Over the past couple of years, I have rediscovered a new appreciation for learning, and something that I have a growing fascination for, is the relationship between the mind and the body. In medicine, this concept is termed as psychosomatic – psyche relating the mind and soma coming from the Greek word for body. At present, I am studying more about this intriguing connection in my biological psychology module, but for the last few years this has been the foundations of my daily yoga practise, with yoga literally meaning to unite, connect or join together.
How does this apply to weight loss? Whatever you call it, emotional eating, stress-eating, comfort-eating or binge eating, what it all boils down to is that you are essentially just feeding your feelings. We all experience moments where we are feeling down and out, and the mind begins to wonder to the thought of food. Sugar can comfort our taste buds when life isn’t so sweet, fatty foods can fill up our stomach redirecting our attentions when something is missing in our lives, and general over consumption of food is prevalent in individuals who are masking underlying emotions. Stress, boredom, irritation, anger, upset, frustration, and a whole host of other negative emotional states can trigger our minds to seek out comfort in the form of food. As humans, we all fall into these traps from time to time, however, knowing what your body really wants is key.
1. Craving Chocolate.
The body is very clever in the sense that it knows exactly what it needs, hence why we experience cravings at certain times. It has been suggested that when our body is low on magnesium, we experience that often too well-known feeling of a chocolate craving. Magnesium relaxes nerves and muscles, so it is not unusual to feel chilled out after a chocolate fix. So, an obvious solution to bypass these cravings would be to eat a diet which contains good sources of magnesium such as: spinach, kale, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, black beans, cashews and almonds.
2. The happy hormone.
The greatest impact on serotonin levels are simple carbohydrates – cakes, biscuits, pastries, pizza, white bread, white pasta and sugary processed breakfast cereal. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which plays a vital role in mood regulation, emotions, sleep and appetite, so habitually eating simple carbs can temporarily uplift our mood and change our emotional state, unfortunately it also expands our waist line. However, it is equally possible to boost serotonin levels via naturally feel good foods such as: bananas, brown rice, turkey, oatmeal, avocado, almonds, and green tea.
3. Alcohol & emotions.
Why does drinking alcohol seem like such a good idea when you just need to unwind and forget about the stresses and strains of life? The science behind consuming an alcoholic beverage is a complex process, but the end result is the release of GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) and dopamine. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down the activity of nerve cells in the brain, reducing anxiety and literally getting you out of your head. Dopamine is closely related to the brains pleasure and reward centres, but again, these can be tapped into naturally without needing to take a swig from the bottle. Rich GABA stress-busting foods are: brown rice, almonds, walnuts, lentils, broccoli, bananas. And for dopamine try: wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, apples, beets, watermelon, & omega-3 sources.
4. Mindless Eating
Mindless eating is where we feed our stomach with food, but fail to really listen to the signals of satiety (knowing when we have had enough). Mindless eating is a complete disconnection between the mind and body, and is one of the reasons why obesity is such as big problem in today’s developed world. We have TV dinners, eat on the move, munch down snacks whilst driving, and we eat without really paying attention to the food on the plate or more importantly, the signals that our body is giving in response to eating. By switching off distractions, and sitting down to eat a meal, eating slowly and mind fully, in a relaxing environment, we can properly digest our meals and feel satisfied without having to raid the cupboards looking for a desert or the next snack.
5. Yoga Chemistry
Before I started yoga, I didn’t really know much behind the science. All I knew was it made me feel good, calm, focused and at ease with my life. After a bit of research into what Yoga actually does to the body, the answer came right back to GABA – the chemical generated by alcohol consumption that promotes an anti-stress and anti-anxiety effect on the body. Boston University School of Medicine did a 12 week study in 2007 on the effects of GABA on the brain in Yoga students compared to other participants in a fitness walking regime. The conclusion was that the Yoga group showed a positive correlation between mood and GABA levels.
6. Exercise & the brain
A guaranteed short cut to generate feel good chemicals without using food is through physical activity and getting the blood pumping around the body. Exercise is important for cardiovascular health, bones, joints and muscles, but it also plays a big role in enhancing your mood and making you feel good about yourself. The reason? Physical exercise increases dopamine activity, serotonin levels, and promotes the feeling of euphoria, a natural high through the stimulation of endorphins. Furthermore, exercise naturally secretes the hormone Norepinephrine into the adrenal gland, a chemical beneficial for reducing depression, boosting memory and improving attention.
7. Stomach hunger or emotional hunger?
Learning the difference between sensations of feeling actual hunger as oppose to feeling like eating due to an emotion such as boredom, stress or anxiety can help greatly in any weight loss efforts. More than likely, a warm drink will be all that your body needs, as thirst is often mistaken for hunger signals. You can further help prevent the likelihood of comfort eating by leaving the sugary snacks and junk food in the supermarket and not within easy reach in your cupboards. When you feel ‘snacky’, don’t act on impulse and immediately curb your craving, instead, take 15 minutes, do another activity to keep your mind occupied, go for a walk, listen to music, have a bath, read a book, and so on.
8. Balance your mind.
Lastly, cravings do happen to all of us, it’s part of the human experience. The good thing is though, we can reduce the chances of erratic mood swings and emotional imbalances by reducing stress in our everyday lives. Meditation is accessible to everyone, and all you need is 5-10 minutes of head space a day to calm your thoughts and regain mental focus and clarity. The psychologic effects of meditation on the brain have been shown to again, increase GABA levels, promoting a sense of relaxation. Interestingly, DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) levels are increased, reducing adrenal fatigue, boosting immunity, improving memory and alleviating depression. Meditation also boosts levels of serotonin, melatonin (to regulate sleeping patterns), and the human growth hormone (HGH) an important chemical in overall health keeping you looking and feeling young!