Inside Out

What if everything you thought you knew was wrong? 

What if you woke up tomorrow and you saw the world in a completely different way? For example, what if you learned that reality is in your imagination, that you generate your world. It is not some objective truth “out there” but rather constructed by your inner world, and projected outward.

Kind of a radical idea, no?

And yet, what cognitive scientists and linguists like George Lakoff tell us, human beings use mental frames to explain their reality. We can observe facts or circumstances in the world, and when they do not fit our frameworks, our way of explaining the world, we simply dismiss them as exceptions. We cling very strongly to our beliefs about how the world works, and this helps us to live and make decisions.

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Sometimes our beliefs are actually wrong. Beliefs are really just thoughts we keep thinking over and over again. They may come from what we were taught growing up. They may be reinforced by societal programming. They begin to seem like reality because maybe everyone around us holds the same beliefs.

It can feel very threatening when we begin to question our beliefs. There is a biological reason for this. Our brains like to be efficient and avoid pain. So we develop neural pathways that serve as “shortcuts” that help us make choices and decisions about the world. This way we don’t have to evaluate all of our more automated activities, like driving to work, or walking down the hallway. These are automatic skills we develop and practice all the time.

It is a healthy to question our beliefs now and then, and it has radically changed my own life. When I realized that beliefs are a choice, and I can consciously choose new beliefs, my head kind of exploded.

First you have to be conscious of your beliefs. I will use food as an example, because it is easy to understand. I spent most of my adult life, until about 3 years ago in fact, believing that consuming fat in my diet would make me fat or keep me fat. It is easy to understand how I would form such a belief: nearly all the dietary guidelines recommend a low fat diet. The food industry has perpetuated the idea that sugar is fine for us, but we should consume “x” as part of a low-fat heart-healthy diet.

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Imagine my amazement when instead of battling my body and brain’s natural inclination to consume fat, I began to add much more of it to my diet. I switched from skim milk to whole milk (gradually of course, going to 1%, 2% and then whole). I started using butter and olive oil liberally in my cooking. I went bananas for avocados (which I have always loved, but thought I should limit because of fat content).

As it turns out, over the past 18 months, I have lost 20 pounds on a high-fat diet. The loss has been sustainable and easy to maintain. At the same time, I cut way back on sugar and flour, because those powdered substances did not make my body feel good, when I started paying close attention. I defied all the conventional wisdom on eating three meals and several snacks a day to avoid low blood sugar.

Snacks really are an emotional event, they are not required for survival. They are not necessary for people in places where food is abundant and obesity runs rampant. Our bodies are well-adapted to periods without food, and our ancestors fasted regularly. Once we add back natural fats to our diet and ditch the foods that give us unnatural insulin spikes (flour, sugar and processed foods) we actually start becoming fat-adapted. Our bodies use ketosis to burn fat stores for energy, rather than just blood sugars.

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Link to book

Imagine my amazement, and my anger, when I realized there is a belief perpetuated that keeps so many people struggling with their weight. Sadly, there are public policies that perpetuate this incorrect belief and help perpetuate obesity and illness in our population. It is not about calories in and out, it is about insulin resistance.

But back to beliefs: what if I had not questioned this conventional wisdom, and had just accepted it as truth? The belief did not serve me. It actually was causing harm to my body and brain health. When I listened to my body, and paid attention to what made me feel more vital and energetic, I began to understand.

So lately I have been exploring other beliefs: what if money is not hard to earn? What if I am capable of certain things I never imagined? What if the ideas I learned by example in my culture were just plain misguided? Do these beliefs serve me? What if I adopted a new belief on that particular front?

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Wow. It nearly makes my head explode, to consider about the possibilities. I am working right now on questioning my beliefs about money. I am sure to share what I learn in future posts.

But I challenge you also: What do you accept as true in your life that may not be serving you? Are there some beliefs that need cleaning out in your life? Consider the possibilities. I dare you.

 

 

 

Fat rocks! Yes, more butter please

Really, it does! One of the most important discoveries I have made in the past 14 months that has led to a sustained 18 pound weight loss is that eating more healthy fats in my diet keeps me feeling more energetic, more calm, less distracted and less anxious. I grew up drinking skim milk and clinging to a low-fat diet notion that was in vogue at the time, based on dietary guidelines set in 1970’s that were based on an untested ideas devoid of scientific research. I thought it was really fascinating to read about the evolution of this understanding in Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code, a well-researched look at how obesity is driven by our hormones, not by how many calories we eat.

The low-fat, low-calorie diet has already been proven to fail. This is the cruel hoax. Eating less does not result in lasting weight loss. It. Just. Does. Not. Work.

Dr. Fung takes apart the studies that have been completed on obesity, most of them focusing on time frames of less and a year. But obesity typically develops over decades, not in one year. He provides a compelling case for the hormonal obesity theory. Basically, obesity is not caused by an excess of calories, but instead by a body set weight that is too high because of a hormonal imbalance within the body. He goes into great depth about how insulin, cortison, leptin and ghrelin are the major chemical messengers that help determine how our body fat is kept regulated by the body. Please consult his book if this interests you; the science behind this is fascinating and he writes at a level that you do not have to be a clinical researcher to understand.

Insulin is a storage hormone. When we eat, the body releases insulin to store excess glucose from the blood stream into the liver as glycogen, where it can easily be accessed for energy. When there is no intake of food, insulin levels fall and the burning of sugar and fat is turned on. It is quite an elegant “homeostatic” mechanism that keeps our body in balance, and our weight stable. Most people’s weight remains relatively stable, and even people who gain weight tend to do so gradually over time, 1-2 pounds per year.

However, our diets, which have moved away from healthy naturally-occurring fats, toward highly refined carbohydrates (sugar and flour) tend to raise insulin levels to an artificially high level. This results in greater fat storage and a long-term propensity for weight gain. Combine this with the stress hormone cortisol, which also raises insulin levels, we begin to see how these factors contribute to a condition known as insulin resistance. There are some disturbing findings reported about how treatments for diabetes type 2 usually require insulin, and how, even though the blood sugars are better, after standard medical treatment the diabetes actually gets worse. I urge you to read The Obesity Code if you struggle with obesity or type 2 diabetes. I am not a health expert, but I found the research to be helpful in understanding nutritional and lifestyle interventions that lead to reversals in insulin resistance and sustainable weight loss.

For this post I will focus on the recommendation to increase consumption of natural and unprocessed fats in our diet. These include olive oil, butter, coconut oil, beef tallow and avocado. Nuts are also a healthy option, and full-fat dairy can be enjoyed without guilt. We must be careful to avoid inflammatory fats (aka “trans” fats) that are processed such as vegetable, canola, peanut oils, or margarine which are high in omega-6 fatty acids and may have detrimental health effects. Basically, we need to eat “real food” that is minimally processed and balanced in terms of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It is actually simpler than it seems. If we shop mostly on the outside perimeter of grocery stores, typically we can find those vegetables, meats, full-fat dairy products, eggs and other fresh, healthy options.

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I realize some readers may be vegetarian, and while I tried to become vegetarian multiple times in my life, I now believe my tendency toward a.d.d. and anxiety probably do not lend themselves to a vegetarian diet in the long term. One positive side effect I have noticed from eating fat more freely is a sense of calm, satiety, focus on a more regular basis. This contrasts with my struggle with moods starting in my teens, and a cycle of being down, anxious, and more emotionally volatile when I was eating more sugar and flour in my diet. Sadly, so many people struggle with mood issues such as depression or anxiety, and healthy fats may be a key to helping our brains regulate and manufacture healthy neurotransmitters.

One helpful resource if you want to learn more is Nutritional Weight and Wellness and their podcast, Dishing Up Nutrition. As registered dietitians and licensed nutritionists, this team stays very up-to-date on the latest research about dietary interventions to help a variety of conditions. They explain in easy terms how to improve your overall health through dietary interventions. While you may also work with your primary care provider, please know that doctors do not receive much training in nutrition in medical school. Unfortunately, so many of the proactive things we can do to help our overall wellness are not a focus of the medical profession, and they often treat the effects rather than the cause of illnesses.

I work with outstanding nurse practitioner, who is open to supporting my personal experiments with nutrition, especially when based on sound research. She ordered blood tests every 6 months as I was making these adjustments and we both found that, contrary to popular belief, my high-fat diet did not lead to higher cholesterol. Actually my blood pressure was lower, my weight was down, triglycerides were normal and other numbers in the normal range.

Obviously, you need to find what works for you, not take my experience as gospel. Please work with professionals who have the experience and expertise to help you optimize your own health and wellness. For example, if you have nutritional deficiencies such as low Vitamin D (which almost all of us in Minnesota experience in fall/winter) or magnesium deficiency, there may be factors that would benefit from more personalized consultation. Also, getting pro-biotic supplement may help fight sugar cravings and balance your gut, making it easier to switch your diet to more healthy options.

Being willing to experiment with foods you once thought were forbidden, and realizing that you are actually allowed to enjoy food is a beautiful discovery.  Full-fat dairy added to my coffee in the morning is delicious! Knowing I can put half an avocado in salad, add butter to my vegetables, and be liberal with the olive oil has made all of my meals taste better and led to more satisfaction. I no longer have gnawing hunger between meals, and thus I do not have a tendency to overindulge on junk food or to snack. My sleep quality and quantity has improved as well.

Fat is a beautiful thing. I say that as I happily note the spare tire around my middle has been steadily shrinking and my body fat has been reduced. Since my body is no longer “starved” for this important nutrient, I do not hang onto extra fat, and my brain is so much happier and less anxious. Granted, the meditation, yoga and running do also help. But nutrition cannot be underestimated when it comes to keeping our overall moods balanced and our energy high. It has been life-changing for me to realize this, and I am a big proponent of doing a few experiments and mindfully noting how you feel when you make these changes.

Since everyone’s body is different (some people with a dairy sensitivity for example, should not opt for cream in their coffee), please be mindful and intentional with your personal experiments. Seek help for the any major health issues and have confidence that your body, when regulated normally, has wisdom within it. It will give you signals to help know what is nourishing and what is toxic. That said: enjoy the journey!