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Understanding How Your Mind Works: Are Your Thoughts Making You Fat?

What do you tell yourself when you look in the mirror? Think about the things that you hear your inner critic saying when you try to zip up a skirt that’s too tight. Are you relaxed and chilled about it as you reach for the next larger size, or does it instantly send you into freak out mode and ruin your entire day? And when you’re hungry and you want pizza, do you just say, Awesome. Pizza. I want that, or do you go through endless guilt ridden justifications about why you can’t eat it, how many calories it has, how shameful or fattening your choice and how much exercise you’ll have to do this week in order to ‘earn’ it?

And if that’s your deal, how do you feel when you see your best friend pigging out in front of you on the pizza you’ve already decided you can’t have?

Really think about it. What are you saying about your body?

Awhile ago when I was working at Avenue, (a women’s retail plus size national clothing store) I met a customer who was looking for a bra. When I asked her what I could do to help her, she told me that she wanted to find a 40DDD bra with a very rigid underwire because she had the boobs of destruction, actually she didn’t say boobs, the word she used rhymes with wits. Yup! You guessed it! T… of destruction.

And that’s just a small sampling of the many times I’ve been witness to hearing what women really think about their bodies and how second nature it’s become to put themselves down in front of others. At Avenue, I had a colleague who every time she talked about her body, she would call herself names like, “Fat Ass or Tub ‘o Lard or Beached Whale.” It made me cringe.

As a coach and friend, I argued with her endlessly about this. I tried to explain how and why she was doing herself so much harm, talking to herself so disrespectfully but she said that she did this to motivate herself to stop eating so much. She explained that she was angry with herself because she felt so out of control around food. Two years earlier she had undergone lapband surgery and had lost 80 pounds since that time. With her life in chaos following her mother’s death, she had regained about 40 of those pounds and felt disgusted with herself. The more defeated and depressed she became, the angrier she got with herself. And her only way of numbing her feelings was to eat.

Sadly, there was nothing that I could do to convince her to start to reclaim control of her body by changing her thoughts. She just didn’t get the connection. And pretty soon she stopped wanting to talk to me. My guess is it was because I was telling her some things she didn’t want to hear. She just refused to imagine how or why she could ever be entitled to treat herself kindly or lovingly before she lost the weight that she wanted. Can you relate. Does that sound like you? Are you being hard on yourself too? Are you also thinking that you can motivate your efforts to change by trash talking your body?

As much as I wish I could, I can’t change how every woman talks to herself, but as long I have your attention, I want to tell you why you must think more carefully about what you say and pay closer attention to notice how you think about your body and your relationship to food. Are you with me? Ok. Here it is:

Did you know that if you’re thinking fearful thoughts and having negative responses to what you see in your mirror and the food that’s on your plate you could be making yourself fat?

You can’t be thin, if you’re thinking fat.”

– Dr. Nancy Bonios, creator of The Beyond Dieting Program”

Research shows that in the growing scientific field of mind/body medicine, there is a powerful connection between your mind and your body. And among other things that affects your ability to lose weight. It’s true. Thinking and feeling fat can prevent you from becoming thin. Here’s a scientific experiment that proves why:

Back in the 1980’s when Dr. Judith Rodin was a medical student she did research at Yale University. Her experiments suggested that people could gain weight by simply smelling, seeing or thinking about food. Here’s what she did:

She just showed a piece of steak to volunteers who were fasting. Then the meat was cooked in front of them. No one ate the steak. As part of the experiment the volunteers had their blood drawn and analyzed before, during and after the test.  Despite the fact that no one ate anything, the results demonstrated a dramatic increase in their insulin levels.

From that experiment, Dr. Rodin theorized that, since we always have nutrients in our bodies, the increased insulin, produced by the stress response of being “tempted by the food” created a chemical reaction in the body that resulted in an insulin conversion to fat in the volunteers. That means that by simply thinking negatively about eating, getting fat, or entertaining self- sabotaging thoughts about how fat you look or feel, it will actually send that message to your body to produce more chemicals which will trigger the insulin production response converting your body’s latent nutrients to fat! And that basically means that you can get fatter without putting a thing in your mouth!!!

So what’s the deal? Are you doomed to be fat forever? No.

In short, to counteract that chemical response to the increased insulin in your body, you need to change the way that you respond to food and your body. That’s what I’m offering to teach you. Your ability to master food all begins with learning how to control your thoughts.

Your Families’ Truths: The Foundation of Your Thoughts and Beliefs

The things you believe deep down in your heart comes from how you were raised and all the experiences you’ve had related to yourself and others from the time you were a baby. Science has proven that everything we see, hear, feel, taste and touch from the time we are 0-7 years old becomes hard-wired in our memory and we judge all of life based on what we learned during those years. Your ideas about trusting people, relationships, your body, money, religion, it all comes from what you were taught from the time you were a toddler.

That’s how we create rules about the way the world works. Just like a sponge you’ve been soaking up other people’s ideas and making them your own. But it’s many of these recycled memories that are just so much crap, that we can’t ever imagine them not being true. And because they feel true to you, you’ve made every decision for your life based on those truths.

In other words, our thoughts lead to our actions or inactions. So if your mother had bad experiences with men or struggled with her own negative feelings about her body, there’s a good chance that you’ve picked up a lot of her fears and insecurities because you’re probably walking around with her voice in your head telling you how ‘things really are.’ And it’s these silly, horrible negative thoughts that you try to dismiss as being nothing, that have got you so stuck, unable to get past them.

How’s this thought thing it work?

Let’s say you want to have scrambled eggs for breakfast. Before you can eat them, you have to first think about them. You have to think about the process of making them. Because we take information about the world into our bodies through our five senses, there are different ways that your thoughts can get triggered. Here are the five different senses and how they relate to your decision to make scrambled eggs.

Visual/eyes – You’ll see a picture of yourself making the eggs in your mind’s eye – Ever get an image of a food that you can’t seem to get out of your head?

Auditory/ears – You’ll hear yourself say in your mind’s ear or in your imagination, “I’m hungry. I could really go for some scrambled eggs now. You may also be reminded of a time when you heard the sounds of eggs being prepared; the beating of the eggs, the scratch of the fork on the surface of the dish or pan, etc.

Kinesthetic/Touch – When you pick up your frying pan in your hand, it instantly reminds you of the last time you made a great plate of scrambled eggs.

Olfactory/nose – You remember a time you smelled scrambled eggs cooking and it makes you want to make them again.

Gustatory/Taste – You might get hit with a sense memory of a time you tasted scrambled eggs and enjoyed them. This is when you may say that you have a ‘taste’ for something.

These are just a few examples, but they usually don’t occur alone. You get cravings for foods and decide to do things because you are hit with a multitude of these memories that keep on repeating themselves over and over in your mind until you do something about it.

This is an example of emotional hunger, when your thoughts are making you think that you’re hungry.

Pretty soon before you know it, you’ve made up your mind, and you’re running to the kitchen to pick up a frying pan and begin the process of scrambling up those eggs. It all happens in a millisecond, but basically you act on the thoughts that are connected with the most intense emotions.

Since I happen to love softly scrambled eggs, and I’ve been thinking of all the wonderful memories that I have around eating them as I write this, there’s a really good chance that when I get hungry tomorrow morning, I’ll decide to have scrambled eggs.

But if I knew that I couldn’t eat them, then I would want them right now, at 4:02 in the morning. Now as I check in with my body, it tells me that I’m way more tired than hungry so eating the eggs is the furthest thing from my mind. But when I’m hungry, I may feel differently.

Since you may not be a fan of scrambled eggs, this description doesn’t fire up your senses because your emotions don’t get excited by the thought of eating the eggs. But now think about the food you love and substitute that everywhere you see scrambled eggs written. You’ll probably notice yourself salivating, in anticipation of wanting to eat the food that you enjoy.

Now for most people eggs is a pretty neutral thing. But let’s up the ante, and say that you can’t shake a painful memory of a time when somebody hurt you, and every time you’re reminded of that incident, you fall to pieces. Maybe you were bitten by a dog when you were a kid, and now everytime you hear, see or even think of a dog you start to freak out. Your body may even break out in hives and you’ll experience a full scale allergic reaction. All these memory markers that involve your senses are called Anchors.

No matter what, whenever your emotions are on board, you’ll follow the pattern of what your mind has created. First you do something in your mind and then you follow with action.

The same goes for your thoughts leading to inaction. If you say to yourself that you want to go out walking every day, but you keep on visualizing yourself sitting on the sofa, and feeling so attached to how relaxed and comfortable that makes you feel, the picture in your mind of being happy and safe sitting on the sofa will win out because it’s charged with emotion. You’ll never want to get up off the sofa.

The brain works on the basis of making pictures, so you’ll do what you see. Simply put anything that affects your mind, affects your body and vice versa. Let’s say that you love cookies and someone offers you a whole plateful of all your favorites. Just the mere thought of thinking about eating them will cause your mouth to instantly fill with saliva. This is an example of your mind and thoughts affecting your body.

How Your Thoughts Could be Sabotaging Your Progress

Have you ever tried on a pair of pants that are too tight and immediately you feel horrible about yourself? Isn’t that the quickest route to a binge? This is your body affecting your mind. Scientific research has proven that there is a complex system of communication that goes on consistently between your mind and body. This goes on behind the scenes without you having any conscious awareness of it. Scientists have isolated neurotransmitters (chemical messengers of thought) and discovered that they are in every cell of our bodies. That means that your body and mind are always standing at attention, waiting patiently for you to issue commands. The things you tell yourself will determine how you feel and what you do. So now that you know more about how your internal thinking engine runs, what kind of higher quality fuel will you provide for yourself.

No. I’m not talking about cutting calories and eating healthier. I’m talking about the real fat that needs to be cut from your life. Those negative thoughts and memories that are triggering your urge to eat everything in sight and making you feel like you should be punished or made miserable. That’s why you may have been speaking to yourself in the way you have.

Now to get you started on the right foot to reclaiming  your power over food and your body, you have to become more mindful of what you’re thinking. So the very next time you catch your brain tossing you a whopper of a thought that doesn’t feel good, just stand back a moment and say, “Is this really true?”

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  1. Andrea – what you articulate here is right on the money! The mind/body connection is such a powerful one and that’s one of the reasons we include life coaching and NLP sessions in our fitness bootcamps. As someone who can still hear my mother’s voice telling me “you’ll never be a thin girl” I appreciate your sentiments about limiting beliefs. Also, your description of how we “do” craving using our senses (VAKOG) is powerful stuff (guess who had scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning!). Luckily, there are some fabulous techniques that we can use to harness the power of our unconscious mind and use the mind/body connection to help people to focus on and achieve their health and well-being goals. Thanks for a great article. I look forward to reading more.

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