The human body is not static in nature – our cells are ever changing. Our skin sheds every 2 to 4 weeks. The cells in our lungs renew themselves every 2-3 weeks and our heart regenerates 3 or 4 times over our life time, approximately every 20 years.
Using imaging, science has observed that the brain physically changes with new experiences.
Your brain is always seeking the easy way forward. Neuropathways are like superhighways of connections between neurons that are created with new thoughts and actions. The more we repeat a pattern of thought and action, the clearer the pathway and the stronger the behavior is. When emotion is stirred, the neural pathway is stronger yet.
When I was young and could not understand my emotions, I hid my feelings from everyone. My situation was confusing to me and my emotions were overwhelming. Repeatedly hiding in reaction to my emotions - over and over and over - created a pattern. Eventually I started eating to cover my emotions – sadness, fear, shame - and the overwhelming confusion caused by hiding. The brain doesn’t care if the pattern we create is useful or not. When a negative thought would bubble up from my unconscious, I ate to distract myself.
I ate to drown out the current emotion du jour and to distract myself from the story of my past. At some point I started gaining weight and lost confidence in my ability to stop overeating emotionally. Why? One reason is that my brain had become expert at responding to discomfort with overeating. A fight with my husband would be interpreted by me as, “I will never be loved.” I ate not to feel unloved. Instead of looking at the underlying belief that was creating my emotional reaction, I focused on the reaction. In my mind, the problem was not only that my husband didn’t love me, it was compounded by the belief that I couldn’t lose weight and felt horrible.
Ay Yai Yai!
When I learned about the latest research in brain science, I thought, “I can change my brain?” AMAZING! I began by changing my reaction to every discomfort – I stopped overeating. That led me to discover the negative, self-depreciating beliefs that were the basis of all my actions. I learned how my nonconscious thoughts generated emotions and that if I continued to overeat emotionally, I would never get to the bottom of the cause of those emotions.
I decided I wanted to change. I challenged my brain. Strengthening and relying on my prefrontal cortex through meditation and visualization and a writing practice, I created new neural pathways. Practice, practice, practice and then more practice.
In my example of overeating emotionally, each problem I faced was experienced through the lens and sensation of overeating. We live in our minds and create from our minds. Everything in existence started with a thought in someone’s brain.
I had a new thought: “Can I imagine a life where I enjoy a healthy body and only desire food that nourishes me?”
That was a huge leap for me.
There is a scene in one of my favorite movies, The Court Jester with Danny Kaye. Hubert Hawkins (Kaye), is under a spell from Griselda, the residing witch of the castle. While in his normal life Hawkins is fearful, bumbling and uncoordinated, under Griselda’s spell he is suave, skillful, courageous and graceful. The snap of a finger is the signal that turns the behaviors off and on. We watch the skillful Kaye go between these two characters at each snap.
This is like our mind. If we believe our fearful thoughts, we are fearful. If we believe our courageous thoughts, we are brave. The brain will continuously seek evidence for our beliefs.
During the process of changing our beliefs and actions, thus changing our brains, we live in this duality. Before we believe the new thoughts, the grooves in our brain created with old thoughts are like a thick underbrush in the jungle. We live in the in-between for a while – basically the opposition between the now and the future.
What we know from research, particularly the work of Dr. Richard Davidson, is that we can strengthen the prefrontal cortex to influence our thoughts and behaviors to increase resilience, self-awareness, positive emotions, focused concentration, and social and emotional intelligence.
Coaching applies these theories and turns them into actions and processes to help each individual client.
Engaging your pre-frontal cortex will strengthen its influence in your actions.
If you want to stop overeating, prepare and plan for discomfort during the transition between stopping overeating and choosing healthy, nourishing foods.
Any new program requires thought, planning and preparation followed by action.
As you make healthy choices, you may feel a bit better. Initially you may have to go through a period of detoxification. Your brain, seeking to return to its comfort zone, will want to return to the bad eating habits so that everything stays the same. Your brain and thoughts will convince you that it is easier to feel bad after eating whatever you want, than feeling discomfort when you don’t complete the pattern.
If you use your pre-frontal cortex, by the continual practice of meditation, visualization, writing, and planning, you can get back in charge. You can lose weight, learn to love your past, and create a positive future. You can change your brain to seek evidence that you are a person who desires nourishing food and a healthy lifestyle.
It’s science. It can work for you.