closely and honestly look at our behaviour and our ingrained relationship with food.
In the book 'The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts that make us Overeat' Guyenet has us examine 6 steps to a healthier lifestyle:
1. Fix your food environment
2. Manage your appetite
3. Beware of food reward
4. Make sleep a priority
5. Move your body
6. Manage stress
Sara Best, a holistic nutritionist, points out that the food isn't really the problem. It's our relationship with the food that is the problem. If we are honest with ourselves we know the foods that we should and should not eat. She states we need to examine why we eat. To do that she created 6 Mindful Eating Exercises:
1. Stop multitasking
2. Slow down
3. Chew more
4. Listen to your body
5. Replace judgment with curiosity
6. Indulge mindfully
The above steps and exercises require self reflection, honesty and the ability to sit with some uncomfortable feelings. None of this should be about being thin or perfect. Research shows that knowing the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical. Perfectionism hampers success. In fact it is often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis.
If all of this seems overwhelming, too much work, or 'not for me' at this time then it's likely our brains way of staying with what is comfortable. That feeling is normal. We just need to ask ourselves this:
Can I do it anyway?
Let me get a little personal here.
Cookies, Cake, Candy, Chips...
A never ending obsession of "I just need a little something". Result = self loathing & disgust over my lack of will power. A self-induced hatred of my own body. That's me in a nutshell.
But if I told you there is hope would you believe me?
My long term battle with weight has been crazy making! I developed so many destructive habits around eating. My brain was hardwired to receive pleasure from food and ultimately to LOVE food. Eating became habitual, not for nutritional purposes.
The problem is that we get so comfortable in our ways that it's hard to give up old habits.
Most of us are creatures of habit. We buy the same foods from the same grocery store, prepare the same recipes over and over, and live within our own familiar routines. The pathways are like flying in autopilot. But if we are serious about eating healthier we need to shake it up, change those habits, the pathways, and start thinking differently about our diet and lifestyle.
Experience has taught me that we get one life and it's too short for self-hatred. I take my body to yoga, belly dancing, for walks. I even put it in a bathing suit (oh the horror) and go to Aquafit! I keep waiting for my body to be perfect. Will it ever?!
It doesn't mean I'm incapable of changing my behaviour. And neither are you. I've changed my habits around exercise and now I'll do it with food! One step at a time.
Love your body. Love yourself!
by Kathy Smith