Everyone stands in awe of the brain, and rightly so. Your brain not only interprets the world, it creates it. Everything you see, hear, touch, taste and smell would have none…
Everyone stands in awe of the brain, and rightly so. Your brain not only interprets the world, it creates it. Everything you see, hear, touch, taste and smell would have none of those qualities without the brain. The key to stopping overeating is to bring your brain into balance, then use its ability to balance everything – hormones, hunger, cravings, and habits. Your weight is all in your head because, the brain lies at the source of all bodily functions. ‘Super brain’ requires you to relate to your brain in a new way.
The brain compensates for anything that happens in the body. Severely overweight people work around their obesity, leading normal lives within limits, raising families, enjoying loving relationships. At another level, however, they are miserable. Imbalance feeds more imbalance, perpetuating the vicious circle. They need to stop adapting to obesity and relate to the brain as the answer, not the problem. You can change a habit only in the moment when you feel the urge to act on your habit.
Eating is no different. You find yourself reaching for pizza or sneaking ice cream at midnight. What’s happening at that moment? If you can answer this question, you have an opening for change.
Five ways to change
1 Either you are hungry or you are pacifying a feeling. These are the two basic choices. At the very moment you reach for food, ask yourself which one you are choosing.
I am hungry: If this is true, then eating is a natural bodily need, and it is fulfilled when hunger is no longer present (which is far short of being full or stuffed). A few hundred calories will fulfill a passing hunger pang. A meal amounts to roughly 600 calories.
I am pacifying a feeling: If this is true, then the feeling will be just as present as hunger. But you are in the habit of racing past the feeling. Or it may be disguised. Either way, stop and notice how you are feeling. For example:
■ Overwhelmed and exhausted
Once you identify the feeling, name it to yourself, preferably out loud: for example “I feel frustrated right now,” or “I feel exhausted right now.”
2 Once you know what you’re feeling, go ahead and eat. Don’t fight with yourself. The inner struggle between I shouldn’t be eating this and I have to eat this never ends. If it had an ending, one side or the other would have won long ago. So register if you are hungry or are pacifying a feeling. Then eat.
3 Wait for an opening. If you have been consistent about asking “What am I feeling?” before you eat, the time will come when your mind will say something new: “I don’t need to eat this” or “I’m not really hungry, so why eat?” Don’t force it. But be prepared and be alert. Your urge to free yourself from a habit is real. It just happens, for the moment, to not be as strong as your eating habit. When such an opening comes, act on your new urge, and then forget about it.
4 Learn better ways to cope. When you pacify a feeling, it goes away temporarily, but it always returns. You are eating to cope with feelings. There are other ways to cope, and once you learn them, the urge to eat will lessen, because your body and mind will know that you aren’t supplied with only one major coping mechanism.
Coping skills include:
■ Saying how you feel without fear of disapproval.
■ Confiding to the right person, someone who is empathic, non-judgemental, and detached (confiding to people who depend on you for money, status, or advancement is never a good idea).
■ Trusting someone enough to follow their guidance. Complete self-reliance is lonely and easily leads to distorted perceptions.
■ Taking your inner life as seriously as your outer life.
■ Finding a way to dispel the underlying energy of fear or anger. These two basic negative feelings fuel any addictive behaviour.
■ Feeling good enough that you don’t have to indulge yourself.
■ Feeling bad is what tempts you to indulge yourself. It’s not how good food smells that leads you astray.
5 Make new neural networks. Habits are mental grooves that depend on networks in the brain. Once set, they automatically respond. When a person fights the urge to overeat, the brain is ‘remembering’ that overeating is what it is supposed to do. It follows the groove automatically and powerfully. So you have to give your brain a new way to go, which means building new neural networks. You can’t build them when the urge to eat hits you, but there are lots of times and lots of ways to build new brain patterns. Nobody really enjoys having to pacify their feelings. It’s too much like failure; it reminds you of weakness. But feelings don’t want to be pacified, either. They want to be fulfilled. You fulfill your positive feelings (love, hope, optimism, appreciation, approval) by connecting with other people, expressing your best self. You fulfill your negative feelings by releasing them. Your whole system recognises negative feelings as toxic. It’s futile to bottle them up, divert them, ignore them, or try to rise above them. Either negativity is leaving or it’s hanging on – it has no other alternative. As you fulfill emotions, your brain will change and form new patterns, which is the whole goal.
You also need a reprieve from the inner struggle, conflict, and confusion that keeps your impulses, both good and bad, at war. This is where meditation helps. It shows your brain a place of rest. Leaving aside all spiritual implications, finding a place of real rest, where no aspect of your self is fighting with any other aspect, is immensely helpful. It gives your brain a foundation for change. In meditation you aren’t following any grooves, patterns, or old conditioning. When your brain realises this, it will want to experience it more. Therefore, instead of having old urges, you will begin to have more moments of balance, clarity, and freedom. Your brain must become your ally. If it does not, it will remain your adversary.
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