Consistency trumps intensity and novelty.What does that mean? I hear over and over how my patients are able to stick with a new (novel) eating plan, exercise routine or (fill in the blank) for only a short time then they are off to something new (novel). Many tend to gravitate towards dramatic or intense new ways of eating or being physically active (ex. CrossFit). They feel pumped up by a new diet or by a new way to “lose belly fat,” for example.

If you’ve experienced toxic stress in childhood, your brain is also likely to crave not just sweets but intensity and novelty. You may not feel like you’re not working out enough unless you’re dripping in sweat and sore all over. Why? Because what your brain is craving is the same thing it gets from starting a new/novel fad diet or eating emotionally – a spike in the feel good brain chemical – dopamine.


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Hi everybody it’s Dr. Carolyn and today I’m bringing you Episode #54 “Consistency Trumps Intensity” Huh? Stay tuned.

Hi again. Well, I hope you’re doing well during these difficult times. I know some of you are in States where there’s re-opening. When I say that, I feel like I’m in a movie, the movie “Pandemic”. We’re talking about, you know, our economy being shut down and being in a reopening process. It just seems so surreal. And you know what? I’ve been quarantined because of my illness with Covid and then my recovery being so extended now for months, I have to force myself to go outside too. You know, find out is it still spring time or is it summer and in San Diego it’s always hard to tell, so that’s a little bit difficult.

A lot of unusual things have happened during this time period and probably for you too. Funny things like I’m finding out that before the quarantine, most of my laundry was filled with my workout clothes that was going to the gym, working out with my trainer, doing Pilates, going swimming, you know, I even had a little wet suit for my winter water aerobics, if you can believe that wearing a wetsuit and a swimming pool, a little bit embarrassing. But necessary cause the water was cold and now what’s in my laundry, mostly my PJ’s and my sweats. That’s kind of embarrassing. Also, I don’t know if you’re like me that maybe you’re not a gourmet cook and you’ve gotten really sick of your own cooking, cause I sure have. In the beginning it was kind of like a challenge, “Oh, let me try new recipes, Oh, let me have, you know, I’m fine, I can eat lentil soup every day for two weeks”. And now I would just give anything to go sit in a restaurant and have, have somebody cook for me. So it does make us appreciate the things that we often take for granted.

But let’s get into our subject matter right now and that is “Consistency trumps intensity”. One thing before I do that is I, it does make me also feel grateful for all the things that I have, including most grateful for my health, which is finally after seven weeks, returning almost to normal. So I’m really appreciative of that. So let’s talk about consistency.

Well, not only can chronic stress in adulthood worsen the food and body image issues that we’ve been having. But early life stress can also play a major role in that whole development of why we eat the way we do, why we binge, why we compulsively overeat. You know, what’s behind all of that. So that’s important for us to be looking at what’s underneath this, not just what we’re seeing right now, but like something that may have happened when we were children. So you know, you, you’ve learned in previous podcasts, and maybe in some of the emails I’ve talked about, about the importance of toxic stress and how it can have an effect on the hard wiring of the brain itself. Just as a reminder, toxic stress is prolonged stress that’s very significant, so prolonged and significant stress, usually occurring in childhood without the support of an adult caregiver. So, you know, that would be any kind of abuse in childhood where you are unable to get the support you need to deal with that. Or maybe the support wasn’t available, like maybe one of your parents had passed away, or there were other things going on in your family that took precedence and you were not able to get the support you needed. So again, that causes the brain connections, the neural connections in the brain to be changed. And it can also, we’re learning now, change the expression of genes that affect things like obesity, eating disorders addictions, and over 40 medical conditions that the adverse childhood experiences study from the centers for disease control has shown us so much about. And part of that is that it can change the genes, the expression of genes for hormones that control eating behaviors, the feeling of fullness or satiety, as we’d call it, an appetite. So these are hormones like leptin, Guerlain, and insulin. So again. If you can take your focus off the number on the scale and recognize that perhaps in your life, early life adversity has caused a change in gene expression, which then affected your eating behavior. So your, the changes in gene expression change the hard wiring of the brain, which then affected your eating behaviors and your risk for things like obesity, binge eating, and other eating disorders and addictions in over 40 medical conditions. These brain changes can also cause cortisol levels to be consistently high. Now, just as a reminder, cortisol is one of the stress hormones, so. Normally when you’re under acute stress, like the stress is just happening right now you get a burst of adrenaline or noradrenaline, and then over time, if the stress continues, there’s the production of cortisol, which eventually is cut off when the stress goes away. But if you’ve had these early life stressors is toxic stress of childhood cortisol levels can remain consistently high and so you’re wondering, well, so what? Well, if your cortisol levels are high, that’s associated with the higher risk for depression for things like belly fat and for many medical conditions that are related to the wear and tear that stress puts on your body.

So personality traits like impulsivity and compulsivity and coping styles can also have a direct influence on how you perceive stress. So if, for example, if you tend to be anxious or if you’re someone who worries about everything and always is looking for the shoe to drop, always expecting things to go wrong, you may be more likely. To see situations as stressful than someone who doesn’t have anxiety or depression. But stress, of course, like I said, high cortisol levels can also cause anxiety and depression, which then makes it more difficult for you to cope with ongoing stress. So the interaction between mood and stress can be a vicious cycle. One leads to the other and vice versa. If you’ve suffered some kind of loss in your life, such as the death of a loved one, particularly if it happened before the age of 18 maybe it was a beloved grandparent, you know, my grandmother died when I was under the age of 18, and she was really like a mother to me. She was the person I got unconditional love from. This can really cause a lot of stress in your life. Other things that can happen, like separation or divorce of parents or fighting within the home, domestic violence or what they call partner violence or interpersonal violence that can lead to depression after an event like that. And other types of losses can also make you depressed or anxious. So even including the loss of a role that you’ve played in your life, like you get divorced and you are no longer a wife or you have the death of a child and you no longer a mother, you lose a very important job. All of these can increase your level of stress, which can have an impact on eating behaviors and also an impact on self-esteem. Moving to a different country or being in a different culture. Like what happens with refugees who are forced to leave their homeland that can also cause those problems.

So, but what do we mean when we talk about consistency trumps intensity and novelty? Well, I hear over and over how my patients are able to stick with a new, “novel eating plan or exercise routine” for only a short time and then they are off to something new and novel, so new and novel the same. That’s the same word. It’s kind of like you, you know, get yourself all worked up to get on that fad diet that promises to help you lose all this weight, and then after three months or six months, you’re no longer able to sustain such extreme way of eating. And therefore you end up, you know, looking for something new. Where’s the next shiny fat diet? So this is important too, to notice, because most people who I work with who struggle with food and body image, image issues tend to gravitate towards dramatic or intense changes. So they can’t just have a walking routine they have to do CrossFit. They feel pumped up by a new diet or by a new way that promises to help them lose body fat, for example. So if you’ve experienced this toxic stress in childhood, your brain is also likely to crave not just sweets. But intensity and novelty. So again, this isn’t about, I’m not saying this is your fault, that you can’t stay on a diet. No. I know that many of you have blamed yourself. And said, you’re too weak, or there’s something wrong with you because you weren’t able to stay on a particular diet or or activity plan. I’m not saying that I’m saying the opposite, I’m saying it’s not your fault. It’s a brain problem. This lack of dopamine that results from early life adversity causes this need for intensity and novelty, and therefore with the brain being wired for intensity and novelty it’s very very difficult for us to be able to be consistent if we’ve not addressed that early toxic stress or those underlying issues. So how do you deal with that? Well, I mean, we know that, there’s so many things in life that can cause stress and get you off of your knock, you off your game. We’ve talked about a few of that even, you know, this whole pandemic obviously is a huge, huge stressor for many people. Everything from losing a loved one to. Not being able to be with someone you care about who has has been ill with Covid-19. You know, there are just so many ways in which we’re being impacted, having to stay at home, financial stressors, loss of jobs, you know, restaurants closing, and there’s just so much it’s almost overwhelming. And so it’s really important that we identify, first of all, these causes of stress and work on seeing if we can manage them.

So one of the causes of suffering under stress is not seeing things as they are, you know, seeing them either with rose colored glasses or seeing them as just with really dark glasses. Everything is horrible, nothing is right, these people are doing the wrong thing, I’m angry all the time and so on. So suffering is basically caused by not accepting the way things are. And actually the Buddhist term for that is craving. So craving is wanting things to be as they are not, you know, we want our government to be different. We may want, you know, not to have to wear a mask. We may want not to be stuck at home. We may want fill in the blank. I’m not going to list the exhaustive list. But whenever we don’t accept things as they are, it can be a source of stress or suffering for us. So to describe it more fully, something changes, something in our life changes or threatens to change and then we have stress and react. We have emotions and judgments and then we have a choice, we can either accept the situation or not. So I’m not saying don’t have emotions. I’m not saying don’t have judgements. I’m saying be aware of your emotions and be aware of your judgments and then make the choice to accept the situation. Because for most of us, we can’t change the situation we’re in. If you choose to surrender to the reality of the situation, yes, there will be discomfort. Yes, there will be emotions. Yes, there will be ups and downs, but it won’t be as bad. There won’t be as much suffering. When we refuse to accept what is, there’s more suffering and the stress attached to this is even worse. So let’s talk more about this. Consistency trumps intensity and novelty, which is part of learning to accept what is.

So again, I’ll just repeat this, if you’ve experienced toxic stress in childhood, your brain is likely to crave not just sweets, but intensity and novelty. So you may not feel like you’re working out enough, for example, cause you don’t feel like you’ve done two hours of exercise a day or you haven’t done that intense exercise that you usually get in, in the gym or you may feel not you’re like, you’re not being conscious enough or restrictive enough on what you eat. And so then you want to go on a fat diet. All of those again, give you that positive spike of dopamine for a while, but then that eventually goes away. And success really depends on your ability to learn to be a normie. “Normie” now, if you’ve never been to a 12 step group meeting, you may not know what that term means. But normie, as I understand, it refers to people without an addiction to normal people. People without an eating problem, people without binge eating or food addiction or emotional eating. So those would be normies. But in order to be successful, you have to learn to be somewhat of a normie. Because of changes in the brain that usually happen from childhood adversity individuals who have addictions or food and body image issues have that deficit of dopamine in the brain, and therefore we’re always craving the next high and this high can come from using a drug from bingeing on sugar, doing something exciting. #risky, getting into a new relationship or pushing yourself in physical activities. Usually I have patients who get to the point where they’re bored with eating regular food or bored with their exercise routine or bored in their marriage. And they are all looking for that relief from the lack of dopamine. That relief from boredom, which you can find relief in doing all of the things we talked, I just mentioned, but that’s a very temporary form of relief.

If you’re not a normie, you may not know that life is just full of ups and downs. Now, when you first stop using your behaviors to deal with your emotions, there may be a period of adjustment where your brain is adjusting to not having that boom spike of dopamine from a, from a binge, but it will adjust and when it adjusts, you’ll realize that life is full of ups and downs and part of recovery is learning that being a normie, that things like moderate activity and moderate ways of changing your behaviors that are consistent can improve your health and wellbeing. Changing your eating behaviors consistently over time is more effective than that big grand gesture of fad dieting. You may not know that consistent moderate activity is also healthier than intense exercise that cannot be sustained and that many times can cause injuries. So again, consistency trumps intensity and novelty. So instead of not doing anything, just because you can’t do that big thing that you always do, or the only thing that you think will ever help start with practicing consistency. So researchers know that in terms of weight or body mass index, about 25% of your weight, for example, can be explained by, you know, how you eat and things like that in 25 to 75% by genetics. So the most important thing to recognize again, is that your brain has, if you’ve had that toxic stress in childhood, your brain has been changed it can cause what we call reward deficiency syndrome and this then can have a huge impact on your eating patterns. So think back maybe to your family and when you were having family dinners. And maybe you don’t even remember eating with your family more than once or twice a week. These kinds of behaviors, again, are linked to genetic reasons. So it’s important to notice and important to recognize again, we want to recognize, it says success depends on your ability to be a normie. That consistency trumps intensity and novelty. So instead of not doing anything, we want to practice consistency by taking small steps, making small changes. It will seem weird I’m going to promise you, it will seem weird and you’ll feel bored out of your brain at first, but over time, your results will outshine your need for always having to do the most extreme thing.

So I give you a challenge. You know, see if during this time where you have a little extra time on your hands, you can make some step, you can make some changes that are sustainable and you can enjoy. Maybe the change is just enjoying what you eat instead of judging yourself. Or maybe you make a change of, I’m just going to go for a walk every day instead of waiting for the gym to open back up. These are all behaviors that can improve your mood and that can improve your brain connections. Cause what we want to do is heal the brain from childhood trauma and this is what we work on a lot in the anchor program, is trying to heal the brain from these underlying root causes. And instead of using food to manage your mood. You know, maybe going for that walk, taking a bubble bath, doing things that strengthen your long-term recovery.

Okay. I hope this was helpful for you today. I just want to again, emphasize consistency trumps. Intensity and novelty. Next week we’re going to be talking about what people say. When I asked them, why do you think you overeat and that is I over eat because I just love food. Okay. We’re going to be talking about that. So join us next week and also, please leave a review for our podcast. It’s always helps get the word out and I look forward to talking with you again, signing out. This is Dr. Carolyn, stay safe out there.