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.

 

 

 

Losing weight while you sleep

Can you lose weight while you sleep? The truth is that sleep deprivation is a major cause of chronic stress, which leads to elevated levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the “fight or flight” hormone produced in the adrenal cortex. It is what keeps us safe in emergencies, and enhances our body’s ability to access glucose so we can burn them as needed to cope. However, when we are not actually under attack or fleeing a predator, but these stresses are not occasional but more constant (usually inflicted mentally, on an internal basis, even by our imagination) then cortisol remains elevated in the body, and so does glucose.

When glucose is elevated, levels of insulin rise in the body as well. Over time, elevated insulin leads to insulin resistance, and this is what leads to weight gain and diabetes. For more on the mechanism of these hormones, I highly recommend Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Obesity Code, which sets forth a hormonal theory of the causes of obesity. Nothing he speaks about is truly ‘new’ but he examines and critiques the research literature to explore the true causes of this long term health crisis and I found very valuable insights.

To reduce cortisol in the body, and its subsequent effects, which cause weight gain, we must reduce stress. Other hormones, leptin and ghrelin, vital to the control of body fat and appetite are also disrupted by sleep disturbances. Ever wonder why you have “the munchies” when you are sleep deprived? It is because your hormones are doing what nature intended them to do – and as a consequence, if we do not manage our stress and restore our sleep, this will lead to weight gain for most people.

As someone who struggles with sleep, when I began learning the science behind cortisol, insulin and the regulators of weight gain and loss, it motivated me to figure out strategies to improve my own sleep. There are a lot of products on the market that are sold to people who want more sleep, and naturally, in an era where many of us seem to realize we need sleep, but seem unable to get as much as we want, we look for the quick fix.

 

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Calvin gets a lot of sleep but he has “hungry ghosts” and really loves his food.

 

I have found that, over the past year or so, I am developing better sleep routines that have helped immensely. I do take a magnesium supplement before bed or with dinner, since our diet and lifestyle tend to strip us of this needed nutrient and magnesium (400-500mg) helps me get deeper sleep. I have also cut way back on sugar, since swings in insulin while we sleep are one cause of wakefulness and disrupted sleep. Cutting out alcohol has helped my sleep quality tremendously, and when I realized that, it was much easier to say “no” to the glass of wine offered while dining out.

The biggest help to my sleep seems to be my devotion to shutting down my “addictive” smart phone and any screens at least an hour before bedtime. If you have not heard about the effects of blue light on our sleep, Google this to learn more. Leaving my phone outside my bedroom and powering it off completely is another way I preserve my sleep time. The bedroom is a place for sleep, sex and relaxation. I read actual, paper books before bed. Some people have screen readers without backlighting that might serve the same purpose but I am old-fashioned when it comes to turning the pages of a book.

There are many other strategies that people use to get a good night’s sleep, and I am sure I will write more about the topic. But suffice it to say, if you are skipping sleep to get your workout in, or thinking that more waking time means more calories burned, please realize your body does not work this way. The cortisol and insulin systems will work against you when you create more stress in the body by not giving it adequate rest.

If you have problems getting good sleep, you should consult with your doctor, and perhaps also a nutritionist because there are some nutrients that, when missing (like magnesium) will impair your sleep. By all means, try those before you reach for a heavily marketed sleep drug. But realize too that if there are stressful situations in your life causing you to lose sleep, sometimes talking with a friend or a therapist or someone who can help you process those anxious thoughts can be helpful.

I am not ashamed to admit that I value good therapy. If you are working through difficult circumstances or life situations, please find a good one and make time to see them regularly. Mental health to me is as critical as physical health. Sleep is a part of keeping consistent mental health, energy levels and overall quality of life. While I occasionally deal with a bout of insomnia, I am not willing to sacrifice my sleep for any non-emergency, including work demands or even some fun events that mess with my sleep cycle. I have found that, in losing weight and keeping it off, this is a critical ingredient, even more than all the miles I used to run…

Getting adequate sleep is not lazy! Try to get more of it and see how much LESS lazy you feel, and how much easier it is to maintain or lose weight, if those are your goals. Happy Friday, friends! May you sleep, dream and feel restored.