Choosing to Not Return to the Burning Barn

During a recent gathering of great minds who help me keep perspective, one of my closest friends shared an intriguing observation.  If you remove cattle from a burning barn, they have to be restrained in a safe location or they will return to the burning building.  Why? Because they associate the barn with safety.  Even though the barn is no longer safe, their instinctual brains are driving them back to what they associate with comfort.

When I first heard this account, my mouth dropped open and I stared blankly.  The group thought that I was worried about the cows.  I wasn’t thinking about cattle.  I was thinking about how often I have returned to unhealthy behaviors because they are associated with comfort in my instinctual mind.  Somewhere along the line, ice cream, chocolate and milk gave me comfort.  Somewhere, I got the idea that life is about suffering and hard work.  My rational mind thinks that’s insane but my cow brain still desires to go back to the burning barn.

I started to think about how many people I have watched go back to their burning barns.  Addictions of various forms: food, money, sex, work, religion, exercise…  All of those things can be harmful in the extreme (in either direction… too little or too much).

I am practicing living in the moment, here and now.  Feeling my feelings as they happen, being in control of my actions but not which emotions I let myself feel.  It gives way to spontaneous tears, incredible joy and occasional anxiety.  But, you know what?  I’m still here!  My feelings aren’t fatal but continuing to go back to the burning barn is.

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Hungry

Working on building a stronger relationship with my self, I’m learning what drives my appetite.

I lost a considerable amount of weight essentially counting calories and working out. I burned more than I ate.  I learned to eat more nutritious food but mostly because it was low calorie, not really because it was nutritious.  I told myself I would always want too much and I had to control it.

Now, I am telling myself I can be trusted.  I’m practicing asking myself my three questions (see earlier posts).  Last week, I ate more sugar than usual.  I had treats while traveling on business.  I barely worked out.  However, I did not gain any weight and I broke my personal record for a 5K Saturday morning feeling great!  My desire for the things I wanted last week went away.  It’s almost like my inner self was testing to see if I really trusted her or not.  Perhaps she needed something in what I was eating.  She was scared and what I ate helped her feel better.

I only want so much healthy food.  This morning, I substituted a pancake for sauteed kale.  When I eat kale, it feels like my body is saying “yay!!!!!!!” even though I don’t care for the taste much.  I recall times of eating twice as many pancakes and feeling like I still wanted more.

I’m done telling myself I’m fat.  Instead, I’m telling myself that it’s ok to lose the fat I do not need and working to stay in tune with my inner voice.  I’m done comparing myself to other people.  This is my body, this is where I live, no one else.

Instead of controlling my appetite, I’m working with it.  My fat keeps me warm when others are cold.  If it’s fed with non toxic food, it’s there to fuel me when I need it to.  When I was 230lbs, I would have been THRILLED with 168.2 so I choose to be thrilled now.

I deserve to be the best I can be.  Nothing more, nothing less.

 

From my heart to yours,

Thanks for reading

4 Years

Today marks 4 years of successfully addressing my food addiction and maintaining weight loss.

Last night, I attended my first gala.  In 24 hours time I found a dress, shoes, jewelry, the right hairspray and someone to do amazing makeup for me.  When I first had the opportunity to go, I was worried about all of those things but went to a quiet place inside and asked myself if I really wanted to go.  When the answer was “yes”, I had faith everything else would work out.  There was a part of me that was a little concerned.  However, bigger than that worry was faith everything would work out in the end. (If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end).

I tried on several dresses that were “ok” but not “wow”.  A few pounds ago I felt like I looked good in everything (just some things looked better than others) but now, I wasn’t sure if it was possible to look “wow” anymore.  I went to a quiet place inside and listened for guidance.  I was guided to a store I’d never been before to a style that I’d never tried before and it was ‘the one’!  At the same place, a talented sales professional found me shoes and jewelry to perfectly compliment the dress. I checked out the VERY minute I needed to in order to make my makeup appointment that day.  Makeup took a little longer than I expected and I still needed to get hairspray before getting dressed to go.  After going to a quiet place inside again, I was guided to a store I didn’t know existed, just around the corner from where I had makeup done.   They didn’t have the exact hairspray I was looking for but they DID have ONE more bottle of something that held my hair JUST RIGHT all night!

My husband tells me women are like flavors of ice cream.  Lots of different flavors are good.  The same ice cream over and over gets boring.  Variety is the spice of life!  I’m my own flavor.  It’s not about how other people look.  I can look “wow” in my way.  It’s about me being my best.  I am beautiful.  

Yes, I just typed “I am beautiful” and a little voice said “You can’t say that” but that little voice is wrong.  I am not sure if it’s my ego talking, old tapes or something else but whatever it is, I’m not listening to it anymore.  Everyone’s true self is beautiful.  It is.  Thoughts that come in are nothing more than that, thoughts.  If they don’t suit me, I can change them, reframe them, or just let them go back where they came from.

It’s recently been reinforced to me that when I am true to myself, I give other people permission to be true to themselves.  Everyone who tunes in to their pure, holy, inner voice and develops a strong relationship with themselves, gives others permission to do the same.  Only when operating from that premise is it possible to unconditionally love.  When we unconditionally love, we make the world a better place (less violence, drug addiction, abuse, poverty, greed…).

I used to confuse my inner voice with addiction.  I thought my inner voice could not be trusted.  She’d lead me “astray”.  Now I know better.  She’s brilliant.  Pure, loving, trusting, kind…  My addiction is fed by something that does not want her to be heard.  Busyness distracts me from listening.  I’m practicing being quiet.  The more I practice, the easier I can get to a quiet place inside.  It’s kind of like how it’s easier to get somewhere you’ve been before than it was journeying there for the first time.

There’s no “quiet space” GPS for purchase (unless you count a good therapist).  I learned how to get there from other people who had found that place within themselves.  When I didn’t know where to find those people, I prayed for them to show up.  They did…out of nowhere.  All I did was believe something different was possible and asked for help getting there.

Once I found my little girl, my inner voice, she was quite upset with me for ignoring her.  She was tired of being hushed.  She is still indignant.  She just wants everyone to LOVE each other, be LOVING!!!  She can be trusted and we’re continuing to build that trust now.  I’m grateful she’s also very forgiving and understands that I never intentionally hurt her.  Going into year 5, I have promised her to listen and do my best.  I’ve vowed not to put her down because she doesn’t deserve that.  I know how to treat other people.  I know how to be a cheerleader and encourage others, she needs to be treated the same way.  She deserves my love, respect and protection.

I am working on feeding myself wholesome food instead of focusing on calories.  She helps with choosing those foods if I let her.  She wants a variety of healthy, whole food.  Yesterday, we tried wheatgrass juice for the first time and liked it!  Sometimes she wants sweet things but not too much, just a little.  I’m practicing asking myself the 3 questions from Jon Gabriel:

What is the food made of?

With what spirit was the food made? (kind, happy, loving people or something else)

What is my intention of eating the food?

I’m practicing visualizing the person I want to be and am looking forward to what I learn this next year!

From my heart to yours,

Thanks for reading

My Body Is Designed To Be Healthy

Watching “Hungry for Change” on Netflix, wearing clothing that could not clash more, I realized why I never lost the last 8lbs I “wanted” to lose.  The author of “The Gabriel Method” said, “You will not lose weight if your body does not want to.”.

Speaker after speaker in the documentary described better living by working with nature and natural laws.  One person said, ‘As long as you are taking in more toxins than you are eliminating, your body will not allow you get rid of the weight that is keeping you safe from the toxins you are ingesting.’  Whoa… say what?!  

Another said as you seek to improve your health, you will want to ADD vegetables and fruits instead of taking out food groups.  Not because they are “low calorie” but because they are so full of nutrients (I knew they were high in nutrients but the motivation was they were ‘low calorie’ and ‘high chew’).  I heard over and over again, “Most people are overfed and under nourished.”  I’ve come a long way… I really have, but I have so much further to go.  I traded one type of processed food for another.  Out candy bars and muffins, in protein bars and protein powder.

A nutrition counselor and friend posted on her company Facebook page a challenge to go “whole foods only” for one full day.  Do you know my response?  I commented, “tomorrow”.

That was several weeks ago and I have yet to actually do it. The biggest lesson of marathon training for me has been learning that when something feels impossible, it’s not, it’s just bigger than anything you’ve done before.  My 4 year anniversary of weightloss is coming up in just over a week.  Days are getting colder and the year is coming to an end.  Those circumstances make me reflect on where I’ve been and where I want to go.

Other sage advice from “Hungry for Change”:  It’s not just what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you.  Obesity is a “solution” to dealing with stress. Look at where you are not satisfied. If you are upset, don’t eat.

Easier said than done.

Exercise increases the feel good hormones that I’ve previously gone to sugar for.   Hence why when I have not been running, I sign up for over 5 races… in 2 weeks.  Just like other drugs, I end up needing more and more to feel the same “feel good” effect.

My body is not my enemy, it is my friend.  Loving myself is the key.  My parents want to love me, they just don’t know how.  If I am honest with myself, I have maintained the size I am now on a roller coaster of healthy and unhealthy eating.  I have not trusted myself.  I have not truly let go of the concept I am a “fat person” who lost weight.  As if my true self is meant to be fat and I have to fight it every day.

Jon Gabriel described losing 10, gaining 15 (reminding me of my losing 3, gaining 5 a few times over).  I read part of his book many years ago, in a previous life, and remembered thinking “I don’t have time to visualize in a quiet space”.  I have the ability to do better about that now. I do!

In closing, the documentary recommended 3 questions to ask before eating:

Where does my food come from?

What went into my food? (attitude, spirit, process)

What is my intention of eating my food?

My body is designed to be healthy.  I can trust it and I can build its trust in me.

I am ready for the next phase of my journey and I accept myself unconditionally, right now.

 

From my heart to yours,

Thanks for reading

Facing Food Addiction: Part 7: The Dopamine Made Me Do It

It turns out the first trainer I worked with to lose weight, Casey Marshek, now has her own business helping people live a healthy lifestyle.  Even though I have learned a lot about nutrition, I still need someone to help guide me and keep me on track.  I need the accountability.
With Casey’s help, I am eating THE HEALTHIEST I ever have in my life!  Little things make a big difference.  Everyone knows that processed food is “bad” but it’s hard to know how to reasonably make what is “good” without spending gazillions of dollars on food or taking too much time to cook.  At least it was for me.  She lives hundreds of miles away but with email and myfitnesspal, we keep in touch and she helps me stay on track.  Unlike a lot of trainers out there, she is vegetarian and can help you eat a balanced diet without meat but is also not against meat.
More information can be found here:  http://caseymarshekpt.vpweb.com/
One of the first things Casey shared with me was this article which helped verify what I already knew, I am a food addict…  But it also gave me more resolve to avoid the foods that trigger me to overeat with more knowledge about how powerful they really are.  I know but forget that you only want to eat so much healthy food.  Without sugar or caffeine messing up the signals in your brain, your body will naturally only want what it needs. My body is not my enemy.  It’s my job to take care of it.  I hope you get as much from this as I did.:

Research is uncovering a link between our lifestyle, our genes, and a means to overcome the unhealthy connection between food and addiction.

by Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP

Two human behaviors explain why we’re still here: engaging in sex and consuming food. Both are inextricably linked by dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure. It’s what motivates us to read all three volumes of Fifty Shades of Grey or to inhale a plate of mom’s homemade oatmeal raisin cookies. To date, procreative activities have maintained their primal prerogative without too much deviation from nature’s blueprint. Food production and consumption, on the other hand, have fallen prey to psychosocial, cultural and environmental factors that increase our collective girth and make us more vulnerable to disease.
Researchers have recently uncovered a critical clue to help explain this problem—a link between food and addiction.
The Dopamine Connection
“I can’t get off the stuff.” “I need a hit.” “I’ve got to detox.” “Withdrawal is hell.” Fitness, nutrition and health professionals have heard this kind of addiction vernacular for years. However, we’re not talking about drugs, alcohol or cigarettes—this is about food. The big culprits are the hyperpalatables—sugary, starchy, fatty and salty foods. Is there a relationship between food and addiction? Can food products hijack the reward system in much the same way as drugs? Yes, according to newly published data and a growing chorus of scientists.
Central to this burgeoning research is the role of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that
  • signals when rewards are present;
  • motivates us to seek rewards;
  • promotes exploring and learning about rewards; and
  • maintains awareness about reward-related cues.
Cocaine and heroin target and hijack this reward system. So do appetite-controlling hormones, leading a growing number of researchers to consider obesity from the standpoint of addiction neuroscience (Dagher 2012).
Dopamine is actually dispersed throughout the brain. Ninety percent of the dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) become stimulated when we’re about to eat. The VTA reaches out to the rest of the brain via countless axons to stimulate dopamine secretion in several brain regions, including the mesolimbic and mesocortical dopamine systems. The mesolimbic system reaches into the nucleus accumbens (the site of reward, pleasure and addiction), the amygdala (where emotions are processed and remembered) and the hippocampus (a site that converts short-term memory to long-term memory) (Volkow & Wise 2005). In an effort to understand whether certain foods exert the same kind of addictive effect on the reward system as drugs, scientists have turned their attention to the reward centers in normal and overweight humans.
Leading the charge is Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2001, Volkow and her team used PET scans and radioactive chemicals that bind to dopamine receptors (Wang et al. 2001). Their research revealed that obese people had far fewer dopamine receptors in the brain’s striatum, or reward center, and therefore had to eat more to experience the same reward, or “high,” as average-weighted individuals.
Did these people already have fewer receptors—predisposing them to weight gain—or did they once have a normal number of receptors, which through repeated exposure was down-regulated? The answer is both. Animal studies have shown profound down regulation of D2 receptors (dopamine receptors subtype 2) after overconsumption of a hyperpalatable junk food diet (Avena, Bocarsly & Hoebel 2012). Swiss researchers using lab rats discovered that it wasn’t weight gain per se that caused the decrease in receptors, but rather the specific consumption of hyperpalatable foods versus normal rat chow (Alsio et al. 2010).
Volkow then delved into the craving, or “wanting,” question. When people were exposed to their favorite foods but were not allowed to eat them, a tidal wave of dopamine surged through the striatum (Volkow 2002). They said they “hungered” for their food fixes, yet they weren’t hungry at all. This is similar to what occurs in the brains of drug abusers after they watch a video of people using cocaine—or receiving any cue that hearkens back to an addictive pleasure.
Anticipation and Satisfaction
Animal studies have helped us understand this addictive cycle of anticipation and reward. When rats are given free access to a mix of the typical hyperpalatable foods available to humans—chocolate, cheesecake, bacon, sausage and other fat and processed products—the rat’s brain structure changes the same way it would if cocaine were ingested. Yale University researchers used functional MRI (fMRI) studies to prove that both lean and obese women who demonstrate addictive behavior around food show the same pattern of neural activity as a chronic drug abuser: very high levels of anticipation of their drug of choice—in this case, a chocolate milk shake—but very low levels of satisfaction after consumption (Gearhardt et al. 2011).
How does the addiction develop? Think of a river during a flood. The water charges over the banks, taking down trees and houses along the way. Something similar happens when dopamine continually floods the brain. The pathway between the VTA and the nucleus accumbens repeatedly floods with dopamine. This results in a down regulation of the total number of dopamine D2 receptors, including those in the limbic system, the site of motivation and emotions. Consequently, greater quantities of hyperpalatables are required to elicit the same level of reward. This launches a vicious cycle: increased ingestion leads only to further down regulation and a relentless, insatiable appetite.
As the D2 receptor population decreases, there is a profound change in the ability of critical brain structures to communicate effectively. In 2008, Volkow and her team found that obese people who have fewer dopamine receptors also have less activity in the prefrontal cortex (Volkow 2008). The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is responsible for handling “executive” functions—including planning, organizing, making choices and being creative—as well as for reining in impulsivity, impatience and irritability. This constitutes double trouble for the food addict. Not only is it necessary to eat more food to experience normal reward and pleasure, but it’s much more difficult to stop after the first bite. This is why stressing “moderation” to a food addict is a moot point.
Hyperpalatables = Heroin?
Is sugar as addictive as heroin or cocaine? Could that cupcake with the mile-high frosting act like crack to a susceptible brain? Animal studies reveal that hyperpalatable diets, and sweet ones in particular, are more rewarding—and potentially more addictive—than intravenous cocaine and heroin (Ahmed 2012).
What about withdrawal from the hyperpalatables in comparison to drugs? Substance abuse researchers note that the brain adaptations that result from regularly eating foods that layer salt, fat and sweet flavors are likely to be more difficult to change than those from cocaine or alcohol because the food-related adaptations involve many more neural pathways. Almost all of the dopamine neurons in the VTA are activated in response to food cues (Wang & Tsien 2011).
An fMRI study found that among women who tested higher for food addiction, just thinking about drinking a chocolate milk shake stimulated greater activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, medial orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala, all areas of the brain involved in emotion, anticipation and decision making (Gearhardt et al. 2011). Rats who received highly palatable food for only 2 weeks showed a decrease in gene expression for enkephalin, a natural painkiller in the nucleus accumbens. The same changes were found in the brains of chronic morphine or heroin addicts (Kelley et al. 2003).
Lab rats with unlimited access to a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet almost eat themselves to death. They’ll voluntarily walk across an electrified plate and endure painful shocks in order to get their junk food hit. In one study, when rats had access to high-fat, high-carbohydrate food for only 1 hour a day, they consumed 65% of their daily calories in one sitting, continuously gorging until the food was removed. However, when the food disappeared they didn’t simply shrug their rodent shoulders and turn back to regular chow. Instead, they withdrew and curled up into a fetal position, soothing themselves with nervous hand-wringing, and becoming excessively twitchy and easily startled. They were hungry for their fix. Without it, they ended up with “the shakes” (Johnson & Kenny 2010).
Lab rats will quickly develop a tolerance for sugar, eagerly quadrupling their daily sugar consumption in 1 week. If the sugar’s taken away, the hunger for their fix is relentless and leads to withdrawal symptoms. They’ll start fighting with other rats, shaking and getting angry. Once the rats become addicted to sugar, they are far more eager to gobble up amphetamines, alcohol and cocaine in huge quantities—and they become almost instantly addicted to those substances as well. When given the choice between sugar, cocaine and alcohol, those cross-addicted rats will always choose—you guessed it—sugar (Johnson & Kenny 2010).
In humans, there’s clear evidence that habitual consumption of calorie-dense hyperpalatables elicits changes in brain responses that mirror those that occur during drug addiction. And akin to drugs, these same foods are implicated in cravings and in the perception of loss of control (Pelchat 2002). Speaking of cravings, 95% of the foods humans most crave are, not surprisingly, calorie-dense. Why do we favor calorie-dense foods? It’s about survival. When food was scarce, ingesting calorie-dense foods gave us our optimal chance of surviving. That is not the case today.
The Role of Epigenetics
When researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis first did a study of almost 40,000 people in the early 1990s, addictive genes appeared to have no impact on body weight. People were just as likely to be obese whether they came from a family with addiction or not. But when scientists did a follow-up study of 40,000 other people in 2001 and 2002, the picture was very different. Subjects were 30%–40% more likely to be obese if they had addiction in the family. For women, the chance was 50% greater (Finucane et al. 2011).
This upsurge in obesity was not caused by evolutionary changes to the genome. The basic genetic makeup of humanity cannot change that quickly. No, this explosive weight gain was caused by changes to the environment that switch on individual genes. Enter the exciting, newly emerging science of epigenetics (for more on epigenetics, read “Our Dynamic DNA,” by Charlie Hoolihan, in the May 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal).
Epigenetics (epi meaning “around” and genetics referring to the study of genes) helps us understand how any environmental cue—person, place or thing—can influence how our genes are expressed. If you live and participate in an active social community, with plenty of fresh food and opportunities for exercise, the genes that control your weight operate as nature intended, and you can more easily enjoy a fit and healthy body.
Conversely, here’s a scenario in which gene expression is constantly altered to the detriment of the individual. For example, take someone who starts the day in fight-or-flight overdrive: an argument with a spouse, running out the door, skipping breakfast, driving the 30-mile commute to work, getting to work hungry, dealing with a micromanaging boss and spending hours sitting glued to a computer screen. Levels of acetylcholine and cortisol, stress hormones that trigger fat storage and cravings, go through the roof. To anesthetize the pain of a stressed daily existence, it’s easy to habitually reach for “fixes,” which are often conveniently available at the office vending machine or at drive-throughs. This constant dependence on hyperpalatables not only thickens waistlines and changes brain structures; it also takes its toll on genes, changing their expression to one that supports overeating and addiction. This further reinforces the cycle (Peeke 2012).
What’s the solution? If altering genetic expression facilitates food addiction, can we reverse this messaging to promote healing and recovery? Epigeneticists believe this is possible.
Think of the genome as a book, filled with genes that make up its sentences, paragraphs and chapters. The pages of that book are filled with annotations. Some pages are bookmarked or dog-eared; others are stapled together and inaccessible. The annotations in your genetic book take the form of certain chemicals and molecules that attach themselves to the genes. Because they sit, in a sense, on top of the genome, this collection of annotations is called the epigenome.
Most cells in your body contain the entire genome; a cell in your heart contains not only the genes for a heart cell but also the genes for a liver cell, a nerve cell, a skin cell and every other kind of cell. Yet that heart cell ignores all instructions that aren’t heart cell–related. The epigenome switches certain genes off and certain genes on.
All this switching is the work of special proteins called histones that surround each gene. Histones are genetic referees, scanning every action and choice you make and switching the messages that individual genes deliver to the rest of the body. Eat junk food and your genetic “speech” or expression changes, resulting in a cascade of biological changes, including increased inflammatory processes. Eat an apple and histones order a gene to start a different cascade, resulting in improved immune function. The goals are for histones to script the healthiest messages possible and to maintain happy histones throughout life.
Epigenetics in Action: Agouti Mice
Once born, you cannot alter your genes. What’s exciting about the epigenome is that it adds possibilities. You can change genetic expression, proving that DNA is not destiny. Lifestyle choices powerfully influence genetic expression—and most important, they are passed on to children.
A striking example of this occurs in a breed of lab mouse called agouti. These mice have a unique gene—the agouti gene—that causes them to become obese and also gives them yellow fur. The mice are at high risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Scientists have observed that among female agouti mice who have exactly the same genes, one mouse can produce obese pups with the characteristic yellow fur, while the other mother produces pups with brown fur that grow up slim.
How is this possible, and why does it matter? The answer is epigenetics. In one mouse, the agouti gene has been switched off, and so the yellow fur and obesity don’t develop in her pups. The gene is marked “do not read” because a specific molecule, called a methyl group, has been attached to it. The process is called methylation. Researchers simply supplemented this obese, yellow-furred mother’s diet with methyl donors such as vitamin B12, choline, betaine and folic acid or genistein, a phytoestrogen food in soy products. The mouse pups of this agouti mother fed the methylated food were born lean, with brown fur and at no risk for disease (Dolinoy et al. 2007).
This was a groundbreaking experiment and officially established the food–gene connection; it also helped mark the birth of epigenetics.
The Road to Recovery: An Integrative Mind-Body Approach
By harnessing the power of epigenetics, it is possible to rein in impulsivity, strengthen PFC function and recover from food addiction for a lifetime. Here are simple, proactive steps to achieve detoxification and sustainable recovery, adapted from The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction (Rodale 2012).
Mind
Stress can have a significant impact on PFC function. Studies using fMRI have shown that simply reducing stress can enhance functioning and return it to levels of nonstressed people (Brandon et al. 2010). That’s why radical stress reduction remains a top priority. Meditation is a central focus of successful addiction recovery.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) has been shown to significantly augment PFC function (Hooper 2011). When people engage in regular meditation, they release up to 65% more dopamine in the ventral striatum (Kjaer et al. 2002). One study found that these higher levels of dopamine, along with the continued practice of meditation, reduced people’s impulsiveness (Kjaer et al. 2002).
Meditation also helps prevent relapse. An fMRI study done at the University of California in San Francisco found that people who were least likely to relapse in alcoholic abstinence programs had greater brain volume and thicker cortices. They had a much easier time sticking with their sobriety. When they did fall off the wagon, they experienced less severe relapses (Durazzo et al. 2011).
Another study found that after an 8-week program, previous Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) novices showed significant gains in brain size, with the most gray matter growing in theposterior cingulate cortex, the temporoparietal junction and the cerebellum. These are brain regions that help us learn and remember, stay calm, critically evaluate our thoughts and understand other people’s perspectives (Hölzel et al. 2011).
The bottom line. The mind plays a crucial role in reclaiming a hijacked reward system and sustaining recovery from food addiction. A strong, well-trained PFC has a better chance of helping an individual remain vigilant, make the right choices, steer clear of hyperpalatables and select fresh, whole, life-promoting foods instead.
Mouth
The agouti mouse paradigm carries over to humans. The goal is to choose foods that promote health through optimal gene expression. Following are two examples to illustrate how to apply epigenetics through nutrition.
Choline figures prominently in attention and prefrontal cortex function. Studies on rats have shown that supplementing with dietary choline can increase the nerve growth factor in the PFC, improving memory and precision, helping reduce aging deficits and even aiding in recovery from early PFC injury (Sandstrom, Loy & Williams 2002; Tees 1999). Acetylcholine is also credited with strengthening synapses—the connections between neurons—particularly when we’re learning and using our short-term memory (Rasmusson 2000). Although our bodies generate choline, we need food sources to maintain adequate levels.
Omega-3s are used by the brain to form 60% of its fat-based cell structure. These fatty acids ensure that cell membranes will be flexible enough to let in other nutrients. One study (Davis et al. 2010) found that rats fed a diet low in omega-3s had 20% lower levels of the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which researchers found significantly reduced the density of the D2 dopamine receptors in the ventral striatal section of the brain—an area closely associated with impulsivity.
Another study found that supplementing with fish oil increased serotonin receptor activation and Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) production (Vines 2012). BDNF is a protein that stimulates new neuron growth in the hippocampus, which scientists believe helps improve memory and decrease anxiety and depression.
Perhaps the best way to test how omega-3s can influence our ability to calm down and focus is to look at 8- to 10-year-old boys. One placebo-controlled fMRI study found that supplementing with DHA for 8 weeks increased activity in the boys’ dorsolateral PFC significantly more than taking the placebo. The study also found a “dose response”—the more DHA the boys took, the higher their ability to concentrate, the greater the activity in their PFCs and the faster their reaction times (McNamara et al. 2010).
The bottom line. With every mouthful, an individual alters genetic expression. The stronger the PFC, the more likely the choice will be an apple and not a Twinkie®.
Muscle
Regular physical activity increases the body’s production of BDNF. This, in turn, can lead to higher PFC functioning. One study in the journal Health Psychology found that kids aged 7–11 who had done more vigorous exercise—40 minutes or more, five times a week, for 3 months—had a net gain of 3.8 additional IQ points. MRIs showed that the kids’ PFC—where decision making, planning, social awareness and complex thought take place—was growing, presumably strengthening their executive function abilities (Davis et al. 2011).
Exercise is the best healthy fix because it directly regenerates D2-like dopamine receptors—similar to those linked with food addiction—in the brain, helping to rebuild the damage of past addiction and prevent it in the future (MacRae et al. 1987). And it doesn’t require a gym membership, an elliptical trainer or a set of barbells. It simply requires increasing activities of daily living. In fact, it’s been shown that a 5-minute walk around the block or 30 jumping jacks reduces the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
One Vanderbilt University study found that 10 (30-minute) sessions of moderate treadmill walking over 2 weeks was enough to cut addicts’ marijuana smoking in half, even though the addicts were not asked to cut down and had, in fact, explicitly said they didn’t want to. Participants cut their original intake by a third even after the study was over (Buchowski et al. 2011).
Researchers believe that exercise altered the reward circuits in the brain to the point where treadmill walking took the place of cannabis. Movement became self-reinforcing, leading the addicts to need less pot to get the same high. Exercise also decreased their cravings, compulsiveness and emotional ups and downs, as well as their desperate focus on marijuana (Buchowski et al. 2011).
Most studies have found that walking is king. Indeed, one randomized controlled fMRI study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that after a year of taking 40-minute walks three times a week, sedentary older adults grew their hippocampi by 2%—reversing their brains’ aging process by almost 2 years. Those who remained sedentary saw their brains shrinkby almost the same amount (Erickson et al. 2011).
The bottom line. Regular physical activity facilitates neurogenesis, augments PFC function and significantly aids in relapse prevention and sustained recovery from addiction.
Beyond Food Addiction
Research on food and addiction is rapidly gathering momentum. World-class scientists are scrutinizing the relationship between the foods we consume and their profound epigenetic effects on our mental and physical health. Kelly Brownell, PhD, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, notes: “Whether food and addiction is a viable concept is scarcely in question. . . . Food can act on the brain as an addictive substance. Certain constituents of food, sugar in particular, may hijack the brain and override will, judgment and personal responsibility. . . . The addictive impact of food may be a contributor to the global health crises created by obesity and diabetes” (Brownell & Gold 2012).
The situation goes further than food and addiction. It’s imperative that we carefully examine the living and working environment that enables overeating and addictive behaviors. What are the persons, places, things and psychosocial stresses that foster our continued overconsumption of calorie-dense hyperpalatable foods? This is required homework that must be done to fully appreciate how to reverse this troubling trend, facilitate long-term recovery and promote a healthier lifestyle for a lifetime.
From my heart to yours
Thanks for reading

Sample Meal Plans

So…

Here’s what I ate yesterday.  1,840 calories, 144g protein, 47g fiber, 56g fat… low sodium, high potassium. Sugars from natural sources, not processed.

Breakfast (oatmeal mixed with a little milk, protein powder and an apple):

1/2 c Bob’s Old Fashioned Rolled Oats 

1/4 c Organic whole milk 

1 Gala apple 

1 scoop NNW 100% Whey Protein Powder 

1/3 c Light Vanilla Soymilk in Cinnamon Black Tea in lieu of coffee

Morning snack:

Gala Apple

28 (1 oz) Oven Roasted Almonds (chocolate flavor, not chocolate covered)

Lunch and afternoon snack (ate what I wanted around noon and then ate the rest around 2pm):

4 oz grilled chicken breast

3/4 c sweet potato (raw)

2 large stalks celery

4T Tribe Classic Hummus

Spring Mix salad with 2T Zesty French Yogurt Dressing (Bolthouse Farms)

Fennel Tea

 After workout:

2 scoops NNW 100% Whey Powder

12 oz Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk

 Dinner:

6 Small Asparagus Spears

2T Fresh Grated Romano Cheese

2 slices whole grain bread (take and bake with ingredients I can pronounce)

1T peanut butter

1/3c Light Vanilla Soymilk in Fennel Tea

When losing weight I ate 1200-1400 calories while strength training 3 days a week (walked some too but no intense cardio, no running)

 Here’s a plan around 1400 calories (this one happens to be heavy on eggs but they can be substituted with other lean protein sources, just make sure to have some fat so your body can absorb the nutrients):

Breakfast:

2 eggs

1c strawberries

1 slice Udi’s bread, toasted

Lunch:

4oz roasted turkey

2 slices whole grain bread

1t mustard

 Afternoon Snack:

1/2 sweet potato (raw)

1/2 c edamame

4T Tribe hummus

Dinner:

1 egg and 2 egg whites

1 slice Udi’s bread, toasted

Mixed green salad with olive oil vinaigrette

 Late snack:

Gala Apple

14 (1/2 oz) Oven Roasted Almonds (chocolate flavor, not chocolate covered)

Facing Food Addiction: Part 5: Change The Voices In Your Head

Pink sings a song with the phrase “change the voices in your head, make them like you instead”…  I LOVE that song because it reminds me how powerful thoughts are.  It reminds me that at any given moment, I can choose my thoughts.  I can’t always pick my circumstances and I have difficulty controlling my emotions once they get started but I CAN control my thoughts.

Step 1 is to start hearing the inner dialog.  Don’t judge it and don’t even try to change it at first, just listen and observe it.

Step 2 is to start identifying what prompted those thoughts and decide if you want to keep them or not.

Step 3 is to re-frame the ones you want to rid yourself from into something you want to think.

In ANY circumstance, there is ALWAYS more than one way to look at it.  Please understand that I’m not suggesting practicing living in denial, pretending everything is fine and glorious when it’s absolutely not.  What I’m suggesting is to embrace those difficult times as a chance to grow, because they are!

Here are some demons in my head (a life coach of mine called some of them “the shame tyrant”) that pop up from time to time and the way I re-frame them (sometimes in the form of asking myself a question):

I’m not as good at ____ as her/him

My best is enough

I suck

I am enough

I’m worthless

I have value

I messed up! (and that is TOTALLY the end of the world!!!!!!!)

I will make mistakes as I’m learning.

I HAVE to…

What does loving myself look like in this situation?

I can’t

I can by…

I’m ugly

I’m beautiful (see “I feel pretty” blog post from last year and other posts under “body image” for more on this one)

You are too fat to eat that

I am worth reaching my goals

I’m lonely

I am loved (I have found this one to be particularly amazing because as I told myself I am loved, more people started loving me (crying happy tears as I write this))

I can’t stand _______

What is the lesson I can learn from this experience?

Running is a GREAT opportunity to practice re-framing.  When working up to greater and greater distances, it shows how much time and experience change perception.  I remember when 3 miles was a REALLY long ways!  Now, seriously, 3 miles is a warm up (unless it’s speed work and even then, it’s a short run).  I’ve run 10-11 miles the past couple of Saturdays and it feels like 5-6 used to.  I’m getting stronger.  In the dark moments when my joints are starting to ache and my muscles are burning a bit, I like to practice using positive thoughts to move through those times.  I say things to myself like:  I move with ease.  I am whole.  I am complete. Run like the wind, Bullseye! My legs are on fire (as a GOOD thing).  I’m gliding through the air.  I’m doing this.  I got this!  Go, girl!  Look how far you’ve come!  Sometimes I think about stretching out with my roller and drinking my post-workout protein shake.

Sometimes there isn’t a way to re-frame it but it’s a thought that does me no good so I envision the thought as text written in the air and imagine it floating away and dissipating.  If it comes again, it dissipates as quickly as it came in.  I have no use for it, so it leaves.  I don’t judge that it came up, I just dismiss it.  It’s not even worth thinking about the fact I thought it… goodbye…

The bible is full of stories of people who royally messed up, didn’t wait for God’s direction when they were “supposed to” and God used them anyway.  Jesus came to free us of sin.  We all have our burdens to bare from things outside our control, no need to add to them!  If you want to feel miserable and it’s working for you, great.  But know that you do not have to punish yourself.  You do not have to carry a dark cloud of pain and suffering.  You can take it off and let it go.

The scary part about letting go of former belief patterns is there’s a period of lost identity as you leave behind an old way and move forward in a new way.  Challenges larger than ever faced before tend to show up at those times.  Use them as opportunities to practice your new skills, your new thought patterns.  It’s the tested quality of our faith that leads to endurance.(James 1:3)

 

From my heart to yours,

Thanks for reading

Facing Food Addiction: Part 4: Make a Plan B

Ok… So you have your plan… It’s SMART, you’re pumped up about how great you are going to look in a bikini….or speedo, or whatever, you’re pumped!  You’ve cleared your house of junk food.  You have a viable meal plan and you’re packing your lunches.

 

Then…

 

It’s someone’s birthday

Potluck at work

Girl Scout Cookies

Boy Scout Popcorn

School fundraisers selling cookie dough and pizza

Valentine’s Day

St Patrick’s Day

Easter

Family dinner with mom so you have to eat it, right?

Fourth of July

Summer grilling season

State Fair time

Halloween

Thanksgiving

Christmas

before you know it, you’re back to New Year’s again…

 

A HUGE part of maintaining weight loss is developing strategies to handle these situations.

 

Instead of telling myself “you are too fat to get that”, I started telling myself “that is not going to help you reach your goal; you DESERVE to be healthy!”.  Amazingly, the latter worked MUCH better than the former logic.  Early on, sabotaging thoughts came fast and often.  As I learned to recognize them and turn them around into a positive affirmation, they waned.  I still have them, and probably always will, but they do not run my life.  Thoughts are just thoughts, they do not define who I am.

 

Holidays come with traditions but not eating everything on the dinner table is not going to end the world.  In a lot of ways, I suffer much less not over eating than I do gorging myself to the point of being uncomfortably stuffed.  Holidays are just another day on the calendar.  My contribution to group meals is something I can eat a lot of (aka fresh fruits and veggies) and depending on what else is around, sometimes I only eat what I bring.

 

People are going to offer food that isn’t a good choice for me.

 

My experience has been when I’m fighting hard to stay on track, having a tough time, I start to be the expert on what everyone else should and shouldn’t eat.  I’m not real happy and when I say “no” and there’s a little twinge of “you really shouldn’t eat it either”.  In those times, people push me to “have it”, “try it”, “just a bite”, “it’s ok today”.  When I truly do not want something, I can say “no” gracefully and people respect it.  As far as I can tell, the actual words I’m saying are the same, but the spirit behind them is different and so are the results.

 

My first round of holidays, my trainer at the time mentioned that I could take it, smile, and say something like “thank you, I’ll save this for later,” and then what I did with it afterwards was my business.  I was floored!  You mean I don’t have to go walking around like a diet Nazi and turn every temptation into a conflict?!  Oh!!!  Well, that’s interesting…

 

People are emotional about their food.  Whether they eat it or don’t eat it, people have feelings about it!

 

I am grateful for the intention of the person offering me their edible gifts. Sometimes I enjoy them but I do not have to.  I try to use those situations as an opportunity to practice acknowledging that each person has a right to their own perception and I don’t always agree with the people I love.  No matter what someone else does, I decide how much it impacts me.  No one is perfect at setting boundaries but it helps to know I have a right to them.

 

If you do not have anyone in your life that is committed to living a healthy lifestyle, find a way to build relationships with people who are.  They are out there and they want to be friends with you!  Build a support network of people who will help encourage you and have fun with you while you all progress.  No one person is going to be able to be there for you 100% ALL of the time but you will have what you need when you need it if you keep your heart open to receiving it.  Know that!

 

 

From my heart to yours,

 

Thanks for reading

 

 

Facing Food Addiction: Part 3: Make a Plan A

Before any plan will work successfully, you have to start with pure intentions.  Dealing only with the symptoms of a problem might seem to work short term but it’s not sustainable.  You also run the risk of getting out of balance in another way (trading one addiction for another).

Once you are ready to work a plan, set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-sensitive).  Set at least one for your spiritual self, one for your physical self and one for your emotional self.  Ignoring any portion of that triad will inhibit progress.  Addressing all three will lead to success and long term sustainability.

Long before any change happens in my physical body, my spiritual and emotional self give me signs I’m getting off track.   Emotionally, I start to feel like I can’t say “no”.  I think things like: “I don’t have a choice”, “I have to do this”, “you can’t”, “you suck”, “this is too hard”….  When I’m emotionally well, I instead think things like” “I have a choice”, “do I want to do this?”, “I can by…”, “you’ll make mistakes while you’re learning”, “you have what you need to accomplish this”…. Spiritually, I start not thinking much beyond myself.  I lose faith that the answer I need will appear when I need it.  I start to question what I believe (not in a good way).  Sometimes, in really dark periods, I think that I am unforgivable and completely unlovable.

When I’m well emotionally and spiritually because I’m taking time to nurture myself in those ways, I have energy to stay on track with food and exercise.  When I’m not well, it’s ugly…. But, I have learned I can get back on track!  Learn from the slip and go back to making healthy choices again.

My weight loss journey started with an experienced, licensed personal trainer who had me on a meal plan of 1300-1500 calories (60% carbs, 20% fat, 20% protein) and strength training for 45 minutes 3x a week.  I could add in any cardio I wanted (like walking, biking or elliptical  but I was supposed to get in those strength workouts no matter what).  The strength workouts were full body routines, working large muscle groups and getting my heart rate up (they felt harder than running 3 miles does today!).  Pick up any Women’s Health or Men’s Health magazine and they will have at least one of those routines inside.

Just doing cardio and eating less will help you lose pounds but without strength training, you will also lose muscle (reducing the number of calories you burn when at rest, slowing your metabolism).  If being a member of a gym is not an option, there are hundreds of body weighted strength exercises you can do at home and a few small dumbbells can round out what muscle groups you work.

Seriously look at your finances.  If you did not buy cigarettes, alcohol, lattes, pop, candy, chips or fast food, how much money would you save?  Try it for a week.  If you still don’t have money for a trainer, you’ll still end up ahead!  If cutting it out all together is too much, cut spending on those things gradually over time (with a SMART goal).

Wellness is a process, a journey….small choices that add up over time, either taking you in the direction of better health and wellness or the other way.  Wishing you a lifetime of health and happiness!

 

From my heart to yours,

Thanks for reading

 

Next up… Make a Plan B

Facing Food Addiction: Part 2: You Are Worth It

Do you think you deserve to be fit and healthy?  Seriously… Not just “it would be nice if I were fit and healthy” but do you honestly believe you deserve to be fit and healthy?  Do you believe it’s possible for you?

If not, start there…

Why not?

What do you fear?

What are you hiding from?

What’s hurt you in the past?

What’s hurting you right now?

What do you think you deserve?

Fat is a barrier between you and the rest of the world.  Why do you think you need it there?

If these questions bubble up tears or a lot of self deprecating self talk, get some professional help and/or find some kind of support group for yourself.  There’s no shame in identifying there’s something that needs to be addressed and then seeking out help to address it.  If you are willing to be honest with yourself about what’s really going on inside, recovery is possible for you! It’s not easy, but it’s WORTH IT!

Recognize that food addiction is real.  It doesn’t go away.  However, YOU, my dear, are worth some of the precious energy you spend on other people EVERY DAY.

Are you taking time to nurture yourself in ways that do not include food?  If not, start making a list of things that fill you up that have nothing to do with eating or drinking.  Think about when you were a kid.  What did you dream about?  What did you love to do?  My core favorite things have not changed for as long as I can remember… Connect with that inner child.  Love her.  Love him.  Don’t judge.  Don’t talk down to.  Help that little boy or girl be healthy.

Carve out some times to do what you love.  Doing so makes it possible for you to TRULY be there for others.  It’s not selfish, it’s self-care.

Become more aware of your self talk.  Turn every judgmental, critical, self deprecating thought around into something positive.  Open your heart to receiving the answers that are available to you at any given moment.  Sometimes they seem like they are slow in coming.  Have faith that the answers you need will arrive when you need them if you are open to receiving them. They are!  Really!

It becomes easier with practice.  The first step is simply to become aware.

It takes determination and constant effort to change significantly.  Keep in mind the weight didn’t come on overnight and it’s not going to go away overnight.  Be kind, be patient, with yourself.  Trust the process.

Seek out people who are living the lifestyle you want.

Learn about addiction and how people successfully overcome it.  The original 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are at the bottom of this post.  They work.  It’s not easy, but it’s WORTH IT!

Food is fuel. If you don’t eat enough for your body to function, it will take nutrients from your muscles and bones, slowing your metabolism.  It does get easier to make healthy choices and the lifestyle change it takes to change your body does get easier to maintain the longer it’s practiced.  Know that.

Before  you set yourself up to fail (again), take some time to identify what’s gotten you here in the first place.  Start thinking positively.

Change your thoughts and change your world!

 

From my heart to yours,

Thanks for reading

 

As a reference, these are the original Twelve Steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous as taken from Wikipedia. :[10]

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.