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Eva M. Selhub, M.D. Headshot

Why Diets Don't Work and Love Does

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This is the deal. Food is good for you. Food has been demonized to a point where you cannot look at something without wondering if you will gain weight and without asking yourself whether you "should" or you "shouldn't."

The problem is that every time you deny yourself of something, the brain will start going into scarcity mode, or tell you will not be or have enough resources in the future to live. This is as opposed to sufficiency mode, where your brain assumes you will be okay in the future--you will be enough and have enough.

In scarcity mode, your fear response is triggered. This means adrenalin, cortisol and other chemicals and substances fly through your mind and body, signaling that you are in stress. The result is negative physiological changes that eat up your serotonin and dopamine, so that now you are craving comfort and stress relief.

Now, if you were aware of this, and maintained healthy behaviors, you could choose from a variety of methods to increase your serotonin and dopamine levels. These include exercise, meditation, adequate sleep, connecting with those you love and who can support you, connecting to nature or your spiritual beliefs, laughing as loud as you can, or simply appreciating rather than finding fault or negativity with all that is around you (especially yourself).

  • But, since you live in a world where you...
  • Drive or sit at your desk
  • Have no time to take a break let alone meditate
  • Work rather than sleep
  • Are socially isolated because everyone is in the same boat
  • Rarely experience nature
  • Are caught up in the stress and fears of your life that you feel victimized
  • Have forgotten how to appreciate or connect with a God or spirit that you feel isn't helping you
  • So you rarely laugh
Geez...I am getting depressed just writing about it!

So, you turn to guess what? Yes, comfort food. Those carbs and fats help you feel better because serotonin is temporarily released. The key word here is "temporarily," because these same foods also turn on the stress or fear response. Of course, the shame or guilt you feel by eating these foods doubles the negative effect. So you eat more. As this cycle continues, the normal mechanisms that signal you to stop eating because you are full, no longer work.

The more you can't stick to your diet, the worse you feel about yourself. All those self care behaviors go right out the window. The more you dislike yourself, the more you turn to the self destructive behaviors. And the cycle goes on.

If at your core, you do not truly love yourself, self-destructive behaviors will always take over.

So recognize that you are in a stressful world and that you are in need of stress reduction and comfort. Do the following:

  • Get 8 hours of sleep (you will know that you have had enough sleep if you feel rested upon awakening). Lack of sleep leads to a voracious appetite!
  • Ask yourself: "If I loved myself, would I eat this food?"
  • Take time to exercise, especially outdoors and connect with nature.
  • Practicing honoring every part of your body--look in the mirror and say, "I love you face. I love you arms. I love you hair. Etc."
  • When in need, call on a friend for support.
  • Laugh as often as possible.
  • Find a meditation practice that works for you--start with 10 minutes a day. Audio CD's are a great way to go!
  • Practice mindful eating--simply appreciate the smells, the colors, the tastes. Chew slowly and with gratitude.
  • Say to yourself, "I am a miracle and as such, I will treat my body with honor and love."

Once you do this, your unconscious beliefs can begin to be reprogrammed, and the behaviors will change accordingly.

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