The real story to achieving better health and the figure you desire
When many of us go on a “health kick”, “weight loss” or “fat loss” regime, success is geared around actions. You may be exercising five times a week, have started eating healthily and you succumbed to a few quick fixes. But a wee way down the track you have gone back to old habits, “life got in the way”, and to your horror you put all the weight back on and/or more.
Now you start to feel like a failure and don’t like what you see in the mirror. Wow, how heavy does that scenario make you feel?! All of this is focused on the actions of doing something. Action is important, but what people don’t realise is that to create sustainable change, actions are driven by four other aspects, which I will discuss further in this column.
To create sustainability, address the source (e.g. thoughts, emotions, environment or all of them) of the disruption, not the course (actions).
For a moment let’s take a look into the greatest organ to change, the brain. The brain is the great driving force behind what behaviours we display and what actions we take. More research is suggesting that we can rewire and retrain the brain to grow more brain cells (neurons) that help us to carry out specific behaviours and actions.
Signalling occurs at the ends of the brain cells and it is the biochemical communication via hormones and neurotransmitters (biochemical messengers) like noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin which leads to an increase or decrease in communication between brain cells.
How do we do this you may ask? Well, the saying “practise makes perfect” is not wrong. The more we practise and train our brain to ignite and communicate through the right pathways the stronger those communication pathways get, because the myelin sheath (a protective protein and fatty coating around the tail end of nerves) becomes thicker allowing faster more effective signalling between the brain cells in that pathway.
But how to rewire our brain?
Don’t worry, this does not require a mad scientist and you won’t come out like Frankenstein. You will however discover the greater you, the deeper you, gain more freedom, health and vitality. Hands up if you want that. (I’m going to assume you put your hand up).
Our brain is constantly changing in response to our thoughts, emotions, physical environment, social/ cultural environment and the actions we take. However it is the thoughts, emotions, physical environment and social/cultural environment that drive the actions.
So when you appear to act without thinking you have reacted to an emotion or in response to your environment. A great example of this is food fear (which I wrote about in my last article).
How many of you were happily eating fruit and then a friend came along and said “Oh no, don’t eat fruit it’s full of sugar and you know sugar’s bad, you will put on weight/fat”. Now you are too scared to eat the once nourishing, nutrient-dense fruit. The emotion of fear (which isn’t a healthy one by the way) and the social environment you are in has created the action to take fruit out of your diet. You have now trained your brain for a certain chemical pathway, which from what I have seen creates fear and confusion. This is why the holistic approach to your health journey is so important for success, if you can hit the source of your barriers; the right actions naturally ensue.
Let’s break down the factors, starting with our thoughts.
I believe our thoughts and emotions have a huge effect on our body. More and more science is now validating this. Each thought has its own physical code in the brain, even though these cannot be seen.
This is like radiation – you cannot see radiation but you see the physical effects it has. Our thoughts create different chemicals in the brain and different hormones in the body. With your thoughts, you are training your brain to grow certain cells for those pathways, which have very real physical effects. Therefore, it is really important to look at what you are telling yourself. If you keep telling yourself you are fat then guess what… you are going to get bigger. When you think differently, you respond differently and you process food differently. Your thoughts affect your energy levels, your immune system, your hormonal system and your metabolism.
Humans are emotional beings. Our emotions are important for us to understand each other and the world around us on deeper levels. They are a great gift if we use them correctly. Emotions are powerful, more so than our thoughts with the effects they directly have on our body and the actions we take. Our thoughts and emotions are very much connected; they both affect each other.
This doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to try to feel more positive when clearly you are not.
Negative emotions are like beacons of light, exposing what we are carrying that is no longer beneficial for us, essentially telling us something is wrong. We are not meant to dwell in them if they are negative, we are meant to observe them, learn from them and then use that guidance to change our actions, behaviour and most importantly how to live the best way possible.
Here is a practical application you can start to work on changing now with regard to rewiring thoughts, hence emotions. How many of you refer to “losing weight” and/ or more specifically “losing fat” when wanting to become healthy and change the way your body is feeling?
How does saying those phrases make you feel about your body and about yourself?
Let’s break down the above phrases to discover why the body would react in such a way to these words.
When you say the word “lose” what emotions come up for you? Think about it. What images come to mind?
Do you feel energised and uplifted or sad and depressed? MOST of the time in most contexts lose is something people try to avoid…loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of reputation. Think about every time you use the word lose. Loss goes hand-in-hand with grief and suffering. Think about how losing an important object is extremely frustrating and inconvenient. Loss implies that something we need or want is missing from our lives. A majority of the time when we lose something we want it back and if we lose someone we know we cannot get back we want them back anyway.
In the same way we resist weight loss. The resistance is not conscious; most people genuinely set goals, start watching what they eat and commit to exercise. However, because of this language there is constant tension between the brain and the body. For some people the more they lose the weight the greater the tension between the brain and the body. Hence, those people tend to lose the weight and then find it again.
When you say the word “weight” what emotions come up for you? What images appear?
Many people probably find that saying the words weight or body weight makes them feel heavy and weighed down. If these words bring up a neutral emotion then that’s fine you can use them. However any words that bring up negative emotions or thoughts are going to cause an issue of resisting the issue that the matter represents.
Another issue with using this wording is that it reminds you of what you don’t want and how far you are from what you do want. It may also be a reminder of past unsuccessful attempts.
When you say the word “fat” what emotions come up for you? What images appear?
The word fat for most is now seen as something that is a part of the body that is unsightly, disgusting or undesirable. Since we all need it to survive, think about how much we are bashing our bodies. How much we are saying to them, I don’t like you – you’re disgusting, I don’t love you, I want to get rid of you.
Over the years society has had a lot to do with the decline of the word fat. Once fat in the diet was good, it wasn’t any more because you would put on weight. If you didn’t have a figure like a bikini model then you had too much fat. NOTE: this isn’t about body shaming at all, this is just a realistic example of how society has now changed its thinking on the word fat.
So whenever you want to use the word fat in reference to your health journey I suggest you change it to the word adipose (or full version, adipose tissue). How different does this sound to you compared with fat. I actually find it quite funny in comparison.
Adipose tissue is simply the scientific word for fat. We actually have many different forms of it. The types of adipose you want to “release” (way better word than losing, right?) are visceral (the unhealthy tissue around the organs that leads to disease) adipose and white adipose (the excess subcutaneous tissue- note we still need some or we won’t have a layer to protect our body and insulate it from the cold).
Rather than using the words above, here are some suggested phrases…
“I am releasing what my body doesn’t need”
“I allow my body to guide me to optimal health”
“I am proud to look after my body”
Lastly comes the physical and social/cultural environment. Over the years our world has become more and more inactive, faster paced, technology based, nutrient poor, highly processed, money driven, and an obesogenic environment. Yet not everyone today is carrying excess adipose tissue and despite these environmental pressures it’s still possible to learn to choose the responses that serve you best.
The brain is influenced by the physical environment through the senses. Pollution, toxins and foods all impact brain function, however our thoughts and emotions (the internal environment) are more powerful than this outside environment.
How our external environment affects us is mediated by our thoughts and emotions. Hence when you address the latter first, you are able to change your external environment. You see new opportunities and new ways of overcoming obstacles to achieve your goals.
The same goes for the social environment you are in. For example, was your mother a dieter? Were you teased about your weight at school? Were you praised when you finished everything on your plate? Depending on how a person is brought up food can represent many different things, other than what it truly is, nourishing fuel for our bodies to function, i.e. reward, punishment, comfort, distraction, protection, love, rejection, belonging, celebration.
There is no right or wrong way to view food and eating. What’s important is becoming aware of the meaning you attach to food and the role it has for you socially. This awareness gives you the power to change if you desire to.
All of what I have explained is merely scratching the surface with regard to this approach to our health. If you have resonated with this information and need more assistance then please contact me for coaching. Let’s empower you to set yourself on the sustainable health journey where you allow your body to guide you to your optimal health.
Nutritionist Danielle Roberts is dedicated to helping people enjoy a healthy and knowledgeable relationship with food. Her business Fuel Nutrition allows her to share her passion for nutrition and healthy living, You can find Danielle either in Les Mills (747 Victoria St) or Fastlane Fitness (800 Victoria St). Bookings are essential. Fuelnutrition.co.nz