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Diet / Weight Control Infocenter

The Mind-Body Connection: Complexity in Weight Loss

by Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D.

You canít eat your way into healthy thinking, but you can probably think your way into healthy eating, which in turn, actually could make your thinking healthierÖ if only you could figure out where to start.

There was a time when people regarded the physical body as a system quite separate and distinct from the mental realm. The conventional wisdom of cultures throughout the world typically acknowledge and honor a connection between the mind and body, but in the realm of Western science, emotional and cognitive activity has been held as though it exists almost independent of the flesh.

Yet anyone whoís ever gone for the chocolate when they were feeling blue knows, intuitively, that itís all connected.

And in the last 25 years or so, science has been getting a grip on the physiology underlying the profound connection between our minds and our bodies, and coming up with ways to help us not only understand it, but use it effectively to improve our health and habits, including the habits that have led to the national obesity crisis.

Mind-Body Interplay

Disease and stress research in particular have yielded vast evidence of the inter-related nature of our minds and bodies, showing how people who endure high-pressure lifestyles can experience both acute and chronic health problems because of it.

But our daily lives are full of simpler examples of the mind-body connection, and itís not always a problem: consider how certain words can make you blush; a sad scene in a movie or song can bring you to tears; a phone call or email from a special someone can make your heart go pitty-pat. Your thoughts are affecting your body chemistry and creating distinct physical responses.

And obviously, it works the other way, too, when what your body experiences produces responses in the brain. A particular smell can stimulate a nostalgic memory. Tickling and rough-housing a grumpy child will often cheer him right up. These are such familiar examples that itís hard to imagine anyone ever disputed the connection.

But what science has been able to prove in the last couple decades is just why Ėneurologicallyó that tickling works to cheer the child. Itís not merely that youíve distracted him from whatever got his goat. In truth, both laughter and physical exercise cause the release of mood-elevating chemicals in the brain. Laughter really is the best medicine, and youíve just given him a double dose.

On the other hand, research has proven that a stimulus such as anxiety óa feelingó can trigger the release of nerve-fiber chemicals, which then tell the immune system what to do to help protect the body in a time of emotional stress.

No body (part) is an island

Pioneering scientists say that other systems in the body are also connected in this way, together creating a virtual telephone network of transmitters and receptors, and thatís changing the way we look at how our thinking and habits influence disease, including obesity.

Diseases that used to be studied just within their own body system are looked at more comprehensively now. Diabetes was traditionally considered to be a disease of the endocrine system. But itís now also understood as an autoimmune disorder ó an immune system attacking itself ó that typically results from specific lifestyle choices.

Is it any wonder then that the treatment of obesity is so complex? There are powerful forces at play in a problem that used to be reduced to a simple formula: ďtoo much in, not enough out.Ē With emotional influences on behavioral choices resulting in physical changes that cause physiological adaptations, how could anyone think itís a simple problem?

That doesnít mean you have to become a psychoneuroimmunologist in order to drop a few pounds. But if you have struggled futilely with a excess weight and the health problems associated with it, you can take some real encouragement from the advancing scientific understanding of the challenges you live with.

Because if physical activity can change your brain chemistry, affecting how you think and feel, and thoughts can affect your bodyís responses, then thereís real hope that you can train your body to train your mind, and vice versa.

The whole nine yards

Itís all one wonderful machine, and comprehensive bariatric weight-loss treatment takes that into account. Even the most nutritionally sound dietary plan cannot be effective in producing lasting weight loss if itís not coordinated with developing new thinking and habits. Obvious, right? Yet anyone whoís ever dieted knows thatís easier said than done. But what if you could reprogram your neural pathways so that your body automatically supported your new thinking, and your thinking automatically defaulted to healthier dietary choices?

And what if that could happen without all the constant emotional struggle? What if you could just lose your taste for the sweets you crave today? What if exercise was your automatic answer to sadness, instead of chocolate?

It can be done, but itís no simple matter of developing a menu. Thatís why bariatric specialists have to approach obesity from all fronts.

We work with patients to discover their motivations and values. We can consider the chemical imbalances that may be present and how best to address them, whether with activity or medicine or diet or a combination thereof.

We can explore the importance of defining and refining goals, of learning self-nurturing habits and healthy new routines, of cultivating an attitude that maximizes the mind-body connection to its best effect.

People are so surprised when they learn they can control cravings, eat better and enjoy exercise, but for most of us these things have to be learned.

At some point, we learned that eating chocolate can alleviate the blues. There are solid chemical reasons for how it does that, and itís a lesson that sticks in our bodies as well as our minds. Itís tough to overcome. But we can teach our bodies new lessons.

As science and medicine get better at deciphering the ways our minds and bodies work together, bariatric treatment develops better and better strategies for teaching those lessons. And when you see that, you almost canít help but feeló and think, and doó better.

Through Thick & Thin

If you maximize the potential of the mind-body connection, youíve got a powerful tool working in your favor. If you dismiss or ignore it, youíre handicapped before you even start.

See Also:

Working Out with Kids: Do What YOU Like!
When parents try to get their kids to be more active, these efforts usually start out full of enthusiasm and good intentions, but very often end up sidelined, not by the kids' unwillingness to cooperate, but by the parents' inability to provide the consistent support needed.

Can You Spice Up Your Life Without Adding Extra Pounds?
Research shows that people who have a wide variety of sweets and high-fat treats like cookies and chips, or even cheeses in their diets tend to be heavier in general. And when they do drop weight, they have a harder time keeping it off than people who tend to limit their choices of high-fat foods to one or two items.

Is it Pointless to Even Try to Lose Weight? ...The Rebound Effect!
Donít believe those depressing statistics that say everyone regains whatever they lose. When you see people who have succeeded at losing their extra weight and keeping it off, itís not that theyíve worked miracles, itís usually just that theyíve done the necessary work.

Portion Distortion: Supersizing America!
Americans are eating out more and more, and leading researchers say that's a big part of why so many of us are overweight. The biggest part of that big part? Big portions!

Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D. is a board certified Family Physician and a board certified Bariatric Physicians (the medical specialty of weight management). She specializes in lifetime weight management at the Cederquist Medical Wellness Center, her Naples, FL private practice, you can also get more information about Dr Cederquist and her weight management plan by visiting www.DietToYourDoor.com

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