The Mental Mind Shift is the focus of part 3 in the series of How to Overcome Emotional Eating. So far, we have discussed simple ways to incorporate moderate exercise, simple dietary modifications, and meditation to help empower you to overcome emotional eating. The potential benefits of nutritional supplementation along with 3 specific categories of supplements were laid out in part 2 of How to Overcome Emotional Eating. On to Part 3 – The Mental Mind Shift, and how to further strengthen the power of your “Thinking Brain.”
Until now in your quest to prevent Emotional Overeating, you’ve seen some changes in your eating patterns because you’ve adopted a healthy diet, you're exercising regularly and meditating, and you may even be taking the suggested supplements, but then WHAM, you’re hit with stress and your Emotional Brain goes berserk. It has become the most single-minded, block-everything-else-out, monster and it is in PAIN. It has one and only one goal in mind, to relieve the pain, it must eat.
This is a habit you have created over the years, and someway, somehow it is serving your immediate needs, but the long term effects are without a doubt failing health and lower self-esteem.
All habits have three components: 1) triggers 2) routines 3) rewards.
Your Emotional Overeating habit has the same three components. 1)Trigger=stress 2) routine=overeat 3) reward=feel good.
Repeated over and over again this pattern becomes ingrained. Ironically, the least productive way of overcoming this urge is by resisting it. Once your trigger has been sparked, your Emotional Brain will go on autopilot until the reward has been achieved. That’s right; resistance is futile, resistance creates more stress.
A better strategy is to create a new habit. It is your Thinking Brain that will create the new habit. If you have read this far, you are to be congratulated and encouraged. It means your Thinking Brain can focus and learn. You have the potential to change your habit!
Step 1- Identify the triggers. When you have the urge to overeat ask yourself, “Is there a common person, place, time of day, or event that sparks the urge?” What emotions were you feeling when this happens? It is important to link the answer to the first question with the identified emotion. It may take a few overeating binges but keep observing; the answerers will come to you.
Step 2- As you are playing out/succumbing to overeating, ask yourself “Is the act of overeating satisfying the emotionally triggered urge?”
Step 3- Substitute a different activity and test if the new activity satisfies the emotionally triggered urge. Here are a few examples: walk outside, watch a short comedy, smile in the mirror, or my favorite, a five-minute meditation. Keep on testing different activities until you find the one that satisfies the emotionally triggered urge.
Step 4- Once you’ve identified the emotion you are trying to satisfy, and you have discovered an activity that satisfies the emotion, you need to write out and prepare before the next triggered happens. For example, “When I get home from work (time trigger), and I feel lonely (the emotion of woe is me), I will write out what I am grateful for (feeling that I have a lot of joy in my life).” Another example-“When my Dad (person trigger )calls to “talk”(triggering the emotion of I’m not good enough) I will look at pictures of my kids because that gives me the feeling of “I am good enough.” In both of these examples, the previous habit of overeating satisfied an emotional need. By planning before the event, you have the ability to create a more empowering habit.
As you have just read, Overcoming Emotional Eating, at best takes a multi-faceted approach that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. There are many factors that come into play. Please let me know how these strategies work for you, or of any other strategies you have found helpful in dealing with Emotional Eating.
How to Overcome Emotional Eating (part 2
Welcome to part 2 of How to Overcome Emotional Eating. You are either very curious by nature and felt compelled to read each of the segments in this 3 part series, or you need a little more assistance to overcome emotional eating. Part 1 in the series discussed why emotional eating happens and gave three strategies to get you started. Here we will talk about flexing the power of your “Thinking Brain” over your “Emotional Brain” and the positive boost supplementation may have on this process.
In the spirit of full disclosure, there is a third portion of the brain we need to bring into this discussion to fully understand the challenges your Thinking Brain must overcome to help you beat Emotional Eating.
The “Primitive Brain” is the oldest and most domineering part of the brain. Located in the brain stem, the Primitive Brain’s job is survival; after all, it controls heart rate and breathing. It controls you. You may be thinking, “there is no way an old part of my brain is more powerful than “me.” By the way, the concept of “me” exists in your “Thinking Brain,” located in your frontal lobe. Okay, lets put this to the test. If you were given a choice of having a million dollars or taking your next breath, it wouldn’t matter if “You” chose the million dollars, you will, without thinking, take your next breath.
This illustrates the influence of each area of your brain. From most to least influential-Primitive Brain, Emotional Brain then Thinking Brain. Your actions and reactions are driven by the needs of each of these brain areas.
The Primitive Brain is wired instinctually for immediate protection from the environment and keeping you alive. The “Emotional Brain” dictates how we interact with others and responds to our desire for social acceptance. The newest part of the brain, the Thinking Brain is keeping you involved in the thought process of reading this blog and figuring out how its concepts apply to your life. Your Thinking Brain can influence both the Emotional and Primitive Brain, but it takes understanding and training. Let me illustrate. I said before if I gave you a choice between a million dollars and your next breath, regardless of what you think or feel, your primitive brain would kick in and force you to take that breath. But if I changed the scenario a little and had the million dollars at the end of a 100-yard pool and you had to swim underwater to get to it, your thinking brain might have a chance to override the Primitive Brain and get both the bucks and breath.
I am often asked, and would imagine most doctors are asked, “What can I take to help?” My answer is always the same. The two biggest influences on your mental function are the foods you eat and how frequently you move your body. If these are not addressed, no number of supplements will have any lasting effect. So, assuming you are eating well and regularly moving or exercising, there are supplements that have been shown to be quite beneficial when dealing with Emotional Overeating.
1) Adaptogens: Adaptogens are a category of supplements that have the unique characteristic of “smoothing a stress response”. Adaptogens will support either an exaggerated or insufficient stress response. The word Adaptogen means creating an ability to adapt. The adaptogens I recommend are Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Ginseng.
2) 5-HTTP: Serotonin is the chemical produced in your brain that makes you feel happy. 5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin. That means the body uses 5-HTP to make serotonin. The most researched and safest way to raise serotonin is by taking a supplement called 5-HTP. Other effects besides making you feel happy are a positive effect on sleep, mood, and anxiety.
MCT OIL or Healthy Bran Fat: The third recommended category of supplements is those that increase healthy fat to the brain; after all your brain is composed of 60% fat. Fat is vital for nerves to fire; therefore, your thoughts and emotions need healthy fats. Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT), particularly from coconut oil, is very beneficial for the brain and body. Use caution when purchasing MCT Oil. It should only be derived from coconuts and, although Lauric Acid has other benefits, improving brain health isn’t among them.
Do the recommendation in these first two post and you will be prepared for next week's part 3 of “How to Overcome Emotional Eating”.
How to Overcome Emotional Eating (part 1)
In this 3 part series, we’ll examine why we are prone to eating our emotions, how to outsmart yourself out of emotional eating, and when necessary, what it means to call in the reserves to successfully reach your goals instead of a bag of potato chips.
A patient, we’ll call Mary, recently came to see me. Three years ago, she successfully completed a metabolic makeover; she looked great, felt 20 years younger and couldn’t believe how mentally aware and alive she acted. Not to mention her glee over her 30lb. weight loss. Her biggest fear she related to me back then was “when I get emotional, I eat junk food.” She managed to keep her healthy lifestyle for two years then major stressors entered her life and she started eating junk food again. She gained all the weight back and developed severe joint pain and brain fog, both of which she was now on medication to manage. Then she reentered my office.
Most people who enter my office with chronic conditions have success after fully understanding all the factors affecting their condition and following a protocol that eliminates the causes one by one. However; the most challenging complication to overcoming chronic problems is “Emotional Eating.”
Why do I crave junk food when I’m stressed?
People eat junk food when stressed because sugary and fatty foods raise serotonin and dopamine. When these feel-good chemicals in your brain increase, you will temporarily experience a spike in happiness and motivation. But these foods also create obesity, inflammation, and diabetes. Despite knowing Emotional Eating is only providing a short-term boost and giving in to it will be harmful, your “Emotional Brain” easily overpowers your “Thinking Brain.”
Is your brain thinking or doing?
Here is a huge clue to overcoming Emotional Eating: Your thinking brain needs to understand the why of this occurring and then be able to identify when your emotional brain takes over and you dive into chocolate covered sugar bombs. Since your Emotional Brain directs your moment to moment reactions, you need to strengthen your Thinking Brain. This is not an easy task, but it is doable. Here are your first steps:
1) Exercise-I know, if you don’t like to exercise your first thought is probably “ugh.” That should tell you which part of your brain is in charge. Your emotional brain is saying “nope, I’m not going to exercise,” but your thinking brain is saying, “get off your butt.” Perhaps you would be willing to start walking for ten minutes a day? Try not to think of it as exercise – think of it as increasing your brain power. Walking just 10 minutes per day will strengthen your “Thinking Brain’s” muscle to flex over your “Emotional Brain.” And, you’ll burn a few calories.
2) Diet-Did I hear you “ugh” again? In my book “The Whole Body Cure” I try to give very specific nutritional protocols for health related issues. But since we are discussing Emotional Eating try the simplest diet I know: If you can’t read it don’t eat it. Yes, it is that simple.
3) Meditation-Relax, it’s not all ohmmm stuff. If you already meditate then you have felt the benefits. If you haven’t, what do you have to lose? Research is 100% clear; meditation is one of the best and safest ways to improve “Thinking Brain” function. If you have never meditated, I suggest you try any 7-minute meditation for seven days and see if you feel just a little bit calmer or less anxious. Apps like Calm or Headspace can help you start your meditation journey.
You’ve heard it over and over again, “exercise and eat right and you’ll be on the path to good health.” It can be true for some but not easy for most, especially if you fall victim to emotional eating. Decreasing the time and intensity of exercise to a 10-minute walk is not as daunting as committing to a gym membership and tugging on Lycra pants. Eating foods that don’t even need a label, like an apple or orange is a great way to shift your eating habits. Meditation, as little as seven minutes has been shown to improve your Thinking Brain’s influence over your Emotional Brain. If these strategies are all it takes for you to overcome emotional eating, congratulations, keep up the good work. Need some more help? Read part 2 of “How to Overcome Emotional Eating.”