Balancing Emotions to Get Results

This past month I have introduced the idea of a USEFUL NO to negotiate with my feelings and stop overeating or stop eating food off my plan and protocol.

I have not practiced what I have preached! Consequently I gained 5 pounds. A stated DEALBREAKER for me.

I have put myself in this situation by:

  • Crazy feasting while on vacation. Specifically eating 3 PARTY SIZE bags of Maui brand potato chips which are the best chips on the planet and  I cannot buy them here!
  • Not following a meal plan once I got home. I thought “I want to still be on vacation so will continue to eat like I did on vacation!”
  • Eating comfort foods after Skyping with my 92 year old Mama who is now in hospice.
  • Feeling depressed with the onset of shorter days now identified as seasonal affective disorder.
  • The weather turned colder so I started eating cold weather foods like pasta, Shepards pie, chili, and homemade pizza.
  • I started on a new cholesterol medication that causes weight gain because I do not want to live on a NSNF vegan diet for the rest of my life. I want some salmon, eggs, and cheese now and then for Pete’s sake!
  • I quit walking at 3.5 mph on the treadmill every morning and just walked at 3 mph because of no good reason that I can think of other than laziness.

Look at how I easily came up with at least 6 victim mentality reasons to overeat or eat food that is VERY unhealthy for my body.

This is the value of having DEALBREAKERS!

My 5 POUND WEIGHT GAIN dealbreaker forced me to stop, think about what I am thinking and see how it is making me feel. How I feel led to all these actions and a 5 pound weight gain.

I am not going to judge myself. That is not helpful. 

I am going to laugh at my primitive brain though, because she has been ruling the roost in my head for the past month completely unhindered by my thinking brain! 

She has me feeling depressed, ashamed, lazy, frustrated, scared, desperately out of control, and back to thinking like a victim wondering what is wrong with me.

I unconsciously chose negative emotions and they put 5 pounds of fat on me!

Now it is time to choose more helpful emotions to counter the negative ones.

Instead of depressed — PATIENT.

Instead of desperate — HELPFUL. 

Instead of victimized — NECESSARY.

Instead of scared — BRAVE.

Instead of ashamed — LOVED.

Instead of frustrated — CURIOUS.

Instead of lazy — ENERGIZED.

For each negative emotion that does not move me toward a positive result I have identified an emotion that will. This will balance my emotional state when I desire to do something that is not in my best interests.

Negative emotions will always be there. However, I am giving them too much weight on the seesaw in my primitive brain. By turning up my awareness of these positive emotions the negative ones will automatically have less weight. 

Remember the abacus? I am moving my bead from the negative side closer to the positive side in my brain. Each emotion can be balanced with another. But practicing which one I want to be stronger is the only way I will change how I feel.

I am responsible for my emotions, no one and no other happening in the world will ever be responsible for what goes on inside my head.

I want to turn this month long failure into a success. Exposing my many failures this year has been embarrassing but necessary! I am learning from each one, much more that if I lost the weight and kept it off without effort!

That’s looking on the positive side!!!

The Cortical Homunculus

Sensory Homunculus

Motor Homunculus

Remember these weird looking humans from neuro A&P class? In the 1940s Dr. Wilder Penfield used electric shocks on people and then asked where they felt the sensation. Based on his research he drew this funny homunculus, or “little man” in Latin, showing how much sensory and motor brainpower is dedicated to a body part. You can see A LOT  is dedicated to our lips, mouth and tongue!

The primitive brain rules our habit loops. So . . . . the habits that support overeating and eating calorically dense sugary food because it tastes, smells, and feels awesome it is FULLY supported by this “little man”.

This “little man” developed so we wouldn’t eat things that smell bad, feel gross, taste awful or harm us.


We now live in a modern world that doesn’t sell ugly looking, bad tasting, gross feeling, terrible smelling food. Well, maybe Spam.

The food sold now looks beautiful, smells terrific, feels wonderful and tastes marvelous to the “little man” in our brain.

It is our choice to not overeat and feed this “little man” just because he evolved this way.

These are some triggers employed by food marketing that turn on my “little man” and engage my primitive brain overeating habits:

  • The diffusing hoagie scent outside Subway stores – like a tiny whiff of crack cocaine each time I pass.
  • Hot rotisserie chicken wafting its smell by grocery store checkouts.
  • Food-tasting stations inside stores.
  • Fast food commercials on at 5 am when I am at the gym.
  • Snack food packaging emitting an audible “I’m here snacking on something sweet, sugary, salty and crunchy!” sound, announcing its presence to my nearby primitive brain.

The food industry has mastered how to stimulate our food-related sensory input! My primitive brain immediately thinks – “Go get that torso sized bag of potato chips now!”

But, I can choose to think – “Wait, What? Is this going to help me lose weight?” NO!! This thought helps me deal with the urge to buy the torso bag of potato chips until it goes away in 10-30 seconds.

I have to practice watching my “little man” having a fit until he gets tired and settles down in 10-30 seconds. I can do anything for 30 seconds, right?

Interestingly, the disease diagnosed by Penfield’s homunculus is phantom pain. Despite missing a limb the brain still feels its presence. I postulate that even though we choose to not eat unhealthy foods our brain will always remember eating them, this is why our urge to overeat unhealthy foods will never completely go away.

And this is why I need to choose again and again what I should be eating.



One of my favorite quotes is from Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, “That’s a DEALBREAKER!”

Liz referred to a dealbreaker as something that would lead to a relationship breakup. So I thought, why not use a dealbreaker to end a crappy relationship I have with food.

We can use “Dealbreakers” as a strategy for interrupting the  pleasure-seeking, stress-feeding thoughts the primitive brain habitually produces.

Brainpower or willpower is a limited commodity. It is gone by the end of the workday.

Dealbreakers are recognizable stop points for the primitive brain, which ALWAYS rules after a long, tiring or stressful day.

Dealbreakers remind me when to ask a USEFUL NO question of my primitive brain.

Dealbreakers will interrupt primitive brain thoughts that are screaming “I WANT!” and “I NEED!”

My easy to remember diet-focused Dealbreakers are:

  • 5 pound weight gain.
  • Food that gives me diarrhea or constipation. (Duh!)
  • Processed foods.
  • Dried stuff in a box or bag.
  • Eating after 7:00 pm.
  • Sugar.
  • Fast food made by random teenagers.
  • Food shopping on a fast day.

Dealbreakers, Useful No questions, and great habits are simple resources to control your primitive toddler brain.

Bring out your dealbreakers and use them consciously!


Yesterday we were talking about Fritos at work. Everyone in the OR loved Fritos. But most of us agreed that no matter how much we loved Fritos we don’t buy them.

I remember feeling frustrated and thinking, “I love Fritos but I can’t eat them!”

It felt frustrating because I was thinking, “I’m missing out on all the Fritos in life!” I felt angry, frustrated, cheated, and all the other emotions when I think I can’t have what I want when I want it!

By now I recognize this is my toddler primitive brain starting to have a tantrum.

This is how I visualize my primitive brain.

She was easy to ignore when I was in the OR because there was no opportunity to eat Fritos there.


But she came back to life as I drove home in Friday rush hour traffic. Each of the four times I passed a grocery store or Wawa she continued her tantrum screaming:

  • “It has been a long week, you deserve some Fritos!”
  • “Come on, you followed a good diet all week, you can Frito cheat this once!”
  • “This traffic is the worst, you need Frito food to make it home!”
  • “Get Fritos they will make you happy!”

I’m happy to report I did not get the Fritos. I kept answering each of her statements with, “Are Fritos healthy for me?” She answered, “NO!” but she is tenacious and kept coming up with all the other arguments that usually convinced me in the past to get the Fritos and eat them.

However, a new diet theory was also in my head during the Frito fight. New research is showing that processed foods actually make my primitive toddler brain stronger at convincing me to eat Frito type foods. Here is a quote from the Scientific American article:

“Eating large amounts of ultraprocessed foods may actually change brain circuitry in ways that increase sensitivity to food cues, adds Kent Berridge, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan. He has shown this effect in rodents. “When you give rats junk-food diets, some gain weight, but others do not. In those that became obese, their dopamine systems changed, and they became hypersensitive to food cues—they became superfocused on that one reward. They showed no more pleasure, but they did show more wanting, and that wanting led to more actions—that is, more food-seeking behavior.”

I’m not a rat but I recognize this wanting and food-seeking behavior in myself. Yep, it’s what I do every time I overeat or eat off plan or off protocol.

This little critter lives in me but it is my choice to follow her advice or not.

As you make a choice about food listen to whose advice you are following. If the choice is in the moment, easy, pleasurable, or buffers uncomfortable emotions then the toddler primitive brain is ruling.

Tell her to go sit in the corner till she settles down!