Author Dr. MS Simon (Neurophysiologist): Featuring “What Are You Hungry For” by Dr Deepak Chopra (the bestselling author of Ageless Body, Timeless Mind)
Obesity is in the rising trend in both developing and developed countries leading to several chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. In our eat-and-run, massive-portion-sized culture, maintaining a healthy weight can be tough—and losing weight, even tougher. If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight before, you may believe that diets don’t work for you. You’re probably right: traditional diets don’t work—at least not in the long term. However, there are plenty of small but powerful ways to avoid common dieting pitfalls, achieve lasting weight loss success, and develop a healthier relationship with food.
Dieting Fails: Dieters keep doing more of what never worked in the first place. The slogan “Diets don’t work” has been with us for decades, and it’s absolutely true. Every long-term study has shown that less than 2 percent of dieters manage to lose a significant amount of weight (20 pounds or more) and keep it off for two years. Do you still want to diet? Let’s see what controls our eating.
The Act of Eating: Modern medicine has quite a lot of knowledge about the “triggers” that set off the impulse to eat. Our body secretes hormones and enzymes connecting the hunger center in our brain with the stomach and digestive tract. When we were a baby, this was the only kind of trigger we responded to. We cried because we were hungry. Now the reverse might be true: When we feel like crying, we get hungry.
Think, aren’t we celebrate all our happy moments / occasions with food? Human mind is tuned to be happy with foods, and, think again what is your favorite food? Most like is an unhealthy one like most of us, too.
Over a lifetime, we create new triggers that a baby could never anticipate. Depression is a well-known trigger for overeating. So are stress, sudden loss, grief, repressed anger—and there are many others. Which ones are you most vulnerable to? You probably have only a vague idea. Most people are unaware when their eating behavior is being triggered, because triggers are often unconscious—that’s what makes them so powerful. You respond automatically without thinking.
The Act of Eating: The Mind-Body Connection
Have you ever noticed that if you spell “stressed” backwards, it became “desserts”? What an interesting coincidence that we like to eat sweet things (or high calorie foods) when we are stressed!
STRESSED = DESSERTS
The act of eating is controlled by three main regions in our brain. Imagine that three telephone conversations converge at one junction, which in reality is the meeting of three basic regions of the brain. Each region has something to tell you; each is sending neural messages to you at once. Each is seeking a different kind of satisfaction. The lower brain (controls impulses) is satisfied when you feel good physically. The limbic system (emotional brain) is satisfied when you feel good emotionally. The higher brain (the decision maker) is satisfied when you are making good decisions for yourself.
The miracle of the human brain is that all three lines can merge and cooperate. The lower brain can send the message “I’m hungry,” which the emotional brain accepts, because “Eating puts me in a good mood,” so the higher brain can say, “Let’s stop for a meal.” This balancing act is natural, and it works to the benefit of all three regions of the brain. None of them must force its message through, trying to get heard by pushing the others out of the way. Our brains have a pleasure centre for food, and when all three regions works co-ordinately, it sends signal to stop eating as soon as we feel full. However, emotions can override hunger or make it unnaturally strong.
When you overeat, it may appear that the lower brain has run amok, forcing you into uncontrollable hunger. But the problem is actually systemic. Typically, it’s a blend of impulse control (lower brain), trying to find comfort (emotional brain), and making bad choices (higher brain). All three are involved, forming a continuous dance. This dance moves in a constant circle, as illustrated here:
Impulse: Your lower brain tells you if you’re hungry, afraid, threatened, or aroused.
Emotion: Your limbic system tells you about your mood, positive or negative, and your emotional response in the present moment.
Choice: Your higher brain tells you that a decision must be made, leading to action.
The Mind-Body Connection: The Happiness
Our brain is structured to find happiness at every level. Happiness as the state of fulfilment, and everyone wants to be fulfilled. If you keep your eye on this, your most basic motivation, then the choices you make come down to a single question: “What am I hungry for?” Your true desire will lead you in the right direction. False desires lead in the wrong direction. You can take a simple test to prove this to yourself: The next time you go to the refrigerator for something to eat, stop for a second. What’s making you reach for food? There are only two answers:
- You’re hungry and need to eat.
- You’re trying to fill a hole, and food has become the quickest way to do that.
If you have a hole (unhappiness or dissatisfaction) in your mind (may be deep seated in your subconscious mind), you will subconsciously or consciously look for happiness. And, guess what will you be looking for? It’s food definitely.
What Triggers You to Overeat?
The most common triggers for overeating appear in the following checklists. Some are easier to overcome than others. Look at the lists and check the most common causes that make you eat even when you’re not hungry. Mark as many items as you feel apply to you.
Group A: I tend to overeat if
- I’m busy or distracted at work.
- I’m rushed and on the go.
- I’m tired. I haven’t had enough sleep.
- I’m with other people who are eating.
- I’m out at a restaurant.
- I’m in front of the TV or computer and need something to do with my hands.
- I have a plate of food in front of me, and I feel I must clean my plate.
Group B: I tend to overeat if
- I’m depressed.
- I’m lonely.
- I’m feeling unattractive.
- I’m feeling anxious or worried.
- I’m having negative thoughts about my body.
- I’m under stress.
- I want to be comforted.
The Mind-Body Connection: Get Control Over Your Eating Habit
People aren’t deliberately self-destructive. We don’t follow good advice because, frankly, overeating makes us feel better than depriving ourselves or engaging in strenuous activity. A bucket of buttered popcorn triggers powerful, primitive brain mechanisms; the prospect of jogging three miles doesn’t. Sharing dessert with your friends at a cozy restaurant feels convivial and comforting; running on a treadmill by yourself at the gym doesn’t.
How to get back your control over your eating habit? Start doing the following actions:
- Notice Your Trigger Before You Eat.
- Now that you know your triggers, you can monitor them. You don’t have to fight against your hunger, just give your brain enough time to make a choice. Instead of robotically reaching for food, which is a reaction that comes automatically, let yourself find a way to choose what you really want. At first, this involves a simple moment of mindfulness, or self-awareness, as follows:
- Any time you are about to eat outside mealtime, go through the following simple steps:
- Pause and take a deep breath.
- Ask yourself if your hunger is being triggered by a familiar pattern, such as feeling bored, restless, or sad, or wanting a distraction. You now know some of your most common triggers, so see if any of them are involved.
- Once you’ve identified a trigger, ask yourself if you really need to eat. Maybe you can find an alternative activity, one that simply postpones reacting to your trigger, such as:
- Doing a household chore.
- Calling a friend.
- Checking your e-mails and answering some saved ones.
- Reading a book.
- Drinking a glass of water.
Any harmless diversion will do. Your goal is to insert a pause before you automatically react to a trigger. If you still feel hungry, go ahead and eat. But get in the habit of noticing your triggers this way—it’s a basic step toward overcoming them and giving yourself more freedom to choose.
The Mind-Body Connection: The Ultimate Permanent Solution
Remember, weight loss has to be satisfying in order to succeed. A mind-body approach is the ultimate solution that will work for everyone because it asks you for only one thing: Find your fulfilment. To be fulfilled is something that food alone can’t do. You must nourish:
- The body with healthy food
- The heart with joy, compassion, and love
- The mind with knowledge
- The spirit with equanimity and self-awareness
So, weight management is beyond dieting and exercising alone. Good food covers only 1/4th of the fulfilment, on other words it is only 25% of the whole process. The rest (75%) of the components for fulfilment are not the food for body, but the food for your soul/mind that everyone is neglecting, leading to failure in weight management. If you focus on all four components of the FULFILMENT, your success is inevitable; not only in weight loss, but also in everything you want to do in your life.