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.
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.