Two Week Challenge

Cognitive biases are my crack cocaine, I can’t stop wanting to learn more.

This week it’s about survivorship bias. This bias has our mind focusing on people, ideas, and situations that succeeded while forgetting to consider all the ones that failed.

By not looking at failures, which are THE majority, we miss most of what life has to teach us.

Example. 95% of businesses fail. That sounds bad so our brain focuses on learning how the 5% made it. Our “social” brain consisting of the media, entertainment industries, and authors put the 5% on a pedestal to view ad nauseam. Who doesn’t like a get rich quick, feel good idea?

I want to know more about the 95% who failed. Did the successes experience any of this failure? If so, what did they learn and how did it help them succeed?

The diet industry sells its products with the success stories of a few people. If you follow up with those people a few years later they have failed to keep their weight off permanently. Why?

Successes are what we want to see. Successes are what marketing departments want us to see. But I don’t want to focus on the smallest portion of the story, I want to consider the failures that are most of life.

As I consider those at work who have successfully lost weight I see a common thread – they did it meal in meal out, day after day, over time. They chose the long term goal of losing weight over the immediate gratification of eating what their toddler brain wanted in the moment.

Those of us that failed to lose weight? Our story is different. We failed because we did not:

This list of our failures becomes our list for success.

Survivorship bias helps us filter information and accept what comes to mind so we can act. Let’s give our brain a current, timely positive example to act upon.

I have a two week challenge for everyone to get your brain to the point where it has a positive personal example to believe.

Do all the things listed above for two weeks. That’s it.

A FREE 2-week diet plan!

I have linked each point to a previous blog article. Good luck and may the delayed gratification be with you!

 

 

Strengthening Our DG Muscle Around Holiday Food

What’s a DG muscle?

It exists solely in our minds.

It works to delay gratification.

As in putting off a reward or pleasure.

I am real good at putting off spending money on clothes or shoes. That is because it has never been an interest or desire of mine. So delaying buying new clothes or accessories is not the way to strengthen my DG muscle.

But food is another matter entirely! I love buying and making food.

If I buy or eat food when I am not hungry I am rewarding myself IMMEDIATELY.

If I don’t eat till my planned meal time despite wanting the food EVERY minute up until that planned meal time I am using my DG muscle to delay my reward.

It is 100% my choice to delay my reward. When I use my DG muscle I do not pass off my food choices to other people or circumstances.

Remember, our toddler brain will blame other people and situations to make us feel better about not following our plan. The DG muscle is an opposing muscle to this toddler brain thinking!

I have practiced strengthening my delayed gratification muscle over the past year by increasing my intermittent fasting window. Because the DG muscle in my head was pretty flabby I did this in increments.

First I skipped breakfast a few days a week; then every day.

Next I added a skipped lunch a few days a week on work days.

Then I added a skipped dinner a few days a week. This placed me in a longer fasting window of 36 to 42 hours one to three times a week.

I plan to stay busy on fasting days. But I still think about food a lot. Even though my DG muscle around food is stronger I still have to purposefully flex it when my primitive toddler brain WANTS THE FOOD NOW JUST BECAUSE I WANT IT RIGHT NOW!!!!

This holiday season there will be loads of unhealthy food in the lounge brought by vendors, doctors, and each of us. Lots of opportunity for us to exercise our DG muscles!

No one is making us eat this stuff.

Plan what you really want to eat and  WHEN you want to eat it.

 

Dealing with Holiday Sugar

Sugar is THE fuel for our body.

Our neurophysiology evolved to favor foods containing sugar.

Our physiology evolved to digest and store sugar efficiently.

So what is going on when we first see, smell, or even just start thinking about a  sugary treat?

Think about a doughnut. Your favorite kind. It’s soft and warm and fills your mouth with creamy sweetness. Are you salivating yet?

Because we have the ability to build memories, we can quickly attain the full doughnut experience in our mind’s eye. Our brain deploys dopamine to give this memory the “feeling” of pleasure in our body. This experience is a REWARD for us. It happens fast because our brain has learned to love rewards. Thinking like this will drive us to GO GET THE REWARD, the doughnut.

But did you know we can also use our thinking to DECREASE the amount of dopamine deployed when anticipating a reward? If we want to lose weight the time to practice doing this is in the face of an unexpected reward. When our primitive brain habits will ambush us to eat that doughnut magically appearing in the lounge or joining in with a co-worker ordering out for hoagies and chips.

How? By strengthening the power of our dopamine negative prediction error signals. If we interrupt doughnut thoughts with non-doughnut thoughts the brain will release less dopamine. Less dopamine means a weaker urge to go get the doughnut reward.

When the doughnut (or other food) thought pops into your head try immediately following that thought with one like:

  • Dropping that doughnut on a public bathroom floor
  • Imagining 10 stink bugs flying out of the box
  • Realizing your dog licked every single doughnut
  • Thinking about the non-handwashing teenager in the doughnut shop
  • Remembering how sleepy and de-energized you will feel in 30 minutes
  • Visualizing your gut groaning because it now has to deal with crap food
  • Watching the inflammation bloom like a red fire in your joints
  • Reminding yourself of your goal to lose a pound this week

Next thing to do is remove yourself physically from the stimulus. Nope, you can’t have the doughnut. Not if you want to lose weight. With practice this gets easier.

With enough practice, the antecedent cue driving your behavior will be one YOU choose! This holiday month I’m throwing stink bugs on all the things I do not need to eat:)

I feel reassured that our brain has a built in function allowing us a choice to not feel like an eating robot around triggering sweet and savory foods. In today’s world the function of a low dopamine output response to a cue is buried by our modern food lifestyle. But it is in there. Let’s pull it out of the back of our mind closet and set it on the table right in front of us. Putting it to work for our benefit again.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving

My online fasting support group is mostly Canadians and they don’t get the Thanksgiving thing. It is uniquely American. I have always felt it brings the country closer together, at least for one day; before we all go out shopping.

As a child Thanksgiving meant food, glorious food!

For many years I thought Thanksgiving = the food.

Now I think of Thanksgiving as all the other things outside of food preparation.

For me that is family and friends and reminding myself how grateful I am to be on the planet.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving celebration this week. I am very thankful for my work family and my nursing career. Both have brought so much into my life!

Enjoy the celebration by eating to satisfied. Have a plan for the day and commit to it. Eat what you really like and don’t eat the things that are just there.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Getting Off a Plateau

I grew up out west where plateaus and mesas are everywhere. Some are called table mountains and go on for miles; you can’t see where they begin or end. And that is how weight loss plateaus appear if you haven’t been tracking your food intake.

Without this data you don’t know how to correct your diet. You will be lost out on that plateau because there is no way to answer questions like:

  • How often did I overeat?
  • Am I drinking water every day?
  • How many desserts did I eat this week?
  • Am I eating more starchy veggies with the cold weather?
  • Was that 3 days in a row of having a beer with dinner?
  • Am I just mindlessly eating cheese every day?
  • Did I do extra grocery shopping this week?
  • Did I eat processed foods because I didn’t meal plan?

Hitting a weight loss plateau happens for two reasons. Your primitive brain is making too many food choices AND your body has adapted to the amount and type of food you are giving it.

So, it’s not all our fault, Yay!

The Mayo Clinic defines a plateau as adaptation homeostasis. Basically our metabolism slows as we lose weight. This is a survival mechanism.

Living at a lower weight requires fewer calories. Wait, What? This isn’t what my primitive brain wants to hear, it wants to party like I’m still 22!

To get our bodies out of adaptation homeostasis and off a weight loss plateau we can do any or all of the following:

  1. Track what we actually eat, the bald facts.
  2. Eliminate processed carbs and replace them with vegetables (non-starchy).
  3. Hold off on sugar, even fruit, until you’re back on track losing weight again.
  4. Change up an exercise routine; time of day, intensity, duration.
  5. Reduce sedentary activities by increasing NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. As we lose weight our NEAT slows as part of the body’s adaptation homeostasis so we need to consciously keep NEAT up. I can do this by taking the stairs at work, parking on the edge of the parking lot and eliminating the 2 hours in a chair watching TV after supper. Personal trainer Jared Covarrubias has more good ideas to increase NEAT and includes the math to show how much of a difference it makes!
  6. Track what you eat.
  7. Increase protein intake while decreasing carbs and fats on non-fasting days. The mechanism is unclear but protein does seem to increase thermogenesis which is the process of heat production in organic beings like us. Protein can also provide satiety.
  8. Decrease stress. That’s a big one! Stress stimulates glucocorticoid excretion and has been shown to INCREASE palatable food intake (that would be sweet and savory treats) which INCREASES insulin production and fat storage.
  9. Try intermittent fasting.
  10. Reduce alcohol. Alcohol decreases inhibition, increases appetite and promotes abdominal fat storage aka beer belly.
  11. Increase fiber. Look at labels to see how much fiber is in a product. All whole foods naturally have fiber. Fiber increases the feeling of fullness after a meal, slows food absorption in the GI tract and decreases calorie absorption. So, eat more whole foods!
  12. Drink water, coffee and green tea which increases your basal metabolic rate.
  13. Get plenty of sleep. Fat burns during sleep. When we are tired we make poorer food choices during the day. The primitive brain thinks food relieves fatigue!
  14. Don’t rely on the scale alone. How your clothes fit and measuring body parts can show improvements the scale may be missing.
  15. Did I mention to journal your food?

Plan your trip, pack your food and you will get off the plateau:)

 

Chunking Habits

This week I came across an instagram article by The New Yorker about a habit formation term called “chunking”. Chunking sounds like a  verb made up out of a noun. The article goes on to say our brain uses “chunking” to make living in our environment easy.

For example, our brain “chunks” all the following actions into one habit GET IN CAR AND GO:

unlocking car, opening door, sitting down, putting on seat belt, starting car, looking out rearview mirror, backing up, shifting gears, using break and gas pedals, steering car, checking traffic.

We become aware these unconscious actions exist as a habit when some of the actions need to be updated. Like having to use a key fob instead of an actual key for the new car. We keep trying to put our key in the lock until our primitive brain adds the key fob action to the GET IN CAR AND GO “chunked” habit.

Our unconscious primitive brain is sublimely elegant at “chunking” habit feedback loops. These loops are wonderfully described by Charles Duhigg in “The Power of Habit” as cue – action – reward. The brain builds habits so repetitive actions become easy and are rewarded each time!

Biology uses easy to survive. Our brain is designed to transform effort into easy. This saves us energy, increasing our survivability. We live because of persistent, robust feedback loops in our cells. Feedback loops are free of friction and happen over and over until we die. Essential processes like oxygenation, nutrition, and hydration are comprised of grouping or “chunking” feedback loops throughout our body to keep every cell alive and well.

Messing with our oxygenation, hydration and nutritional feedback loops can lead to organ damage or death. Smoking habits lead to COPD and cancer.  Alcoholism habits damage the liver and kidneys. We are now learning that poor nutritional habits can lead to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation, mental illness, neurological disorders, immune diseases and overall poor quality of life.

I have screwed up my nutritional feedback loops by layering bad habits over biologically constructed feedback loops which tell me when I am in need of nutrition, when to stop eating, and how much fat I need to store or burn. 

I have practiced my bad nutritional habits so much they are now persistent, robust and frictionless. They override my body’s normal feedback loops and keep extra fat on my body.

So, if I want to undo my habits?

I need to create new habits to override my bad

  • shopping habits
  • cooking habits
  • dining out habits
  • food storage habits
  •  meal eating habits

This week I picked apart my food shopping habits.

My habit has been to stop by a grocery store 3-4 times a week giving my primitive brain lots of chances to habitually buy food I do not need. Now I only shop once a week with my shopping buddy, a shopping list, so I do not buy chips, dessert, and bread.

But that little voice in my head still screams to stop every time I pass a grocery store after work and basically every time I am in the car outside of my house!

See that little green me in the car? She will get bigger every time I drive by without stopping:) Because it IS easier to not stop! Stopping to shop costs me money, time, effort, and helps me gain weight.

By the way I need to mention how happy and warm inside it makes me to see all the people at work eating healthier and even losing weight! I’m not sure this blog is making a difference but leveling up everyone’s awareness about the fact that we are what we eat is! Way to go everyone:)

 

 

Am I fooling myself?

A dangerous thought has been rolling around inside my head and popped up into my consciousness today.

Am I just fooling myself by thinking I can lose weight and keep it off?

Because I haven’t done it in the past.

Because it really won’t make a difference in my life.

Because it is hard to do.

Because it really doesn’t matter.

Because no one else cares.

Man, I need to get out the violins now that my thoughts are on this negative roll.

I understand all the neurophysiology that is going on as I am producing these thoughts that consequently direct my actions to give me the result I do not want: weight gain.

So, instead of believing these thoughts which are full of negative crap I went back and read some of my previous blog posts.

I am very grateful to the part of my past self that was thoughtful and gives me a much more positive bunch of thoughts to work with. She lives quietly in my blog words.

If my past built the negative thinking part of my primitive brain it also built the positive thinking part of my primitive brain. And this positive part is documented for me in my blog, thank the stars!

The negative bully is so much louder and drowns out the positive thinker gal all the time!

Today I remind myself the negative bully can go in another room, sit in the corner and I can shut the door on her.

Today, me and Miss Positive Thinking are having a nice cup of coffee together and enjoying the morning.

 

 

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.

However.

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.

 

Dealbreakers!

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!