This is the third and final part of our series on RDS. In Episode #112 and #114, I discussed what RDS is and how it could impact your eating behaviors as well as what caused RDS and how sugar addiction that you’ve read about is related to RDS. In this episode I will be discussing what steps you can take to heal your brain from RDS and that will positively affect your recovery from food addiction, binge eating and emotional eating.
In this episode, you will learn:
1. What is the difference between emotional mind and rational mind and how can you use this information to manage cravings.
2. What are positive natural reinforcers that you can use to increase dopamine in the brain?
3. What are 3 specific things you can do to heal your brain from RDS, food addiction, binge eating and emotional eating?
Homework mentioned in the podcast:
1. Make a list of
a. situations when you have experienced cravings or had a binge.
b. Action you can take to shift your brain
c. Why you would want to take this action
Here is an example;
Situation: At the grocery store, I’m going down the cookie aisle and see my favorite cookies.
Action I can take to shift my brain: To avoid bringing a whole bag of cookies home, I can go to the other area of the store and purchase two cookies to take home with me.
Why I would want to take this action: I know if I take the bag home I will eat it all. If I buy the two cookies, I don’t have to depend so much on willpower).
2. Make a list of your most common food cravings or food “fixes” and then write a paragraph describing why you crave this food and what meaning you give to eating this food. This should help you understand better the connection between emotions and eating certain foods and may help you uncouple that link.
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Okay, so this is part three of the series on reward deficiency syndrome. In episode, number 112, I talked to you about what is reward efficiency syndrome. Why do we need to know about it? How does it affect our food addiction, binge eating and emotional eating. And in the last podcast, which was episode number 114, I told you about the causes of reward deficiency syndrome and we talked about how those causes could maybe apply to you. I also talked about some more information on other brain chemicals, such as the internal opioids and how they affect our eating behavior. And I talked about sugar addiction, hopefully in a way that gives you some clarity on that.
So today, episode number 115, leveraging your brain power to overcome reward deficiency syndrome and food addiction, emotional eating, and binge eating. So let’s get started. Well, when it comes to food addiction, emotional eating, and binge eating and other reward deficiency issues your brain, as we’ve mentioned in the two previous parts one and parts two of the episodes on RDS, the brain is a big part of the problem, but it’s also a key part of the solution, that’s the good news. Understanding reward deficiency syndrome can help you overcome the RDS using the power of the more rational parts of your brain. Now, if you struggle with these food and body image issues, you may think, well, success means having the willpower to avoid overeating, especially eating foods that you consider bad, or maybe just your trigger foods or your food fix. When you actually learn more about how the brain controls eating behaviors through the dopamine reward system, hopefully that’ll give you a clue to the fact that willpower is not equal to the power of brain chemicals that actually control your desire to eat and to stop when you’re full. So let me just say that one more time, because I think it’s really important when you learn about how the brain controls eating behaviors through the dopamine reward center you will recognize that willpower is not equal to the power of the brain chemicals that control our desire to eat and our feelings of satiety and satisfaction with eating.
Now, let’s look at it from a different viewpoint. I don’t think I mentioned in the previous podcast. I’m just gonna geek out here a little bit. So don’t get too nervous, but the dopamine reward center is located in the part of the brain called the measle limbic area. Now this part of the brain is triggered by both positive and negative experiences. And it’s the part of the brain, and this is important, I think you’ll relate to this when you think about it, it’s the part of the brain that deals with emotions, learning, memory and motivation. Now, it’s also involved in personality traits like thrill seeking, being outgoing and being impulsive. When you’ve had a bad day and the first thing you think about is wanting to eat something you are in essence, reacting to your emotions and acting from the measle limbic brain or the emotional brain, which is where the dopamine reward center is. The same goes from when you find yourself in front of a box of donuts, my favorite or crispy cream, I don’t know about you, but you find yourself, back to the topic matter Dr. Ross, you find yourself in front of a box of donuts and you can’t stop yourself from eating them. You’re motivated by powerful, emotional urges and craving. And how you respond to those cravings is often very automatic. In other words, eat, eat, eat, that’s the response. At the point in time, when you begin to eat too much or binge, you are truly not thinking with the thinking part of your brain, you’re thinking with the emotional part of your brain. Now the thinking part of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex and that’s the brain’s executive thinker. This part of the brain is able to actually set goals and achieve those goals, sustain attention on a project, make plans and problem solve. It’s your rational brain instead of the emotional brain. When you’re emotionally upset, if you’re able to recognize the desire to binge as being part of that more primitive, emotional brain that lacks control doesn’t respond to willpower. You may be able to use your rational brain to interrupt the behavior and not simply react by eating. Now you may be thinking to yourself, well, that never works well. It usually never works because for the most part, when we start overeating or binging or we’re craving, we go unconscious. When you are conscious, when you’re in the present moment, you do have the ability if you’re willing to interrupt what the emotional brain wants you to do. But most of the time for most of us, the emotions just take over and they just run the show and the show is eat, eat, eat.
So for now, I just want you to recognize that there are these two parts of the brain. One is your emotional or measle limbic brain, and then the prefrontal cortex, your rational brain. Okay. I think I’m done with the geeking out. It is definitely hard to make the transition from being in emotional mode to being in rational mode, or as we talk about it in the anchor program, being in emotional mind versus being in reasonable or rational mind. And if you have RDS or reward deficiency syndrome, that makes it even harder, but over time and with practice and with help, you can become more capable of staying conscious and consciously making the switch and taking control of your eating behavior. And that is not willpower. We’re not talking about willpower. We’re just talking about mindfulness here. So this is called one of the skills you can learn is called brain shifting.
So I just wanna give you like a homework. I’m gonna give you two homework assignments. This is the first one and in this assignment, I’m gonna ask you to think of situations when your emotions have taken charge with food, it may be a previous binge, maybe a time you were having obsessive thoughts about food. And by the way, this is all in the show notes, but I’m gonna give you an example. So for each situation, write one action you can try to make the switch from your emotional, to your rational mind. Okay. What would you tell your emotional mind in order to get it to calm down and be open to making this transition? So that’s a journaling question. The emotional mind is like a toddler in the middle of a tantrum. I mean, you’ve seen that or you’ve probably had kids like me. Who’ve thrown a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store and there’s nothing you can do to get them to stop. So we have to be as creative as we can to help that part of your brain accept the need to act more rational. So making a switch is kind of like tamping down a fire that’s already started in your brain. So the earlier in the process that you can pour water on the fire, the more likely you will be to put it off. So let me give you an example in your home work. I want you to write down three things. Number one situation. You’ll come up with a situation. Number two, action. I can take to shift my brain and number three, why I would want to take that action. So here’s an example. The situation is at the grocery store. I’m going down the cookie aisle and I see my favorite cookies. The action I can take to shift my brain to avoid bringing a whole bag of cookies home. I go to the other area of the store and purchase two cookies to take home with me. And why would I want to take this action? Well, I know if I take the bag home, I’ll eat it all. If I buy the two cookies, I don’t have to use willpower because I only have two cookies and I’m allowing myself to eat those. So that’s what I’m asking you to do for homework. Again, list a situation list in action you think you can take to shift your brain and then why would you want to take this action? So look in the show notes for this exercise so you can practice it at home.
It’s important to know that natural reinforcers, which I think are much more powerful than willpower can’t have the potential to increase dopamine released in the brain. So what are natural reinforcers? Those are events that increase the feeling of pleasure or reward in the brain. For this reason, taking positive actions to shift from emotional responses to more mindful responses to cravings and obsessions about food. If you practice that, that can increase dopamine release and therefore reduce the impact that reward deficiency syndrome has on your behavior and your food obsessions.
So some examples of natural reinforcers include meditation, spiritual, acceptance, love of others, physical activity, and participating in recovery groups. Those are all examples of natural, positive reinforcers that can increase dopamine in the brain so that you don’t have to depend so much on food.
Now it’s very likely that your struggles with food addiction are rooted to some degree in reward deficiency syndrome. Both can be both inherited brain chemistry or, and or life experiences that set you up to feel like you have to have certain foods that you’re obsessed with those foods and have difficulty regulating your cravings and eating. Emotions play an important role as well, both, you know, the dieting culture and yoyo dieting, and then just the constant bombardment that we have of commercials on TV, about food on the radio, on even podcast, now on social media, food, food is everywhere. So, you know, it’s just important to know that those things make the problem worse. So what we wanna do is to learn specific things that you can do to help heal your brain and improve its ability to provide you with the brain chemicals, like dopamine that you really need while you can’t always change the past or the genetics you were born with or who your parents were and what they did. In this decade of intensive research on the brain in medicine, we’re really learning a lot about the brain that shows you don’t have to be stuck with the brain you have, or the brain you were born with. There are things you can do to change your lifestyle that will change your brain, your mood, and your relationship with food.
So the first part of that I just mentioned earlier is engaging in natural positive reinforcers. So remember, those are things like meditation, love of others, even pets, physical activity participation in 12 step or recovery groups. Those are all natural, positive reinforcers that help your brain produce dopamine.
Here are three other things you can do to heal your brain from RDS. Number one accept the importance of your thoughts. Now you may doubt that your words and thoughts about your body and about judging yourself with things you eat, have any effect on you physically, but just think about this. If you have a pet or even young children, or if you’re in a relationship with another human being you know that your words affect them strongly. If words matter in your relationship with other people, surely they also matter in your relationship with your body. So what have your words and your thoughts been telling your body? Is this the message you want to give? How do you think the energy of your body is affected by your words and what emotions do your own words provoke in you? Is this the way you want to feel? Now, these questions, I’m not trying to shame you. I’m trying to help you wake up to the reality that your body is listening to what you say and it’s responding. Just listens to what others have said about you. So number one thing you can do to heal your brain, accept the importance of your thoughts.
Number two, start relating to your body in a different way. Can you imagine what it would be like if you stopped struggling against your body and started working with it? How different might things be? Unconditional positive regard now is a concept developed by psychologists Carl Roger. That embodies a basic acceptance and support of a person, no matter what that person says or does. Now, he’s not talking about acceptance of abusive relationships or violent relationships. We’re really talking about acceptance and support of a person without judging them for the things that they do. Carl Rogers wrote that all people have within themselves, vast resources for self-understanding and changing their self-esteem, their attitudes and behaviors. If the right climate can be provided. So just think of that like the soil that’s provided to grow a plant. So we wanna create a good healthy soil so that you can start relating to your body in a different way. So how do you apply that into your relationship with your body? Well, no matter how you feel your body has “failed you”, no matter what your thoughts tell you about your body, you can declare unconditional positive regard about your body. So remember that is embodying a basic acceptance. You don’t have to say, I love my body. You just have to say, I accept my body the way it is, or I’m neutral. That’s a starting point. So for example, one way to start is a statement such as my body is strong. Now, how is my body strong? If I were to act as if this were true, how would my thoughts about and behavior toward my body be different? So you can list any number of statements of positive regard towards your body and then ask yourself. If I were to act as if this is true, for example, as if my body is strong, how would my thoughts about and behavior toward my body be different?
Okay. The third thing that can help you heal your brain is stop judging what you eat and stop making it mean something. We know that food can take on many meanings in our lives that have nothing to do with the food itself. And I’ve talked about this before as to why food does take on such a central and powerful role in our lives, whether it be related to trauma or neglect, food sensitivities, problems with emotional regulation or trouble coping with stress. Remember the things that automatically set you up for failure are deprivation, in other words, depriving yourself of foods you love or that you want, and then judging yourself for eating those foods. So in order to move forward, it’s important to start eating mindfully. I always say, eat the cake, but enjoy every bite and interrupt any judgements you have after eating the cake. And whatever the cake is for you, whether it’s chocolate or chicken or who knows, we all have different cravings, just do it, but enjoy every moment, stay mindful. So when I ask people with food addiction, why they crave certain foods, they always say, oh, I just, I, I it’s because I love Mac and cheese or because I love chocolate. But they don’t always mean that they love the flavor or experience of eating these foods. Usually what they mostly mean is they love how the food makes them feel. For example, when I eat or even think about, or see strawberry shortcake, I’ve said this before, it takes me back to the feelings of happiness I felt around my grandmother. So food can bring us pleasure for many different reasons and there is the taste of the food, the enjoyment of eating with people, you know, and care about and pleasant memories that certain foods evoke along with emotions that are associated with food.
So as your second homework assignment, which will be in the show notes, I’m asking you to write a paragraph about why you love the food set or your food fixes or the foods that you tend to binge on? Why do you love this food? So write at least a paragraph about that and doing this should help you to identify what meaning you give to the foods you binge on or say you love. Now, some of that meaning is, is really benign like my love of strawberry shortcake reminding me of my grandmother. I don’t often binge on strawberry shortcake, but I have pleasant memories about it. However, there are foods that our binge foods, our food fixes, and that you’ve made mean something like it makes me feel comfort. It makes me feel like a rebel. When I eat this food, I feel safe. So I want you to dig out those meanings that you give to the foods and write about that. Okay. And that will start the process of healing your brain from reward deficiency syndrome.
Now, the next podcast will be with my guest, Aaron Flores who’s a dietician and a health at every size advocate. And we’ll talk about weight, stigma, and also about how men and women may be different regarding body image and eating disorders. So join me for the next podcast in two weeks. This is Dr. Carolyn signing off.