Ep #2: How Our Brain Affects Our Weight

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Welcome to the second episode of It’s Never Too Late to Lose Weight!

I am excited to embark on this journey with all of you to finally reaching your goal weight and greeting your 60s and 70s in good health. In this episode, we explore how we can set the stage for your success at reaching your weight-loss goals.

Join me as we dig into how your brain operates and why it’s so difficult for many of us to create meaningful change in our lives. I also explain how your thoughts create your feelings and how understanding that principle means that you can manage your thoughts and finally get the results you want.

Tune in for this important introduction to the inner-workings of your mind and how you are motivated to achieve what you want in life, whether it’s your weight-loss, health, or life goals.

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You'll Learn from this Episode:

  • The relationship between our thoughts and why we do (or don’t do) what we do.
  • How you can get a good understanding of how your thoughts affect your feelings.
  • How our two different parts of our brain govern our behavior.
  • Why creating change in your life is often so difficult.
  • The role our brain plays in achieving our weight-loss goals.

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to It's Never Too Late to Lose Weight, a podcast for women approaching 60 who have been successful at everything but reaching their weight loss goals. Tune in each week for tools and strategies to help you lose weight, create a strong body, and support a healthy mind. Here's your host, certified weight and life coach, Pat Beaupre Becker.

Welcome back to episode two of It's Never Too Late to Lose Weight podcast, where I am going to help set the stage for your success at reaching your weight loss goals. I wanted to share with you today before we get started, I was working with a client and it's just about the holidays now while I'm recording this. And so here was a woman who has actually lost about 25 pounds so far, still has more to go. And so she has this plan to achieve another weight loss for this month. So she was planning this event with her grandkids where every year they get together and they make cookies for Christmas.

So as we were talking about this, she mentioned that a couple weeks ago, the kids had asked her if they could get her shoes because St. Nicholas was coming and they were preparing for St. Nicholas day and they wanted to put candy in her shoes. And so her response was - remember now she was on this weight loss goal, she said, "You know what kids, grandma doesn't eat candy anymore." And the kids were like, "Okay", and then they moved on. Crazy, right? How often do we anticipate and fear other people's reactions to our decision to refuse to have a treat? Especially if it's the holidays, especially if it's homemade, right?

But it shows me that these kids, they just took grandma's words at face value; they just believed her, so they didn't create any drama. And this is a perfect introduction to todays' episode because these young children, they were thinking, "Okay grandma, you don't eat candy anymore. No problem." They didn't create any drama about it because of their thoughts. And the beautiful thing is that my client was a little bit surprised but also very encouraged and she didn't have any candy and she met her weight loss goals. So it's really thrilling to see how when you use this thought work how you actually look at your brain and anticipate what might happen, you can create a whole different outcome than you had ever created before.

So here we have episode two, and guess what? I'm still not going to talk about food, there's not going to be any diet that I'm going to offer I'm today's episode. We'll get to that, but not yet. Because what I really want you to understand is the difference between a diet and my program is that we want to understand some key ideas, and what we're going to talk about in today's episode is number one, this idea that your thoughts create your feelings, and number two, that we actually still have this limbic system which is part of our primitive brain, and that it's really important to understand how we react and how we are motivated because of our primitive brain. And then number three, we're going to talk about the modern brain, the prefrontal cortex, the CEO, the one who can just take charge and actually be successful at reaching goals. Because when you understand, first of all, that your thoughts create your own feelings, and then you understand how we are motivated to achieve what we want to achieve in life, I know that this is going to help you with your weight loss goals and your health goals and your life goals.

So why does this have anything to do with losing weight? I really want you to understand that the way you think creates your feelings, and your feelings are what create your life, really. Everything about your life is created by how you feel. I mean, and even the things we want to do or we plan for is because we have this idea that we're going to feel a certain way. so just think, when you fall in love and you're thinking about getting married, you have this idea that you're going to feel secure and in love and So your emotions that drive that desire are what gets you to get engaged, find someone, get engaged and then actually proceed and get married.

So I think that for myself, when I realized this fact that my thoughts created my feelings, it really blew my mind wide open because what I had realized is that all of my life I had these certain thoughts and I thought my feelings came from you know, that they were just like from the ether of my feelings and my thoughts. I had no control over them, right? They were just there, or they came from God, or they came from my mother, or from some place that was good or bad. But when I really learned this idea that my thoughts create my feelings, it really was fascinating.

So part of the problem for me was that I identified myself as a victim of childhood trauma, and I really actually considered myself a survivor in the way that I behaved, but the truth was 95% of my feelings were negative. And if you correlate this idea that my thoughts create my feelings, I was like, "So you're telling me that 95% of my thoughts are negative?" And then I started to look at my thoughts and I'm telling you, there were definitely at least 95% negative. Because I thought all my past was the reason I couldn't lose weight, I couldn't be healthy, I couldn't stick to a plan. I had no discipline, how could someone who had such a horrendous childhood have any discipline, right? I couldn't stop biting my nails, I couldn't find a good partner in love, I couldn't be successful at my own business, and even my own ideas of motherhood at held at question all the time because how could I be a good mother when I felt like I didn't have perfect mothering myself?

And so what would happen is that all these emotions - so when I thought like I can't lose weight, or the things I thought about myself, they drove me to eat bags and bags of cookies, right? Or maybe it was Twizzlers if I was trying to change it up. And there was even a time when I decided I wasn't going to choose like, what I really wanted, which was Oreos and Haagen-Dazs so I decided I would eat what my husband liked to eat, which were these cookies, and I would just buy bags and bags of them for him, which of course they were for me, and even though they weren't even my ultimate desire, I would eat them compulsively over and over and over again. And little did I realize this addictive quality of that sugar, and no matter whether it was the ideal food that I was giving up or the ones that I was choosing to have instead, thinking that I was going to trick my brain into not liking them, it was that addictive quality of the sugar that just kept me going back and back and back. And then of course the feeling that I had of I was never going to be able to succeed, I was never going to be able to change; these also just made my choice that much worse.

So now, wait a minute, so now you're telling me you feel terrible, it's your thoughts that cause your feelings. So now I start to blame myself, right? So it's like, it's not only am I - I'm ugly, and I'm overweight, and I can't stop biting my fingernails, it's like, and now it's all my own fault. And that is not what is going on here. That is not the purpose of this exercise at all, because what I want to tell you is that when I realized it was my own thoughts causing my feelings, I really couldn't blame anybody else. And the good thing about not blaming anybody else, it meant that I was 100% responsible for my feelings. I just couldn't even understand how that could be true, because the way I operated was if I felt bad it was because of something you did. If I couldn't eat, it was because I hated my job. This is years ago; you know, if I wanted to do drugs it was because of my horrible past. There was always a reason, there was always a blame that I had for something.

Now, the thing it is is that we know that it has been reported that we actually have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day. Now, if we have so many thoughts and we're not really aware that our thoughts create our feelings, we could just be like on a rollercoaster ride with our feelings all day long. Because think about it. When you wake up in the morning and you get up and maybe you feel a certain way, you think about your body, "Hate my stomach", you go into the mirror and you go and look, "My hair, look at my face", it's like, all this negative thoughts, right? And then you think about your age and you have thoughts about your past. You know, certainly I did. You have thoughts about your life, "Why can't I make more money?" or "Why can't I have a nicer home?" You have thoughts about people in your life. "Why can't my husband be nicer? Why can't he be more affectionate?" Thoughts about family members, "Why can't my mom just be not so critical?" Thoughts about work, "Why is work so hard? Why is my boss so demanding?" Thoughts about your commute even, thoughts about what we can do, thoughts about what we can't do. Okay, that's like 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day.

Now, many, many, many of these thoughts have to do with our weight if we are struggling or if we consider ourselves someone who struggles with weight. So I'll ask my clients, "How come you can't lose weight?" And they'll say, "I'm not disciplined. I eat my emotions, I eat when I'm stressed. I'm an emotional eater." Or how often do we hear, "I hate my life, I hate my stomach, I hate my house, I hate my thighs, I hate my butt." After coaching for a while, I actually created this worksheet called Kindness, because I noticed that we speak to ourselves to unkindly. We just are really mean and bullying to ourselves. And we describe ourselves with our habitual thoughts. I could tell you by what you're saying is what you're thinking, right? You describe yourself by your emotional response to an event. "I'm a people pleaser", you know, we look at our unquestioned beliefs and we describe ourselves as if our unquestioned beliefs are facts.

"I can't lose weight"; these are things we say. "I'll never succeed, I have no discipline. I hate feeling deprived." When I tell you that you are not your thoughts, what do you think about that? Do you have any sense of a shift in the way you feel? If I tell you that what your thoughts are, are merely sentences that you say in your head and that your beliefs are sentences that you believe over and over and over again. Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't have thoughts or we shouldn't have beliefs, but I'm saying that so many of them are unconscious, so many of them are unquestioned or unexamined. And we think that they are facts. Quite often really what they are is they are opinions. If you think about it like something happens, let's say you know, your teenage son says, "Mom, I don't want you to come in my room without knocking" and your thought is, "My son is so mean", right?

And now, the truth is, your son is so mean is really your opinion. The fact is really that your son told you he didn't want you to come in his room without knocking. Now, some people might say, "Wow, that's pretty nice that your son was able to communicate what he wanted as opposed to grunting and slamming the door." But your interpretation of it, the thought that you have about it creates a feeling in you. So if you think, "My son is so mean", and you feel hurt, as opposed to another parent who might think, "My son is setting really good boundaries, I'm really proud of him", and then you will feel pride.

Another example, you could say, "My sister-in-law is such a nasty person" and then the fact might be my sister-in-law told me she didn't like my haircut. But your interpretation is that that makes her nasty. Now, to someone else, they might agree, right? I don't like your haircut either, but it doesn't mean I'm being mean, I'm just trying to give you an opinion, I'm giving you some information. We could say to ourselves, "I'm such a loser", and again, there is an opinion of our self. Maybe the thing is is you had a plan and maybe what really happened was you ate three cookies after lunch and your thought, "I'm such a loser", feels so bad in your body, whereas if you think, "I ate three cookies after lunch", it's very objective. You can then say, "Well maybe tomorrow I won't have any cookies after lunch", right?

And then we have all these unconscious thoughts, especially as related to food. "I don't know what came over me", how many times did I say that? "I just couldn't help myself, I just started eating and before I knew it, you know, I ate a whole bag of cookies." And the thing that is really amazing that I want to tell you is you can pick your own thoughts. Do you believe that? You actually can pick your own thoughts. Your thoughts are actually yours and you can decide to believe your thought, you can decide to change your thought, you can decide to believe it. Because I want to ask you, who is in charge? And how do you change?

So one of the things I can share with you is that a good way to get an understanding of this, of this whole process and how it works, of how your thoughts create your feeling is really to look at your thoughts from a distance. We call it becoming the watcher. Imagine that you know, if you think about your - if you close your eyes and you can imagine that your mind is there, and if your mind is like the sky, and if you've ever gone in an airplane and you know the sky can be really cloudy, and then you go up in the airplane and it's like oh my god, it's a blue sky, and the sky is always blue, and that's kind of your consciousness, right? Let's say the state of your mind. And then clouds are thoughts. So clouds come and they go, they form, they're big, they're small, and if you could imagine your thoughts are like clouds, or sometimes you can think about it like a ticker tape. Watching TV and underneath is all these sentences that are going on, and they're just passing through. Or you can even think of them like as a radio station and you can change the station, right? Just push the button and change the station and your thoughts can move. So if you can imagine that your thoughts are not you, that you actually are having thoughts, and even by saying, "I'm having a thought" in front of your thought is a way to actually create some space and some awareness of how you are thinking, and then you can also take another beat to feel, what does it feel like when you think that thought? And then we'll talk in future episodes on what happens after that.

But the other thing I want to teach you about today is about your brain. So you know, over the past 20 years, there has been more research and information and knowledge gathered about the workings of our brain then and any time before. So the last 20 years is like massive quantities of information. And they're doing thousands of research papers, so they're giving us all this information to help us to navigate our lives. So for the purposes of our journey in weight loss, I want to talk to you about two parts of our brain, two brain systems. And one is called the - I'm going to call it the primitive brain, which it's the paleomammalian cortex. And then the other is going to be the evolved, or modern brain.

So let's talk about these because if you're a human being, you are living your life at the effect of one of these two brains at any point in time, and maybe sometimes at the effect of both of them. So let's look at the primitive brain, this paleomammalian cortex, and the limbic system is part of that brain structure. And what is this part of our brain addresses survival. This is the part of our brain that enabled all of our ancestors to live through very harsh weather, harsh times of plenty of food and times of no food, right? And all of these things is survival of the fittest, and so that brain is always going to seek pleasure; make sure you're eating enough food and make sure you're having sex so you can keep the species going. The other thing is to avoid pain, so you want to make sure that discomfort, cold, warmth, you're trying to avoid those things, right? And then also to exert the least amount of effort, because every effort is taken up - actually takes from your system, and you have to always be ready to be alert, to have the ability to run from danger, and so when you learn - let's say you learn how to skin an animal in order to get the coat to wear it, well, you don't want to have to relearn that every time. So your brain would learn something and then it would become knowledge or it would become a habit, and therefore you wouldn't have to relearn it each time, and that would be the least amount of effort in terms of the way that that species was able to survive.

That part of our brain also supports our emotion and how we behave, and here's the big surprise, it supports motivation, and long-term memory. And the most amazing thing, because I do a lot of work with essential oils, it also is connected with our sense of smell. But if you think about it, this motivation was all involved in making sure we fed our children, we had sex with our partners so that we kept the species alive, and that we were able to parent these kids to keep the kids alive. So everything was for the survival of the species. So we are seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, and then we want to exert the least amount of energy.

So this means that when there's a lot of change going on, this primal part of your brain is not really interested in change because you have to be wary of change, right? Everything wants to be stay the same and stay safe. It's called the fight, flight, or freeze. What happens is that your body gets ready to fight, it gets ready to run away, or it will freeze in order to survive, in order to do the best activity to get out of this particular situation. So interestingly, you know, when that happens, your first response of your brain is like, "Okay, danger, danger, you're going to die", because imagine in that time period, if you were - let's say you were ignored by someone in your tribe and you were left out of the tribe. You would actually die. You would be left to die because if you couldn't rely on the tribe for food, for safety, you would actually die. So this is like in our DNA, in our brain, this idea that we have to survive.

But the thing that's so fascinating is that that part of our body in our brain is still activates as if things that happened to us today are part or parcel of our survival. So right now, I have had this experience of just being left off an email chain made me feel so fearful that I was going to be left out or not part of the group, that it became evidence to my brain that I was going to die. Or if I'm in a meeting and I see a facial expression and I think someone's unhappy and I feel totally embarrassed and ashamed, the next thing you know, I'm like, stuffing my face with Lara bars. I can tell you, you know, you can gain weight on healthy food because I have done it, and I'm sure many of you have as well.

So understanding that there is a primal part of us that is going to react to fear, that's going to look for negativity is really going to be important as we start to try and change, right? When you set yourself to change and to change your eating habits, remember, your brain's first reaction is going to be, "What's going on? What are you doing? You're going to die." So that is something that we need to manage, right? And luckily, the next part of our brain that I'm going to talk about, this is our saving grace here is our prefrontal cortex.

So the prefrontal cortex is the structure of the brain that actually is the most modern part, the most evolved part of our brain. And it's - they talk about executive functioning as being this brain's sweet spot, right? But the really cool thing is so this is how we are able to differentiate between conflicting thoughts. So let's say the thought might be, "Oh my god, this cake looks so good, feels so good", and then a conflicting thought is, "That's not going to get me to my goal weight. So if I eat this now, I won't be able to get the benefit." And that is something that our primal brain is not going to do. The primal brain is going to go, "I got to have that sweet thing, it looks good, want it, got to have it. If you take it away from me I'm going to die." And the prefrontal cortex goes, "No, I don't think so, I'm able to actually not choose this now." It helps us determine between what's the same and different, and from future consequences about activities so that it helps us to work towards a defined goal.

And the other thing about this part of our brain, it has the ability to predict outcomes based on information, right? And it also can help us with our social controls, like when somebody gets you really upset and you know, you just don't go out and punch them, and that's part of your prefrontal cortex because it's understanding that if you don't suppress that urge, you are going to get yourself in trouble and it won't be of benefit. And so that's the part of our brain that we use when we're trying to suppress our urges for eating even, when there's something that you have been eating and you have this habit and you have to kind of experience that urge without responding to it, and that's what we get from our prefrontal cortex. So we can look at our prefrontal cortex as the ability to seek growth, because if we want to grow, we want to change, we get to use this part of our brain. It also wants to embrace discomfort because when something is new, it doesn't feel so comfortable, right? And we want to expend massive effort but consciously and wisely. So this is in order to get that goal, we know we have to do things to get there. For instance, if you are creating a plan to lose weight, you know, you want to make sure that you plan your food, you shop in advance, that you have a list of things that will require effort, but it's effort wisely spent. And so your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that is going to help you be successful as you take on something new.

So what affects our brains? The two brains. Of course we know food will affect it, the kind of food we're eating will have an impact on our moods, drugs that we take, the environment, whether we get enough sleep, stress, basically life, right? Life is going to be the thing that will give your prefrontal cortex and your limbic system plenty of opportunities to play themselves out and for you to become an observer and also eventually become a designer and a creator of your life.

I had a really interesting experience the other day where I really saw and felt my limbic system take charge of my life. So I was for the first time in a long time, I joined a gym with this young man named Odysseus Adrianos. He lives in my town but his dad is actually from Brooklyn, which is my hometown, and he works in the movie business, and of course, like who can't love a guy from Brooklyn who works in the movies and his son, who is this amazing, young - he's a coach and he's a personal trainer and he has his own gym. He's really fantastic. So what's happening is he's giving me this series of activities to work on and actually, you can go to my Facebook page, I'm going to post a little video of it. And so I have bum knees, right, so I'm always afraid of working out because I'm always afraid I'm going to hurt my knees. So he had this thing where I was going to jump up on this like, half ball thing, and as I was going to do it, my brain was like, "No, you can't do it, you're going to hurt your knees, stop." And so it was like my body - I could feel my whole body stopping from making this jump because I was afraid I was going to hurt my knees.

And so he was standing there and he was encouraging me and he's like, "Okay, just try it." So I jumped, and my knees didn't hurt. That was kind of interesting. But the second time I went to jump, I was like, okay - I was still afraid, but I did it. But like, you could really feel this hesitation in my brain. So finally I did jump and after like the third or fourth jump, I realized, this doesn't hurt at all. This is not - I'm anticipating this pain and it's not happening. So I, you know, was able to do it, and then there was an interval. So I was doing these different things and I had to come back to that same exercise, and the second time I came back to that exercise, my limbic brain was going crazy. It was like, "No, don't jump. Don't do it." And even though I had just had the experience, there was still this habit of anticipating that this was going to be painful, and it was very difficult to actually - to take that jump. And after I did about four or five different of these intervals, I was able to realize that I could jump on this thing and not like I look good, or that I had a lot of grace while I was doing it, it wasn't very graceful, but I could see how my limbic brain was stopping me from doing something and that once my prefrontal cortex, which was like, "Look, you know this is going to be okay because you just had that experience", I was able to slowly change my little habit of fear.

So I think that is just an amazing example for me and just this tiny moment about having the courage to face that fear and using my prefrontal cortex enabled me to learn something new and now to start to be able to create a new behavior. His thing that he was really communicating to me is confidence, is that when you have confidence, it's going to take you much further. So he was trying to teach me confidence and so that ability to override my limbic brain because I knew that I wasn't going to hurt myself was developing confidence at the same time. And then we know that when neurons in your brain fire together, they wire together, so now this new confidence that I was getting as I'm jumping on the ball, it now gives me the confidence to take another risk at another time.

So I can see how I am personally influenced by each of these two brains and how the action I take - let's say I was afraid, I say, "I'm not jumping on that thing", there's no way I never would have been able to understand and develop that confidence. So we can take actions that can either strengthen our prefrontal cortex or continuously feed into the habit of fear that we have through our limbic system. And you know, if you think about it, this is what happens. You go on a diet, you decide you're going to go on a diet, and then the next day, temptations everywhere. There's food, there's holidays, there's opportunities to eat every single place you go. And then you have stress, right? You have your teenagers are coming home and maybe you're arguing with them or your work is very busy at this time, or your husband is not being affectionate enough for you, or he's not paying attention, or maybe he's just not picking up his socks, right? And then you have these past stories, the stories of your family, maybe it's the holidays and you're thinking of the negative stories of your past.

So you have all of this stuff going on in your brain, all of these thoughts, thousands of thoughts that are not necessarily going to give you that feeling of feeling good, and now you have a million reasons not to stick to that diet, right? Because what's happening? Your brain is going, "You are going to die, you do not want to make this change. What is wrong with you?" So now what you need to do is you need to take that prefrontal cortex. You might have to develop a different response that safe. Safe, safe, this is safe. This is your future. This is what you want, right?

Because I think that when we own our prefrontal cortex and when we look at our thoughts, what we're doing is we're actually taking over the job of CEO of our lives. You can call it lady boss, you can call it boss lady, call it whatever you want. You are the best qualified candidate to take charge of your own life. And when I work with clients, I'll ask them, I'll say, "Who do you want to be in charge of your life?" And there's not too many people that want someone else to run their life for them. They all seem to be pretty clear that they're the ones who know best what it is that they want.

So you have the ability and you have the incredible opportunity to develop your connection with your prefrontal cortex, start to look at your thoughts, and believe it or not, this is all going to help you with weight loss. You're probably asking, "But how do I do this? Like, how do I even know what I'm thinking? How do I get a hold of my thoughts?" And I'm going to tell you, I have created a worksheet called Brain Works and what it does is it helps you to look at your thoughts, to write down your thoughts, and then also gives you a place to actually think about what that thought is and then to see how do I feel when I have that thought. So when you download that worksheet, you'll be able to begin to observe, become the watcher, understand which brain is operating and which brain can you operate from, and how to strengthen the prefrontal cortex by taking, making plans, executing on those plans, and building confidence in yourself.

So that's it for today. If you enjoyed this episode and hopefully you found it valuable, I would love it if you could review it on iTunes, because to celebrate the launch of the show, I'm going to be going away a Motiv. Now, Fitbit you probably all know of, it goes on your wrist. Well, a Motiv is actually like a Fitbit in a ring. It's pretty cool. So I want you to visit www.never2late.info/itunes to learn more about the contest and exactly how to enter. So once you review the show, you're going to email me the title of your review, because that's the only way I can get it, and then you email it to pat@beauprecoaching.com and then you'll be entered to win, and I'll be announcing the winner on a show in an upcoming episode.

Now I have a segment of the show that I am going to call my favorite things. I know that's a take of from other people, it's not original, but one of the things I love is when I find something that is helpful to me, whether it's food related, in the kitchen, in books, I am going to share that with you. So I have to start with Pema Chodron. Two books that have made an incredible impact on my life, one is called When Things Fall Apart, and the other is The Places That Scare You. I picked up these books when I was looking, my brother had passed away and I was just in so much pain with grief, and these titles just kind of jumped out at me. And as a result, I just started following her, reading all her books, and now I go see her every year at the Omega Institute in upstate New York. Pema is a Buddhist teacher, and her stories and her concepts about living with discomfort, allowing discomfort have been so helpful and inspiring to me, and she's just so down to earth and she's so funny. I really enjoy listening to her, and I've passed these books on to so many people in my life because I find that especially if you're in a place of grief and of difficulty, it really just gives you maybe some help in how to accept that you know, sometimes we just feel terrible, and it's okay. It doesn't mean that anything's gone wrong, and how to be with that and now really punish yourself as a result, but how to accept yourself and love yourself and allow yourself to feel your feelings. So you know, from her point of view and from my point of view, we're all just doing our best, and today our best is perfect. So I hope you - if you're interested, you can get those books in my kit, which is on my website, and I hope that you do download them and pass them on to people because I really - it's been such an incredible gift having Pema in my life, and I love to share that with you. So thanks, and I look forward to seeing you next week. Bye-bye.

Thanks for listening to this episode of It's Never Too Late to Lose Weight. If you liked what you heard and want more, head over to never2late.info/guide, to download your quick start guide to jump start your weight loss plan and begin creating an amazing life you love.

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