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Psychology of Eating – Why Diets Don’t Work - How to Successfully and Permanently Lose Weight

Do you know that weight loss is directly affected by your bodies nervous system? Sounds crazy, but it’s true and I’ll explain how…

The nervous system is made up of two major divisions:
1.       Voluntary System
a.      Controls movement and sensation
2.      Autonomic System   
a.      Controls basically the involuntary functions such as:
                                                              i.      Food digestion
                                                            ii.      Blood pressure
                                                          iii.      Heart rate
The Autonomic System has two branches which are the ones that have a direct link to whether you lose weight or not:
1.       Sympathetic
a.      Stress Response
                                                              i.      Fight or Flight  - Run for your life
2.      Parasympathetic
a.      Relaxation Response
                                                              i.      Life is good

First let’s look at the Sympathetic Response and how it causes the digestion to shut down, triggering weight gain or the inability to lose weight.

Stress, fear, anger, anxiety, negative judgment, negative thoughts and the like are what cause the Sympathetic Response to become active and dominant. 

We experience subtle life challenges on a daily basis that keep us under continual stress and keep our bodies from properly digesting our food, assimilating nutrients, and typical calorie burning.


External Triggers to the Sympathetic Response
Worried about a loved one
Unfulfilled Career
Deprived Relationships

Internal Triggers to the Sympathetic Response
I’m no good
I’m too fat
I’m not good enough
I’m lonely

When the Sympathetic Response is triggered, the body produces an increase in the hormones Cortisol and Insulin. In response to the threat it senses, the body automatically begins to store fat and weight, and will not build muscles.

(Only 5-10% of the population will burn calories during a stressed state. Temporary weight loss can and usually does happen during extreme stress situations, such as a death of a loved one.)

Appetite Dysregulation is when the body loses it’s ability to discern when it’s had enough. This is when overeating and binge eating occur. Negative self-talk, stress, fear, and anger once again can cause confusion in the digestive system to the point that we have a difficult time recognizing when to stop eating.

Now let’s take a look at Parasympathetic Nervous System Dominance. When the Parasympathetic Response is active, relaxation is on. Life is good. There's nothing to stress about, the body and mind have no anxiety. Full healthy digestion, nutrient assimilation, and calorie burning power is full on.

·         The body and mind are in a natural state of relaxation.
·         Natural appetite regulation occurs – the body is ready to work and work well, it doesn’t feel threatened.
·         Pleasure chemistry is triggered – when we’re relaxed, we sense pleasurable things more readily and fully. We feel fulfilled, happy, and thankful.
·         Optimized digestion, assimilation, and calorie burning occur.
·         Fulfillment and nourishment with food are the outcome.

I totally relate to the fact that it is difficult and discouraging to try and convince yourself that you are not stressed when you really are stressed.  We cannot FAKE relaxation when in a stressed state. On the outside we may appear calm but the inside of our mind and body knows the truth. But, don't get discouraged, I was once in this same stuck spot and I can help! 

Below are some of the outcomes and solutions to an over-active Sympathetic Nervous System Dominance.

            It’s not about willpower – it’s about embracing your appetite and honoring what your body is really telling you.  This was one of my biggest Aha! moments. Once I quite thinking I was somehow defective because I kept craving ice cream when I was stressed, I was able to focus on what my body really wanting…it wanted to relax, it wanted a warm relaxing bath or a quiet moment looking at the stars. Learning to give my body what it really wanted became more satisfying than the ice cream.

            It’s about slowing down, relaxing, getting present with what you really need. It’s about finding something enjoyable and comforting - not food. 

When my older son gets home from a hectic day at work or a frustrating drive through traffic, he relaxes by lighting incense. The soft aroma calms his mind and he is able to relax without the need for comfort food.

Binge Eating:
            To overcome binge eating use the same techniques as with overeating – slowing down, becoming present with what the real need is. Most often people will turn to food for comfort. How often have you been home alone and finished off a whole bag of chips or cookies when all you really wanted was a hug or someone to visit with?

FACT: People cannot binge eat when they are relaxed.

            Eating powerful, nutrient rich foods is another way to win the binge eating battle. Often, our bodies are nutrient starved and they keep begging for nutritional foods – we keep feeding it hamburgers and fries and then wonder why we can’t stop eating!

            Binge eating can be a powerful stress reliever. It takes us into a state of relaxation and our mind feels that everything is now safe and okay.  The negative side to this is that binge eating wreaks havoc on the digestive system and the safety our mind is feeling is a false sense of safety. The chances of whatever triggered the binge eating in the first place is likely to reoccur….the cycle keeps going around and around. Binge eating is caused by emotional elements in our life that have not been resolved.

            Once I learned what my emotional stress triggers actually were and where they were coming from, I was able to address them one by one in a positive and healing way.  I could never have done this all on my own though. I had a strong support system and health coach guidinging me. If you suffer from binge eating, I encourage you to find a holistic practitioner to help you. You are not broken, and I can help you achieve your goals and dreams for your health and life.

Chronic Dieting:
If you seem to always be on a diet you should consider these facts:
·         Caloric restrictions triggers survival response
·         Chronic dieting creates the opposite effect dieters want
·         96-99% of all people who lose weight on a diet gain it back + more weight within a year
·         The stress of dieting and self-attack powerfully impacts metabolism
     ·         ‘Eat less, exercise more’  is profoundly outdated science

Losing weight is NOT about dieting, calorie restrictions, pills, or guilt. All weight loss strategies that are motivated by self-hate and self-attack (deprivation, extreme exercises) are destined to fail.

We have to love the weight off!

Stress is a code word for so many of our personal challenges. People who have a strong religious belief can turn everything over to God and thus change the challenges into opportunities.  Once we learn to welcome our weight issues and celebrate who we really are, we begin to open the door and we begin to listen to the message our weight is giving us. We are emotional people and its okay! What are your emotions really telling you?

I appreciate James Hillman’s Acorn Theory - 

           "Most of psychology has been teaching you that you come from a dysfunctional past. That there is something wrong with us and if I could only fix my dysfunctional past then I’ll be okay, maybe…No, all the challenges of the past, all of the dysfunction was really the fertile soil, the fertilizer, the muck that will help my little acorn become a magnificent oak tree. We’re all acorns with a mighty oak tree inside us. The challenges crack open the acorn and release the mighty oak." (Paraphrased by Mark David)

Are you tired of being stuck in your little acorn? Are you ready to burst forth and show the world what an awe-inspiring oak tree you really are?

 With love and gratitude,

Inspired by what you've read? Want to get a feel for what it's like to work with me as your Wellness & Lifestyle Consultant? Sign up for a FREE initial consultation TODAY!