Everyone experiences stress in their lives.  One of the most potent stressors in anyone’s life is emotional turmoil with those around us.  Everyone develops ways to deal with these stressors that become habits.  Gamblers pick up on these and use them to decide when someone is “bluffing” for instance.  Some people increase their eye blink rate or open and close their hands.  In one of my favorite movies, “Guys and Dolls” Sargeant Sarah Brown does it by repeatedly unbuttoning and buttoning the second button on her uniform.

These acts like biting ones fingernails, sucking the thumbs, cracking the knuckles can become habits that are very hard to break.  Smoking is a habit that often develops to deal with stress.  The more a habit can either distract the brain from thinking about the stress and/or releasing pleasure signals in the reward center of the brain the stronger these habits become and the harder they are to break.  When you binge (fill the stomach with anything) just the distention of the stomach sends signals to the pleasure centers of the brain and reward chemicals are released.  Sugar really lights up the pleasure centers and is probably the most highly addictive food but even bread is quickly broken down to glucose by the Amylase we all have in our saliva and triggers the sweet receptors on our tongue and can become addictive.  So what does a person under a lot of stress who has developed a bad eating habit  like bingeing or reaching for sugars and starches do?

First, and most important they need to realize that that is what has happened so they can fix it.  The easiest way to extinguish a bad habit is “total abstention”.  A review of numerous scientific studies showed that the amount of time it takes before your new habit of “not doing whatever habit you are trying to break” takes hold ranges between 18-254 days with an average of 66.  Obviously the longer you can abstain the better your chances of permanently beating the habit are.  In this case the habit we’re trying to beat is stress/emotional eating.

What can help you do this. First is to reduce the stress in your life as much as possible.  Things that can help with this are first finding someone you can talk to about the stress in your life.  It has to be a supportive, non-judgmental person you trust.  It could be a friend, a hair dresser, the little old lady next door, a teacher, a clergyperson, or a trained therapist but just talking about your emotional stresses to someone decreases the level of stress they create.

.  The next thing to do is regular mental “downtime” I like to call it.  Some people call it meditation.  Dr. Gervitz has shown tremendous benefit can be gained from resonant breathing in controlled clinical trials. I think you can get the same benefits from many religious traditions of meditation like transcendental meditation, Buddhist contemplation, praying the Rosary among others.  Here is an interview with Dr. Gevirtz talking about his work on resonant breathing which I practice 20 minutes daily. This can also be accessed on the blog “The Quantified Body”  here.

 

AFGHANISTAN 2008

NEW MEXICO 2017

Healthy eating!  Finally reaching my goal weight has markedly decreased the stress in my life.  I remember how I would agonize and starve myself to get ready for the twice yearly weigh-ins that could have ended my military career.  It’s amazing how much better people treat me now that I am thin.  I have so much more energy to do the things I love. And I feel so much better about myself.  I sleep better and find it so much easier to exercise.  And finally I haven’t had any downtime due to illness since I started eating low carb, high fat in 2011.

 

 

 

Here is a list of other things that can help:  Get enough sleep, make it a priority!  Exercise regularly.  Clean and organize your living space, I believe people don’t realize how much stress a cluttered living space can cause.  Simplify your life as much as possible by avoiding too many commitments.  I know giving up this club, this activity or this regular community meeting is hard but if you’re ruining your health with too much stress you may need to make some hard decisions about the commitments you have made.

Consider getting a massage regularly, never underestimate the power of the human touch.

And finally, when a person changes a habit, they are more successful if they think ahead and plan for what they are going to do to distract themselves when they have strong craving to return to the old habit, in this case emotional eating.  I personally think you should write the strategies you choose down on a 3X5 note card and carry the card with you.  Here are some techniques I’ve seen used.

  1.    The rubber band.  Put a rubberband around your wrist.  When the craving comes, pull the rubber band 1-2 inches away from your wrist and let go a couple of times.  (catching the index finger with the thumb and letting “flick out” to hit the earlobe is a variant of this technique).

  2.    Get a small paperback book of Sudoku puzzles and do 3-5 puzzles when the cravings come.  

  3.    Sit quietly and breathe no more than 6 breaths per minute.  (P.S. there are many free breath timing apps for your smartphone out there.  I like one called “Breathe2Relax” available for Android and iPhone).

  4.  Find or make up your own Mantra (a short phrase or word you repeat over and over) and sit for 2-3 minutes quietly and repeat it.

  5.  Have a cup of tea or coffee.

  6.    Go do an exercise class.

  7.    Take a warm soaking bath or shower.

  8.    Buy one of those wooden foot massager/roller devices and massage both feet for 2-3 minutes (you could even keep one in your desk at work).

  9.    Take 2-3 minutes for a focused meditation.  Picture yourself slimming, filling with energy while dropping your breath rate under 6 breaths per minute.

  10.    I even knew one patient who quit smoking by buying a “yoyo” and pulling it out of his pocket and yoyoing every time he felt the urge for a cigarette.

  11. On the other side of the card write what you plan to do and the main reasons you want to do it and the minimum date you want to continue with doing it till.

  12. Pick out a theme song you love as the song of the habit change like the “Getting Better” from the Beatles Sgt. Pepper Album.  Make it something you like and which has a positive message.  Put it on your smartphone and play it when the cravings come and several other times a day to as your theme.

These are good ways to form “Positive Habits”.  I’m sure you can think of many more!

 

 

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