Hopefully, you can now see why we crave certain foods and why other approaches that do not take into consideration your brain, mind and your environments are likely to fail. Hence why we need to change our environment as much as we can to reduce the triggers to your brain. But this video I want to talk about how we can change our minds and brains.
First I want to introduce you to a few key concepts. The first is neuroplasticity, which basically means that our brains are not set in stone. The brain is an extremely complex series of multi-pronged electric and chemical wires connecting to each other. But over our life, this wiring can change depending on the triggers like thoughts, experiences and behaviours. Hence if we change the wiring, we change our brains and hence we change our thoughts and behaviours in return. In essence, we have more control over our own brains and minds than many of us would believe.
There is more and more research showing how profoundly we can change our brains and minds. Even people with severe disease like strokes, where parts of their brains have died, can regain the lost function of the damaged brain part again because the intact areas of the brain rewire and take over. Recently in respect to weight loss we can see that with a holistic program can actually cause increases in brain volume and changes in the brain wiring itself.
The second concept to highlight here is the power of your mind and that we should not underestimate it. Hippocrates was an ancient greek philosopher and doctor from 400BC and is widely considered the “father of medicine”. In his writings, he is quoted as saying “everyone has a doctor inside themselves, we just have to help it in its work.” Over the past 60 years in particular we have seen a flourishing of research and practices in mind-body medicine from mindfulness, relaxation response, heart rate variability and the wim hof method.
So you can really appreciate this power I want to go through some inspiring examples with you but before I do that I want to make something crystal clear – it is normal to be unable to instantly change your mind and brain, so please have realistic expectations. It is like any other skill – it takes time and the more you practice the better you get at it.
In 2017 a study found that people who internalize weight stigma have a harder time losing and maintaining weight loss. The stigma in our society around people’s weight and weight loss can be incredibly cruel, but the unique finding in this study was that people internalised it, meaning they believed it was a true description of themselves. This is the really dangerous part. If the social stigma around weight is that you are overweight because you are lazy or weak or bad and you internalise that then you will inevitably tell yourself you are lazy or weak or bad and so on. And consider this for a second – if you had someone follow you around for just an hour and tell you constantly how badly you did things and how weak you were then how good will you feel? How much energy will you have or how likely are you to want to do good things for yourself? Pretty unlikely, in fact – extremely unlikely.
My experience is that many of my patients, who whilst may be overweight, are definitely not lazy and weak! From the mother of four young children who I admire her unbelievable endurance and strength but hasn’t got the time for herself or the retired nurse who spent years caring for others in the most difficult situations but was constantly exposed to poor food, stress and night shifts and gradually put on weight over years. I remember one patient who had a severe pain condition that was really hard to treat. One of her few pleasures in life was to eat, so she was overweight. She was not weak. The fact that she was still alive was a testament to her strength. These are not weak people and my guess is if you are watching this video – you are not either. So please, do not believe the stigma. We need to help you rewrite your beliefs about yourself which we will do more in the next video.
Before you start these exercises I want you to realise how profound this internal belief system can be. There are many ways we can express internal beliefs, whether it be through our internal voice and language we use inside our own heads, the images we conjure or the core meaning and values we hold.
In 2015 a randomised controlled trial found that people lost more weight when they were assigned to a mindful self-compassionate program compared to a control group. Which means they were taught how to speak to themselves with compassion, patience and support. Basically like you would talk to your best friend or person you loved the most is how you learn to talk to yourself, at least sometimes.
This power of our internal voice is also shown in a variety of other ways. Hundreds of studies show that when people are primed with a stereotype they embodied that stereotype themselves. If you prime someone with the concept of “professor’ then they will do better on a general knowledge test. Children being told and telling themselves they are good problem solvers has been shown to improve children’s problem solving ability in tests. But the flip side is also true; a 1996 trial showed that when people primed with words associated with the stereotype of the elderly like “retirement” they actually unconsciously walked more slowly.
The great boxer Muhammad Ali was a great example of this. He was a great natural talent, but what he had on top of that was a deep belief in himself. He used to say “I am greatest and the prettiest of all time, I am bigger than the superbowl”. This was not just cocky vanity, this was self-belief, this was internal talk to drive him to be the best. If you try it, walk around saying I am the greatest of all time, you would feel pretty good too.
In 2012 there was a really interesting study which showed us how we can also use the power of mental imagery to aid our healthy weight journey. This was a trial that took 182 people and taught half of them how to do mental imagery for movement meaning they imagined themselves doing an exercise and attaining the goals associated with that exercise. They did this daily for 4 weeks and found that those people who just imagined exercising were more motivated to exercise, were planning to exercise more and were actually exercising more.
So these two simple techniques in using our mind as our doctors, teachers and friends are quite profound. So it is time to take the power of your mind back. Have a think about the above examples I gave you in regards to using your visual mind, or the language of your mind or finding a deep meaning and purpose in your weight loss journey. In the next video I am going to cover some of the techniques and practices you can start with