Change Your Thinking, Change Your Body

Last night I went to hear Deepak Chopra talk about his new book, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul. The book was just released yesterday and we all got copies, so I’ve got it hot off the press. The talk, sponsored by the New York Open Center, was held in the magnificent Riverside Church, which for some reason I’d never been in before. I don’t know how I’ve managed to live in New York City for 30 years without seeing this beautiful church.

I haven’t finished reading the book yet – I only just got it last night – but if it’s anything like Chopra’s talk about the book, then I expect it’s wonderful. His talk was amazing. I particularly noticed one of the last things he said: “Changing one’s diet and lifestyle is a byproduct of shifting consciousness.” I noticed it because I say the same thing in Normal Eating for Normal Weight. When your thinking changes, you become able to change how you eat without fighting with yourself. It just happens as a natural byproduct.

Deepak Chopra book launch, Riverside Church, NYC

Deepak Chopra Book Launch, Riverside Church, NYC. Taken by someone from the Open Center, standing just behind Chopra. I had taken my own picture - or thought I had - but it disappeared from my camera.

About a year ago, someone in the Normal Eating Support Group posted an interesting message about how neuroscience supports the power of the “pause” – a key tool in the Normal Eating approach. The discussion is still ongoing. From the original post:

Recurring / obsessive thoughts are due to neural pathways that have been established in the brain – actual, measurable, observable processes going on there. But neural pathways are not fixed – they can be changed. Compulsive / addictive thoughts go on in the prefrontal cortex. Brain scans show that the prefrontal cortex also becomes active when one is making decisions for oneself. However it is not active when one simply follows instructions (eg a diet). Nor is the prefrontal cortext used when we act mindlessly on our urges and compulsions (eg binging). So if you have spent a lot of time following instructions (dieting) and / or acting mindlessly on impulses (bingeing) you need to work on creating new prefrontal cortex pathways (I’ve seen the term ’emotional muscle’ used a bit on this forum, which I assume is referring to the process of creating new neural pathways).

So how do you change these neural pathways? Simply avoiding feeling the urge to binge (by distracting oneself with other activities, trying to ignore it, numbing out in some other way) does NOT work – no changes take place in the neural pathways when you avoid the feeling. You have to allow yourself to experience the feelings and the desire mindfully, and THEN make the choice not to act on your compulsive urge to eat (or to pause). This process of allowing oneself to experience the desire but then making the decision for oneself not to act on it, actually causes changes in the brain to occur. New neural pathways are established. The more you practice this (or exercise your ’emotional muscle’) the easier it becomes because the neural pathways become more established.

Chopra talked at length about exactly this. Research has demonstrated that thinking changes the structure of your brain – called “neuronal plasticity”. Not only that, he says that for this to occur physiologically, your thinking also must be able to change gene expression. That means that you literally can change yourself and your destiny by how you think.

This reminded me of a NOVA scienceNOW piece on “epigenetics” – how lifestlye and environment can change gene expression. Researchers have found that as identical twins get older, they actually become less identical. Their gene expression changes depending on their diet, lifestyle choices, and perhaps – as Chopra says – the way they think. By the time they reach old age, there are so many differences in gene expression that their DNA hardly looks identical anymore.

Chopra said that as many as 500 different genes can change with diet and lifestyle – and perhaps the way we think – including genes for diseases such as cancer. The upshot is that we have much more control over our destinies than we realize. How we look at ourselves and the world is really everything, and potentially transformative. We can change ourselves and change our destiny by changing how we think.

If you read Normal Eating for Normal Weight, you’ll see that I talk at length about changing unhelpful patterns of thought. This is the key to recovery from emotional eating. Emotional eating is not an eating problem, it’s a thinking problem. As your viewpoint – your “consciousness” – shifts, your diet and lifestyle changes as a natural byproduct. It all starts with your thinking.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.

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8 Responses to Change Your Thinking, Change Your Body

  1. avatar jessica says:

    I love deepak chopra, reading his books and following his teachings have really helped me change my life for the better.

    I have a positive outlook on life now and a lot of good things have been happening, I am so glad I discovered him

  2. avatar Fee says:

    I think this is a beautiful continuation / validation of a concept that’s been expressed throughout history.

    Boethius: “Nothing is miserable unless you think it is so” and Henry Ford: “If you think you or you think you can’t, in either case you’re right” – two disparate individuals expressing a great truth…that, as you say, “It all starts with your thinking.”

  3. It’s true – this same idea appears over and over again, and yet we still need to hear it. I like the way Napolean Hill said it: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

  4. s is brilliant, and I am thinking about how perfect it is to understand this approach with any behavioral or thought habit, even with OCD.

    There is one aspect that I always think has to be addressed whenever we speak of compulsive eating, and that is the question of whether there has been eating restriction (a diet, waiting too long to eat, or undereating). When the body has experienced deprivation, even a relatively small amount of deprivation, it will respond by compelling the person to later eat…indeed over-eat… in order to assuage our primordial response to famine, whether it is imposed by lack of available food or by our own choices. We are particularly genetically programmed to eat “excessive” sugars, carbs and fats at such tiimes of “make-up” eating. There is no escaping this phenomenon, and until we demonstrate to the body that there is indeed enough food in our environment- by consistently responding to qualitative as well as quantitative hunger, and never waiting too long to eat when we are hungry- we will feel out of control with cravings and binges. Pausing is always great because it puts us in conscious connection to our emotions and body-feelings, but we can’t use it to override our body’s real present-hunger or make-up hunger needs. Jean Antonello handle this aspect of Intuitive Eating brilliantly in her books. Understanding this part of the over-eating conundrum is what finally brought me lasting freedom after many many years of struggle with compulsive under/over-eating and self-recrimination. Until we honor the physiological drives of our bodies, we will be fighting ourselves over and over instead of discovering a lasting peace.

    Thanks for listening!

  5. Oops, the first word was supposed to be “This”!

  6. It turned out that Chopra’s lecture was better than the book itself. A link to my review on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R3AJ6O31R184M5/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

  7. avatar Mike says:

    The reason we suffer from such things as “unhealthy or abnormal” eating is because we identify with those things. They become a part of who we are. The reality is they are not who we are. We try to fix it.

    What we should be doing is not trying to fix emotional eating but trying to understand it and quit identifying with it. We are not our problems. If we believe that we are, the unhealthy behavior can never be dropped.

    I have read and admire Dr. Chopra’s teachings. He inspires us and helps us to understand ourselves. Just like you Sheryl.

  8. Thanks, Mike. That’s an important insight – that who we are and what we do are not the same. Recognizing this can make all the difference.

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