Saturday, May 28, 2016

Remember that feeling...?

It's not uncommon for us to have issues with discipline, especially when it comes to food. That instant mouth-pleasure associated with sweet, salty or rich foods sends a signal to our brains, releasing dopamine and serotonin. We feel like we have been rewarded.

Not only do we feel rewarded, but we tend to use food as a reward. If I do (this), then I can have a treat. And we wire our brains to think that "junk" foods are rewards, even as children: "If you're good, you can have a treat." This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. If you eat healthy, your body will reward you with increased energy, good sleep, clear skin and more even moods - but our brains don't receive that signal as instantly as a huge sugar-inducing dopamine or serotonin surge.

We remember that feeling and make a choice. But what about the feeling of being bloated? Heavy and uncomfortable with an upset stomach; Maybe you feel lethargic or get brain-fog and can't work afterwards. You have to loosen the belt another notch or change into your stretchy clothes.

But there is another way to send great happy-inducing signals to the brain and through the body: physical activity. We've all heard of endorphins - that wonderful release of happy-feelings from exercise - also known as the "runner's high." If you're not used to exercise, it can take a bit to get to this point, but it becomes stronger each time you do it. The reason for that is because working your body can feel uncomfortable for a short period of time. When overheated or during sweating, we release dynorphin - a substance that helps to cool us down but that also increases the amount of opioid receptors that endorphins bind to. By increasing these receptor sites, each time you release endorphins, you'll experience an greater euphoric feeling.

Yoga is another fantastic example of activity that will give you that incredible feeling. But even yoga can be tough. Where most of us feel the greatest is at the end of the class during the final Savasana (laying on the floor). You're focused, lungs full of oxygen and the work is done. Exercising is work - it's not supposed to be easy! The point is to put your body through a little bit of stress and then as you recover your body gets stronger. You don't increase your muscle mass during the exercise itself, you "stress" out the muscles a bit and then with the proper protein and carbohydrates (and water!), they repair themselves and are stronger with that repair.

Where people tend to struggle the most with healthy living and weight management is retraining the brain. We need to learn to give up that instant gratification of "junk" foods - sugars, processed foods, processed carbohydrates like bagels, muffins, cookies, cakes, even pizza.

When you only feed your body whole, nutritious foods, you will feel better in the long run, guaranteed. One of the ways to improve your discipline with foods is to remember how you feel after those sugary or gluten-heavy foods, and this can take time. When a certain food makes you feel sick or gross time and time again, you begin to realize that it's just not worth it. Similarly, with exercise, if you make it a regular occurrence in your life (daily or 4x/week), if you stop, you'll notice a difference in how you feel. For example, if I haven't gone for a run or done any type of exercise in over 3 days, I know I get more agitated, irritable, and my body feels sluggish and stiff. So I go back and remember what it feels like to finish an awesome workout and that drives me to go and do it.

We need to reprogram our brains. Remember how good it feels to finish a workout, remember what it feels like when you've eaten clean for a week or longer. Then compare that to how you feel after bingeing on Oreos, or to how you feel after going to yoga once a week to not going at all. Get back to feeling good and don't let deceptive sugar trick your brain. Sugar should not be your reward. Feeling amazing and keeping diseases and illness away is the reward: Living your healthiest life and being able to share that with your friends and loved ones.