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Monthly Archives: July 2017
The Physical Stress Response
During the initial waves of a stress attack, the adrenal medulla produces and releases the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.
These hormones increase blood sugar levels, rapidly supply the brain and muscles with energy, accelerate the heartbeat, increase blood pressure – basically, your entire body enters a state of defensive readiness. During these initial waves of stress, the body may also experience a rise in libido. This often results in headaches for men.
In order to calm the body from this first wave of stress, the hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol helps calm your nerves and prevents inflammation.
Chronic stress, however, means too much cortisol in the blood and this can have devastating consequences for your health.
Imagine, for a moment, a room on fire. You call the fire department, they rush to the scene and extinguish the fire with tons of water. The fire is put out, but the water has destroyed everything in the room.
Think of cortisol as the water that douses a fire.
Large amounts of cortisol can destroy your immune system over time.
It reduces the ability to fight pathogens and thus you become susceptible to every disease under the sun, from heart disease to memory disorders to depression. If you have had cancer in the past, your recovery can be negatively affected.
Stress has been shown to physically alter blood vessels and alter the brain.
Cortisol also affects your desire to eat. It blocks your appetite and suppresses neurotransmitters (leptin), which, in turn, leads to an awakened appetite and the secretion of insulin. When insulin levels are high, the body screams for sugar, like sweets, chocolate, cakes, etc. These cravings for sweets begin to overwhelm us and we feel powerless and out of control.
Do Women Experience More Stress than Men?
Did you know that women are more prone to mental illness than men? When it comes to depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and sleeping problems, women lead the pack.
A study of more than 13,000 participants in 25 countries, sheds light on the fact that:
- Women still do three times more housework than men, even when they have full-time jobs.
- Women in Europe do better, stress-wise, when they spend more time at work and less time doing housework.
Women handle stress differently than men.
“Men drink, women worry.”
That’s an old slogan used by Anglo-American psychiatrists.
But now that women make up a large percentage of the workforce, alcohol consumption by women has increased exponentially. And there are many physicians that are concerned about women drinking more and more, particularly during pregnancy.
While bullying in the professional world enjoys much of the media spotlight, stress of child rearing is, comparatively speaking, given little attention.
As long as political recognition goes to how well women fulfil their roles as providers in the home – for children and the older generation – the imbalance of women suffering from mental illnesses will remain unchanged.
Stress, Feelings and Thoughts
One group, particularly susceptible to the pressure of stress is mothers between 30 and 60. I don’t want to tell you that there are no other people with stress. Stress is not related to a specific age or gender. The underlying problem is similar for all. So, dear reader, if you are a man, read this book and find examples for yourself.
Mothers are often under extreme pressure to be perfect: to perfectly balance careers, child rearing, household duties and, of course, their appearance.
In fact, in terms of their physical appearance, the media sends the message that all mothers should be sexy, that they should look at least ten years younger than they really are.
Indeed, many mothers get the message through the media and politics that it’s very easy to balance their career, children and body.
Women have to be happy, good looking, always in a good mood, sexy, and always appear 10 years younger.
There is a whole industry that tells women what they should look like. One hero of that industry is supermodel Heidi Klum, who after four kids still manages to have a perfect size 6 figure. “What is wrong with me that I don’t wear a size 6?” you may ask yourself after your first or second child. “Why am I still a size 12 or 14?”
And when it comes to parenting: what is parenting nowadays anyway? You, of course, want to be a good mother, but how will you know if you are a good mother? You may be worrying about whether you should have your child start learning Mandarin at the age 2, whether your child is clean enough, whether your child has the right clothes and toys. How long children should be supported?
My mother-in-law always told me stories about her son and how she managed to keep him so clean when he was only a year old.
I remember another mother once telling me that her son listened to operas with keen interest at the ripe old age of three. And my son? He was still listening to simple children’s songs. “Am I being a good mother?” I wondered. And suddenly, I was uncertain about everything. “How can I be better? How can I give my child the best?” I thought.
These spinning thoughts lead to a single question: What types of children have good mothers? Superstars? Surgeons? A top university students? In our culture, the answer to all those questions is yes. So we work ourselves to the bone to produce “good” kids.
So what if your child has no interest in school or learning? What if your child smokes and hangs out with the “wrong” crowd? What if your child doesn’t behave at the table, hates piano lessons, plays truant all the time?
In our society, we suffer from competition addiction. We are addicted to being better than others because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s a way to strengthen our ego with the result that often the fear of not being „good enough“ gets stronger and stronger.
Imagine the above-mentioned is true for your inner child, a small voice inside your head, maybe begins to gain power: “Am I good enough?” it asks.
Then the voice gets louder and a landslide of negativity is unleashed: “You’re a failure as a wife. You’re a failure as a mother. Just look at you! Your child is a failure. And look at your hair? And your weight! No wonder your husband looks at other women so often! And what about your job? Have you even advanced one step in your career?”
The shame, the feeling of not being good enough, is widespread. Shame has nothing to do with guilt, but rather with the feeling of being a failure and not being good enough.
But why is this? Neurobiologists suspect that our sense of shame is rooted deeply in the amygdala. In the Stone Age, there was no space for the individual: everyone had to conform to the group to survive. In the Stone Age, being an individual meant being expelled from the group and facing certain death.
Shame, when balanced, allows us to develop empathy and regulate our emotions and behavior. Problems arise when shame becomes excessive or when we feel no shame at all.
So how do we deal with the problem of shame? There are helpful strategies: becoming your own best friend and radical self-acceptance.
Tara Brach, therapist and meditation teacher says„… a moment of radical self-acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom.
By learning to hold yourself with loving compassion, you free yourself from suffering from the ‘something is wrong with me’ syndrome.“
If you like to have more stress in your life, than nourish shame, self-doubt and unhappiness in your life, (of course you won’t but just imagine it) then compete with yourself – tell yourself you need to or have to be “better”.
I remember a client whose mother tells her that she should compare herself to those who are better than her. One needs a role model! And she still finds herself taking her mother’s advice: She is constantly comparing herself to others.
And that is stressful – it makes her unhappy and requires a lot of energy. So what does she do when she realizes that she’s not „good enough“ or others seem to be „better“? She eats. And eats. And eats. She gives herself love, affection and understanding through food.
For many people, food becomes a replacement for affection, love, passion and sex. But you know what? It’s all a lie – food will never love you and if you eat because you feel shame, guilt and „not good enough“ you will become fatter and fatter.
To feel something is not proof that what you are feeling is true. Don’t believe everything you think.
Do this exercise when you find yourself feeling, for example, that others are more intelligent, better, happier, or if you think that you are boring, nobody cares about you, that you are a failure, that you are a fake and are just waiting for others to figure this out.
Ask yourself: is that really true what I’m thinking and feeling? How do I know that? Is there real proof for my “knowing?”
To be your own best friend helps you to love and respect yourself as you are and to have the body that fits you.
I assume that you know the difference between healthy and unhealthy food. I always recommend my clients to eat colorfully, with a lot of variation, and smaller amounts of meat, meat products and store-bought juices. It’s the amount you eat that matters, so eat moderately. These are very basic healthy eating instructions (see the Healthy Eating Plate on the next page).
I also recommend you to only eat quality foods, to use good fat (olive oil), and that you try to avoid processed foods. And did you know? Quality food can also be a good bar of chocolate with only 70-90% cocoa) or a homemade cake with good ingredients and little sugar. Eat sugar, but use it sparingly; according to the British Medical Journal, “sugar is as dangerous as tobacco.” http://www.whfoods.com/
My philosophy is that you can eat anything you really like as long as the food is more or less high quality (colorful, not processed) and you are hungry.
This may surprise you, but I would say go ahead and eat a piece of cake for lunch – preferably homemade with high quality ingredients. To me, a piece of high quality cake you really enjoy is better than a handful of carrots that are low in calories, but will only leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied.
Eat only what you like to eat!
Healthy food tastes good! Try out new recipes. Read about healthy food. What tastes best to you? It is important that you enjoy the food you eat. Find pleasure in nourishing your body in a delicious and healthy way.
If you are a Coke drinker, each one liter bottle contains about 35 sugar cubes/sachets. Can you even imagine sitting down and eating 35 sugar cubes at once?! Maybe you like Mars Bars – but Mars Bars are two-thirds sugar. And gummy bears contain 91.2 grams of sugar or approximately 30 sugar cubes/ sachets! Look for the hidden sugar in your food.
Do this exercise: Don’t think for a moment about a light blue elephant. Please, pull yourself together and stop thinking about the light blue elephant!
Is it possible for you not to think of the light blue elephant when I mention it? Of course not!
The same thing happens when you tell yourself not to think of brownies, chocolate or Coke. You will always think of them. The harder you try NOT to think of something, the more you will think of the food you don’t want to eat. You can’t change that with willpower.
You can control your conscious mind with willpower, but not your unconscious mind. All our feelings and habits are in the latter. The unconscious mind doesn’t hear the word NOT. It hears, “always eat chocolate” or “always drink Coke.” When you are stressed or tired, you don’t have the energy to resist the food you don’t want to eat.
And then you will find yourself thinking: “I’ve eaten the chocolate. I’ve failed again. There is the proof: I’m a failure. There is no point in trying anymore.”
Thus, it’s very important for me that you realize that you can eat anything you want – but you must not eat just anything. You always have the chance to choose. You are in control.
The chocolate will not eat you! If you remove the pressure, if you stop telling yourself that you cannot ever eat chocolate, then you will find it easier to distract yourself from thinking about it.
Chocolate is chocolate – it is not your enemy and it is not your friend. It’s just cocoa powder mixed with a lot of sugar and some other ingredients.
Eat when you are hungry! Make yourself a hunger scale: 1 being “totally hungry” and 10 being “totally satisfied.” You should eat when your hunger is between 3 and 4 on this scale and stop eating when your hunger is between 7 and 8. If you stop eating between 7 and 8, you will feel pleasantly full, but not bloated or stuffed like you would if you stopped at 10.
- How long do you think you can live without food?
You can live approximately 6 weeks without anything to eat.
- How long do you think you can live without drinking?
You can live about 3 days without anything to drink.
- How long do you think you can live without air?
You can live about 1 to 4 minutes without oxygen.
We have a very strong urge to satisfy immediate hunger. Think of the people in the Stone Age. They were secure only as a group, best inside their cave. Nature made the strong hunger urge into a survival mechanism: the feeling of hunger was so strong that Stone Age people would immediately go outside their cave.
They didn’t have supermarkets open all day long. They would sometimes have to hunt for weeks to find and bring home food. And the saber-toothed tiger was always waiting for them.
So, if you are a little bit hungry, then think about this: you will not starve if you do not eat at once. Drink a lot – plain water is best – and give your body a lot of oxygen; as often as possible, by breathing deeply into your belly.
One of the most important eating lessons we are taught as children is that we must never leave any food on our plates – that we must finish all our food at all costs. Did your parents tell you this? In Germany, children were told that the people in Africa would starve because they didn’t eat everything that was on their plate. The goal of that education is not bad at all: children should learn to appreciate food and to honor it.
As a child, I remember that I only got dessert when I had licked the plate clean. When we “ate up” we were good children and pleased our parents.
With those experiences of the past, a lot of mothers in Germany often eat what their children leave on their plates; they eat all the leftover food.
But I know that is not only a problem of German mothers. The consequences of this behavior are obvious: it’s a very, very good way to gain weight and to get fat.
Why do we encourage our children to eat up? To be a picky eater is not looked upon too kindly. By eating, we gratify the cook. And by accepting the gift (the meal) we often accept the person giving it. Think about it. How would you feel if someone told you that your kind of cooking was not tasty and thus half the meal was left behind on the plate?
Think about it. If you want to lose weight, it probably won’t happen if you eat just to please other people. Think of other ways to show your gratitude.
Some experts will tell you to throw all the leftover food away. I recommend freezing everything that is left over. But whatever you do: don’t eat the leftovers from your children or from the pan.
Stop eating when you are not hungry anymore.
Every time you eat, make sure to leave something behind on your plate (even if it is just a kernel of corn).
This will help you learn that you – and not your habits – are in full control.
Another bad habit that contributes to weight gain is eating too fast. We seem to always be in a hurry, and instead of slowly enjoying our meals, we tend to shove them in as fast as possible to keep up with our busy schedules. Just notice how fast you eat.
When you see that you are a fast eater, you can develop new eating habits so you can eat a little bit more slowly.
For example, place your cutlery aside when you chew. This will help you concentrate on one bite of food at a time. Another slow eating strategy is changing the hand you eat with. If you typically hold your fork in your left hand, try holding it in your right hand instead. Try this for a week. Think about it. How does it feel? Does it cause you to eat more slowly?
It is very often the case that we eat with others: friends, family and colleagues. This helps us to feel connected to others and it improves our mood.
But we also eat alone: while reading, watching TV and even while driving. Are you someone who loves multitasking?
A friend of mine watches TV, reads and answers emails while eating. He has been gaining pound after pound and he asks me, why?
Do you know why? The answer is simple: if you are not aware that you are eating, you eat much and be tasteless.
Scientist discovered that eating while distracted is a well-known cause of overindulgence. A recent study in Psychological Science suggests that mentally taxing tasks dampen our perception of taste, causing us to eat more.
In all experiments, participants under a heavy cognitive load rated each type of taste as less intense, and they also ate more sweet and salty substances.
Other studies have found that simply paying mindful attention to one‘s food – fully focusing on its taste, aroma and texture, for example – leads to less intake. This study is further reason not to multi task at mealtime: your food will taste better. Scientific American mind March/ April 2014