Recently I came across What Are You Hungry For? by Deepak Chopra. I admit, I didn’t know anything about Chopra besides the fact that he’s probably the third most famous self-help guru in the world (after Oprah and Dr. Phil, obvi). When I opened the book, I saw the longest previous books list I’ve ever seen, including such wacky titles as Quantum Healing, The Return of Merlin, The Way of the Wizard, and eclectic selections such as Kama Sutra, and Buddah: A Story of Enlightenment and Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment. But once I got over my suspicion of his titles and recycled subtitles, I found a great deal of helpful advice and even wisdom.
The subtitle of this book is “The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul”–and so Chopra proposes a new way of approaching healthy eating habits and ideal weight. Chopra asserts that the biggest cause of weight gain and pattern of yo-yo dieting is the experience of hunger–not true physical hunger, but desire for nourishment in other aspects of life. This makes sense because like pain or pleasure, hunger and satiety are registered in your brain–not your stomach. To be truly satisfied, you need to nourish each of the following aspects:
-The body with healthy food
-The heart with love and compassion
-The mind with knowledge
-The spirit with awareness of self and truth
When these four things are not being met, people often try to compensate by overeating and creating a sensation of fulfillment, which then leads to a negative feedback loop of weight gain, guilt, and frustration.
If you need to find out if your eating habits are affected by insufficiency in any of these areas, ask if you overeat in any of these situations:
-When you’re busy or distracted at work.
-When you’re tired or sleep-deprived.
-In social situations
-In front of TV
-When you feel depressed
-When you feel unloved
-When you feel anxious or stressed
-When you want to be comforted
Here, my brain went–ding ding ding! Thankfully, I don’t overeat when I’m busy–in fact I find I have very low appetite at work, even if my stomach is growling. I also don’t generally overeat in social situations, and definitely not in front of the television. But when I’m tired or stressed, I definitely crave comfort in the form of a vegan chocolate chip cookie.
So how can we obtain balance and fulfillment physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually? Chopra posits that you need to align the motives sent out by the three regions of the brain: the lower brain, the limbic system, and the higher (upper) brain. According to Chopra, the lower brain governs your impulse and directs you to physical satisfaction. The limbic system guides you to seek emotional satisfaction. And finally, the upper brain drives you to make rational decisions.
For instance, say you just got off a long, grueling day at work. You still have to make dinner, so that’s at least an hour and a half away. Your lower brain says “I’m hungry and I’m tired. Sugar will make me feel better.” The limbic system says, “I’m so stressed–chocolate will make me feel better.” And your upper brain says, “I had a raw kale salad for lunch and not much else. It’s already 7:30 and dinner is still far away. Surely it can’t be that bad, grabbing a cookie!” So the brain regions work in concert to throw you off the right eating path, without you realizing any of this internal conversation. (Coincidentally, I’d recently read up on an intriguing piece on The Atlantic about the significance of the lower- and upper brains in how an individual makes a decision. It turns out that one region tends to be more dominant in most people.)
As an infant, you rely almost entirely on your lower brain to guide your actions, but as the other parts of the brain develop, your actions and motives become far more complicated. By becoming aware of these motives of your brain, you can reassign your brain to move toward positivity.
Aware of your body: This entails listening to your body and nourishing it properly before the alarm bells go off.
Aware of your emotions: When cravings hit, you should reflect on whether it’s truly food you need, or something else.
Aware of your choices: Do you know what you’re doing when you’re reaching for that cookie? Do you really think about it or just follow along mindlessly? Or do you try to justify your choice with some reason?
By applying mindfulness, you can tune into your eating choices. In the above situation, you can think about why you are craving a quick fix in the form of a cookie. Then, once you realize that it’s your mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion–but not actual need for a treat–you can choose to nourish yourself in other ways until dinnertime: eating a small piece of fruit, dressing in comfortable, warm clothing, and lying down for a breathing/meditation session would provide the kind of comfort you really need.
I don’t believe that everyone’s issues with healthy eating or weight are uniformly about mind-body connection, since some people struggle more physiologically with weight gain (such as those with thyroid issues). But this is the kind of advice I can really use in my own life. What do you think, Peaceful Dumplings?
Photo: 123rf; Amazon