October 29, 2013

Overeating and the Mind-Body Connection.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

To find out what you’re hungry for, you must reconnect mind and body, looking beyond the simple circuitry, which controls the basic hunger impulse through the hypothalamus.

Find out more about Deepak's new book What Are You Hungry For?

Because you can override simple signals from your body, even something as basic as hunger becomes involved in the whole brain. Not everybody has interfered with the natural setup that regulates appetite. We all know someone whose weight has never fluctuated since their late teens. They say things like

“My body tells me what it wants.”
“I feel uncomfortable if I gain two pounds.”
“I exercise because it feels so good.”

These are statements rooted in the mind-body connection when it is working properly. Unfortunately, when it isn’t working correctly, the mind-body connection short-circuits and bad habits tell the body what to do. The wrong signals are sent, and as the body reacts by getting fatter, more imbalanced, and ultimately sick, the mind ignores these signs of distress. Let’s see why this happens.

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 is satisfied when you feel good physically. The limbic system is satisfied when you feel good emotionally. The higher brain 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.

Your brain is structured to find happiness at every level. For a baby, who operates almost totally with basic instincts from the lower brain, happiness means eating when he’s hungry, sleeping when he’s tired, being held when he’s cold. But things become more complex when the other regions, the limbic system and the higher brain, start developing. Their version of happiness is far more complex.

As a young doctor I knew these things medically but I wasn’t paying attention personally. I look back at the dinner table and see a frustrated young man (with a very patient young wife) whose brain was teeming with so much technical information (higher brain) that the inner voice which cried out, “I’m unhappy and dissatisfied” (limbic system) got suppressed. At the same time, the most primitive voice in my head, which was afraid of failure and crashing under the pressure (reptilian brain) added disturbing background noise. No wonder meals passed by in a blur, offering a momentary flash of satisfaction. (I was fortunate to have been raised by loving parents, because at least my new family didn’t fall apart as happened to so many young doctors I knew. I knew the value of giving and receiving love.)

You can’t escape the three conversations going on in your mind all the time. Hundreds of choices are filtered through the higher brain every day, and each one carries an emotional coloring. This is uniquely human. If you put a pellet of food in front of a laboratory rat, it automatically eats it, and just as automatically the pleasure center in its brain lights up. But when you put food in front of a person, there can be any response imaginable. How often do people say things like

"I’m too upset to eat."
"I don’t want this fish. I only like meat and potatoes."
"I’m too busy right now."

Our brains have a pleasure center for food, just as a lab rat does, but our inner life is incredibly sophisticated. Emotions can override hunger or make it unnaturally strong. Distorted beliefs, arising in the higher brain, can interfere with emotions and hunger both – hence the anorexic teenager who sees a starved body in the mirror but feels “too fat” because of a warped mental image (I’m referring to one aspect of a complicated psychological and genetic disorder).

When you overeat, it might 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 below:


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.

This is the inner war being fought by everyone who struggles with their weight. Here’s a secret: You will never win this war. If you could, you would have long ago. As long as you keep fighting with yourself, you will be stuck at the level of the problem. You must rise above the level of the problem and reach the level of the solution.

Write Your Comment

  1. pranicroger

    thank you Deepak for drawing the distinction between our instinctual reptilian impulses, our emotional state, and our rational mental discriminating function which makes the final decision or whether to eat or not to. It is so easy to disregard the higher mental function and just `allow` ourselves to indulge in food gratification, thereby bypassing the mental discriminating switch. The desire for comfort and endorphins is more important than being mentally driven or controlled. I believe that primary socialization and cultural conditioning determines the patterns which we develop and repeat throughout life. The notion of restraint or abstaining from food is foreign to most North Americans because of these developed patterns. Raising our energetic vibrations above our solar plexus chakra which dominates our emotion center of desire and insecurity and fear upwards to our heart and throat chakras where decision-making can begin to be made with compassion, raising it even further to the ajna where logical choices can be entertained seriously before making decisions to just `go with it` and indulge in immediate food gratification. There needs to be a `brake` which we can apply to our desire for food gratification which makes us evaluate the pros and cons to excessive or snacking eating events, which result in resisting the urges and making other choices, going inside and saying "I`m ok"; I don`t need food to feel `adequate` or `happy`.

  2. Pete

    Light does not exist without the dark. Balance with the two will improve my physical body. In the light. Like the rays travelling through the darkness in space, both in need of each other.

  3. ardz

    Will the book be coming out on kindle on november 12th

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