In Ayurvedic medicine, I’m predominantly Pitta, which is quick-witted, fast paced, and very analytical,

Imageall very good qualities to have in my profession. Although, one of our pitfalls is our strong response to stress: we literally combust in the face of stress. My combustion was isolating, I’d experience crippling stomach pain for days. I remember in high school, before I sought naturopathic healthcare, I would miss days of school because I was in so much pain.

Our gastrointestinal tracts are so important. It’s gained the reputation of being the king of our immune system due to it’s complex lymphatic system known as the GALT (Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue). It’s also considered our second brain because of the amount of neurotransmitters produced in our gut, all the nervous tissue that lives inside our GI organs, and the intimate relationship our gastrointestinal tract has with our brain. To increase the complexity, the Chakra (Indian energy medicine) of our gastrointestinal tract houses our emotions. Think about it, when we get bad news where do we feel it first? In our gut, we feel nauseous and incapable of processing any new information. My gut instinct tells me.., I felt butterflies in my stomach.., My stomach is churning..  I thought I was going to vomit.., these are ways people experience various destructive emotions in their guts.

This past week, I had an experience where I became extremely bored and wanted time to move quicker. I then started thinking about what I was going to have for dinner, started to feel excited to go home and eat, and proceeded to think about whether I should go out with my fiance for dinner and what we would eat. As soon as I caught myself, I realized it was all happening not because I was hungry -or- stressed, but because I was discontented with my present situation. I immediately reminded myself of how valuable life is, even when we’re in less than ideal situations. I wish Friday would come quicker, there’s only 2 hours left in this work day and they feel so long, I just want this exam to be done and over with, etc.

The question hit me today: how often do people eat in order to put our that fire of discontentment? That same fire that helps you transform and move ahead. It must be hard to admit to being discontented, because that would mean assuming action to move into a contented place. But the second you eat, and eat, and eat, that fire is quenched, until next time. For the most part, I’m very content, but when I’m bored I lose my ability to sit still, I want to move on yet in a 9-5 life of seeing patients that’s just impossible. Now that I’ve identified this as a trigger though, I’m able to acknowledge when it happens and remind myself of how precious every moment of life is and fully embrace the beauty in meeting people, exploring our world, and fully actualizing my true and higher calling.

Now that I’m aware of my triggers, I really haven’t been stress eating!

gold-star Which is CRAZY to me because I’ve seen more terminally ill or traumatically abused patients in the last three weeks than I have in my entire career as a medical student. My empathy for other people was one of the direct triggers for my stress eating. I wonder how many other physicians or medical students fit into the picture yet have no idea of their pattern in responding to stress. It’s something I wonder about with all healthcare practitioners, especially when you look at the rates of obesity within that group.

Usually, my PMS causes me to really indulge in foods like chocolate. But this time, I’ve kind of been unscathed by my hormones and it’s almost making me wonder if my habit of stress eating was affecting my menstrual hormones- rather than my menstrual hormones affecting my stress eating. You know, how most people ask, “Before your period do you crave any foods?” I used to respond with, “YES I AM HUNGRY ALL THE TIME”. You may as well add a “ROARRR, FEED THE BEAST” in there, because that’s how hungry I’d feel. This time, it’s different.

I wish I could go more in depth about everything, but I can’t. It’s just that simple. I thought that by releasing my need to emotional eat, I’d have to deal with really deep, dark, life events that I’d suppressed long ago. I thought it would be perilous and difficult and involve getting to the core of my being, conquering dragons, a high intensity spiritual quest. It wasn’t any of those things. Letting go of this habit has helped me deal with stress more efficiently, develop more emotional intelligence regarding the issues of self-love and understanding and… I’m pleasantly surprised by the fact that I can now have one or two pieces of chocolate and feel 100% satiated.

Is love a nutrient?

ImageLet me start this with, I have an incredible article to share with you!

But first, let me define food cravings as situations where an individual is craving a specific food outside of feeling hungry or after hunger needs have been met. For some this can mean cravings for specific foods, while for others it can mean cravings to overeat or “binge” eat.

I want to understand what it is that drives people to use food as comfort. Understanding this on a deeper level will help me work with clients who suffer from the complications of overeating (obesity, metabolic syndrome, hormonal issues etc).

From the May 2013 Newsletter from the National Institute of Health: http://nihrecord.od.nih.gov/newsletters/2013/05_10_2013/story3.htm

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson describes recent research that could indicate that emotional bonding and the experience of love could be an essential nutrient in our well being. We all know we feel better with love in our lives, but she’s taking a scientific approach to exploring the health benefits:
“For positivity resonance—and, thus, for love—to occur.. two conditions must be met: a feeling of safety, both internal and external, and a “real-time sensory connection,” as when people are physically together, have eye contact, touch or hear each others voices. There is evidence that eye contact, for example, sends neural information to us that provides gut-level wisdom about what someone is trying to communicate to us. “The ways we connect by texting, emailing and messaging may feel good at times,” she said, “but do not lead to this experience of resonance.”

Small studies have demonstrated having having more of these moments help people feel better emotionally, cognitively and physically. Another study examined at vagal tone (the activity of the cranial nerve that connects our gastrointestinal tract and heart to our brain). Her team found that positive emotions and positive social connections directly impacted vagal tone. Not only that, but healthy vagal tone directly impacted positive social connections and positive emotions!

In her words:

“One way to think about this is that love creates health and health creates love.”

This reminds me of the fact that a lot of cultures use food as a way to bond. People will spend hours enjoying a meal together, sharing stories and laughing. Is it possible that this social connection is vital to the way that we consume, absorb and process our nutrients? Maybe it’s important to start implementing daily doses of love outside of texting, skyping, and phone conversations. Even better if this can be in the form on enjoying a meal together.

TV = TRIGGER?

I usually never watch TV but lately I’ve been watching it and noticed that every other commercial is some sort of advertisement for a high calorie, nutrient deficient (I’d go as far to call them nutrient DEPLETING) foods.
Don’t believe me? Check this out: http://www.livestrong.com/article/442191-does-sugar-deplete-the-body-of-b-vitamins/

Understanding Triggers = Engaging in Self Love

Image I just returned from a rotation in Washington D.C. today. One of the books that was on the doctors bookshelf was Constant Craving A-Z: A Simple Guide to Understanding and Healing your Food Cravings by Doreen Virtue.

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In between patient visits, I read through portions of it and was impressed with the way it classified food cravings as being triggered by four main emotions: Fear, Anger, Tension and Shame. It also contained a mini-quiz to help the reader identify the type of emotional eating style that they had.

My favorite aspect of this book is that it selected various types of foods, the negative emotion that craving them could be associated with and then a positive affirmation to say during episodes of craving. I will definitely be keeping a copy of it in the waiting room of my office when I become a doctor..

BUT,…

We’re all raised in different households, with different cultures, and different types of foods. Food holds such cultural and familial importance, it is a very intimate thing for one to begin exploring. I believe that people should not subscribe to external resources to explain why they stress eat and should really examine the emotions that they associate with different types of foods they crave. Being able to identify the negative emotions can help one really identify parts of their emotional lives that may need strengthening. From there, one could really begin to create and implement their own individualized affirmations.

Now, in terms of my challenge, I have noticed that since I decided to begin exploring the emotional connection behind my sugar cravings, I’ve been more aware of my emotions throughout the day. It’s almost as if stripping my ability to quell my emotions using comfort foods has helped me identify parts of myself that need support. For example, I have always had a really negative self image and my mind is full of negative self-talk. Since last week, I’ve been in awareness of the awful things I say to myself day to day and have been able to recognize how absurd they are and move forward in a positive direction. I’ve also noticed that when I do eat a food I’d ordinarily crave when I’m not in an episode of craving, it tastes better and I can really take the time to enjoy it!

One Small Step For Me

It was a long Friday afternoon, the doc I was working with was booked with 4 new patients that were back to back to back. Our last patient visit was 2 hours long and I hadn’t had any food since a bowl of oatmeal with berries at 10 AM. I was feeling hypoglycemic, my stomach rumbling, and the patient was graphically discussing his favorite Godiva fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream as the hour hand was approaching 7PM.

I want that sundae. I am so hungry.. I am going to go home, bake brownies, and get some ice cream. Some coconut milk ice cream..and gluten free brownie mix. And a movie. I’m tired, I deserve a Friday night in. Just me, some blankets, and brownies and ice cream. I’m totally going to do this.. I can stop at the grocery store on the way home.

But wait! My 30 day challenge, I can’t stress eat. I think I’m stress thinking about stress eating! Stop it! Right now! Think about other things, think about playing board games with your friends, being in a warm hot tub, hiking, dancing with your friends. You are going to go home, eat a healthy dinner, and come up with awesome plans that involve quality time with your friends tonight, not your refrigerator.

So. I got home and before I bee-lined to the kitchen, I sat in the living room and allowed myself to process the day. Yes, you are hungry and you need to eat.. but wait a sec, you’re in no shape to decide whats for dinner right now. You had a long day, you met a lot of patients, you learned so much. Just relax for a few minutes. Think about how you’re done with that part of the day and can move on to decompressing from this long week.

So I sat and thought about the day and realized that it was over and that now I was going to eat a healthy dinner. And I did! And I felt full and happy with no hankering for that Godiva brownie fudge sundae.

Lesson learned: It is possible to catch yourself stress thinking about stress eating (and probably other bad habits for that matter). What’s really stressing you out? For me, it was being hungry and having to hear about delicious food. I’m going to always remember to keep snacks on hand when I’m in clinic.

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I’m making myself extremely vulnerable by choosing to explore stress eating

Imagebecause it means admitting to my unhealthy relationship with food. I realized last night that once I publish this post, I’ll suddenly be in control and in full awareness of the issue.

I know I’m not alone in this problem.

2/3 of the adult population in the US is overweight or obese. After spending time studying obesity and feeding disorders, I’ve concluded that most of the obesity we see today is the long term result of people “suppressing” their emotions with food. I’m not overweight and I do eat very healthy. But It becomes a problem when I’ve had my second 13 hour day of seeing patients non-stop and I get off shift feeling overwhelmed and like I “deserve a treat”. For me, the treat wasn’t eating a bowl of roasted veggies on rice, taking long warm bath, or getting in bed with a good book. These are all things that would have made me feel AWESOME the next day! Instead, the treat was was ordering Chinese food with my roommate and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. After a while I noticed I was doing this more often, the little stressors in life would add up to me feeling like I “deserved” a treat.

It’s not your fault, it’s science: Sugar binds to opioid receptors in the brain causing a euphoric state. Other substances that bind to these receptors include heroin, opium, hydrocodone and morphine. These are all very addictive substances that do cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Sugar also binds to dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is oftentimes considered the neurotransmitter that’s linked to addictive behavior (drug, sex, gambling addictions) because it is connected to the “reward centers” of our brain. My background is in evolutionary biology and in a future posts I will be exploring the evolutionary connection behind sugar addictions and dopamine.

Everything is healthy in moderation. My naturopathic doctor recommended that I begin seeking out other ways to self soothe, after we realized that I was using junk foods in order to cope with stress. This next month will be a journey into me becoming aware of the stressful triggers and emotions that cause me to crave sugary junk foods and implementing new ways of coping with them. This is especially important for me, since being a healthcare practitioner can be so stressful at times and once I begin my residency life won’t be any easier!

I will be posting things I learn from my own research and personal experiences over the next 30 days. If you feel that your emotions may be connected to your eating habits, then please take this journey with me and feel free to leave questions or comments.

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