Stress Mastery Resources

Eating Behaviors and the Brain Part 5

How do we decide what we’re going to eat? There are two primary driving forces behind eating. 1) There is homeostatic eating, which is where we eat so we can get the energy and nutrients our body needs to maintain homeostasis or a normal internal environment. 2) Then, there is hedonic eating, which is where we eat for pleasure or to manage our emotional states.

Hormones and Eating

Almost all of our meals are a mix of both homeostatic and hedonic eating. There are many hormones that influence our appetite. One of them is known as ghrelin. It’s often called the hunger hormone. It will stimulate our appetite. It peaks before meals and falls to lower levels during and immediately after eating, as our body knows we’re now getting the energy and nutrients we need. But this is not the only hormone that influences our eating.

There’s also a hormone involved in satiety, or a feeling of satisfaction, called leptin. Leptin is secreted by our fat cells and helps regulate energy balance. What’s supposed to happen as we gain weight is that leptin levels will rise and tell an area of our brain that we should not eat as much, that we have adequately stored energy in our body. However, for many people, as they continue to gain weight, their leptin levels proceed to rise, but they continue to be very hungry. The brain stops listening to the leptin. This is thought to be due to leptin resistance and is one of the challenges of losing weight if you’ve had chronic obesity.

This is a hormonal issue, and not under your conscious control.

Doctor’s Conclusion

Your hunger and eating are shaped by many factors, including your genetics, social cues, learned behaviors, environmental factors, your circadian rhythms, hormones, stress and emotional states, getting enough sleep, and your physical activity. So you see, it’s very complicated. Science still does not have the secret to hunger and eating, although we’re getting closer. We don’t really understand everything that makes us start eating.

But we’ve learned a lot about what causes us to stop eating. There’s more on that in our next post in the series.


There is an uncomplicated and understandable truth about eating and health. We want to make it easy for you. Join us at Health Shepherds, follow us on Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

It’s no doubt smartphones have changed our lives. They have made keeping in touch with loved ones easier. They have frustrated parents of teenagers. They have put the world at our fingertips, but they’ve increased the pace of our lives to frenetic levels. There are arguments both for and against smartphones, but are they making us unhealthy?

There’s an app for that

Smartphones make technology more easily accessible than ever, and because of this, the app market has capitalized on ways to make us healthier. FitBit is the number 1 health and fitness app, and there’ve been staggering amounts of data captured by the app—90 billion hours of heart rate data, 85 trillion steps, 5.4 billion nights of sleep, and 167 billion minutes of exercise. Apps for tracking nutrition have helped millions of people identify the things in their diets they should and shouldn’t be eating, improve their diets. Apps like My Fitness Pal, which tracks not only diet but exercise as well, we have access to convenient, easy, and more often than not free wellness data that no diet and exercise journal can compete with.

Apps help us manage our wellbeing and time, from grocery delivery to mapping out a drive to a place we’ve never been. One of the top apps in 2017 has been Calm, a mindfulness and meditation app, and helps with sleep. Another app, Headspace, offers mindfulness and meditation guided practice. Cook Smarts and Pepperplate apps put meal planning for the health conscious eater front and center. Cook Smarts even has information about learning to cook.

We can manage our finances with the touch of a button, refill prescriptions, monitor our food intake and our exercise patterns, train for marathons, get better sleep, and overall reduce our stress levels with the use of creative, innovative, and forward-thinking apps.

The fear of missing out on something online means plenty of people are missing out on what’s right in front of them.

The trade-off for smartphones…

But with every good thing, there are often drawbacks. People report increased anxiety if they don’t have their phone on them at all times. Social media helps us connect with people all across the world, but common complaints revolve around a bigger disconnect than ever before. People aren’t looking away from their phones to experience life in person. The fear of missing out on something online means plenty of people are missing out on what’s right in front of them.

The question of whether or not our smartphone habits contribute to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies has been asked more than once. Teenagers who report spending more time on their phones and less interacting face-to-face with their friends report higher incidents of depression and a greater sense of detachment. While the research isn’t definitive, it’s definitely something to consider.

There are also correlations between smartphone usage inhibiting healthy sleep patterns, either from staying up too late to check the news or social media, or because they emit light and noise even in the middle of the night. Blue light in smartphone screens is interpreted by the brain as daylight, which suppresses melatonin production, the hormone affecting our circadian rhythms. Phone designers have tried to account for this by introducing night modes, which change screen coloring to reduce blue light. So those who read in bed on a device, or use their phone as an alarm clock, aren’t subjected to the brain stimulating nature of their phone screen during nighttime hours.

The benefits versus the drawbacks of smartphones have valid arguments on both sides. The enhancements to our lives made by smartphones are difficult to dispute, but society has changed as a result. We’re more connected than ever, and yet, we’re also more distracted. Keeping in mind the many ways our behavior has changed thanks to the devices in our pockets, we can take steps to ensure we reap the benefits while being mindful of the detriments.

The benefits of meditation are indisputable, with a multitude of studies linking the practice to stress reduction, lower blood pressure, the reduction or complete cessation of anxiety, as well as an increase in focus, memory retention, and overall contentment. The health benefits are many, but for many individuals, it can take time to find the most fitting technique, setting, and time of day to meditate to your fullest advantage.

What is your goal?

Perhaps beginning with a very simple question can lead to the answers of where and when meditation is most beneficial for you. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you meditating to achieve a state of calm so as to better handle stress, sharpen your focus, or manage important things like a frenetic schedule? Are you attempting to gain more of the physical benefits of meditation, such as low blood pressure, more emotional balance, greater cognitive function, or improved sleep? Do you simply need a purposeful excuse to have a break in the middle of your day?

Meditation in the morning has very specific health benefits.

The early bird gets the worm

For many, a morning meditation routine helps to prepare for the coming day. In the early hours, you’ve not yet been faced with making decisions, and your mind is rested from the sleep of the night before. Centering yourself within your mind and body first thing can provide clarity for the day’s challenges, an energy boost with which to face your tasks head on, and the focus to be your best self throughout the day.

Meditating at any time can also be influenced by external factors. First thing in the morning, the world around you may be more peaceful with fewer distractions to invade your meditation time. Here are some things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your morning meditation routine:

  • Do not check your electronic devices before meditating. The outside world can wait for you to center yourself before you’re ready to tackle your day. Checking your email or messages first thing lets the world intrude before you’ve concentrated on yourself.
  • Consider your state of hunger. Making breakfast first thing can give your brain time to let thoughts of your upcoming day take hold, but an empty stomach can also be a distraction from the calm you’re seeking. Eat a quick cereal bar or banana to calm your physical discomforts, and your distractions will be minimized.
  • Find a comfortable, quiet place. It doesn’t have to be a separate or private room away from everyone in your household if that’s not possible, but try to make it as distraction free as possible. Some experts even suggest meditating to gentle music. Not only does it keep you from hearing anything you don’t choose to hear, but you can establish an association of peace and focus to a particular song. Then, if the stress of your day begins to get to you, listening to the song again can help restore calm focus and give you a boost.
  • Natural light is scientifically proven to be the best light to which our bodies respond. Finding space in your home where outdoor light enters, or even a quiet place outside, might be the best place to begin. Many meditation enthusiasts practice outdoors, facing east. The dawning sun washes warmth and light over your body in a most gentle manner, and the whisper of wind or leaves can help deepen your sense of calm and connection to yourself and nature, and remind you of the beauty around you.

A relaxing evening

If your goal is to find your center after the chaos of the day, perhaps evening meditation is more your speed. Using meditation for a short break between your workday and your evening routine can provide a clear boundary between your two separate places of existence. Give yourself permission to relax, breathe deeply, and recharge your batteries so you can put a bow on the workday’s events and shift to spending your down time without thoughts of the office intruding. Steering your thoughts away from your workday helps center you in the moment during family time, helping your children with their homework, sharing a home cooked meal with your loved ones, or curling up on the couch with your spouse for a favorite movie or TV show. This way, you’re fully present and your downtime actually helps you jump back into the fray for your next workday.

Evening meditation, however, has different distractions from morning meditation. You’ve had an active mind for hours, so it can take some doing to find your center. Here are some ways to achieve a successful evening meditation:

  • Put your smartphone on silent. The chimes and buzzes of the outside world can keep you connected when it’s necessary to disconnect and concentrate on yourself. Unplugging for just five minutes can lift the burden of expectation and bring you some much needed space to focus.
  • Limit exposure to television before meditating. There’s nothing wrong with zoning out in front of your favorite show, but it’s the very act of zoning out that detaches you from the mindfulness you’re looking for through meditation. Turning off the background noise helps keep the focus on your breathing.
  • Aim for earlier evening meditation time. While improved sleep is a definite benefit, the technique itself isn’t meant to make you fall asleep. The brain is stimulated by meditation, but too close to bedtime, and drowsiness will interfere with the centering process, and interrupted meditation will leave the exercise unfulfilled.
  • Try using a mantra, a soothing, repeated sound to minimize distractions. Concentrating on the sound helps slow an active thought pattern so you block out intruding thoughts that may prevent you from reaching your center.
  • Set an alarm. If you’re having trouble focusing inward, perhaps it’s because you have things to accomplish in the evening, and taking time for yourself feels like procrastinating. With an audible sound signaling a set end, you’ll be aware your meditation time is limited, so distractions are not allowed. It’s freeing to give yourself permission to have these moments of reflection. The alarm is reassurance that any tasks on your to-do list still have plenty of time for completion, so it’s okay to let go for those five to twenty minutes of deep breathing and mindfulness.

 

The last tip is not to give up.

If you’re new to meditation, allow yourself the space to form the habit. It’s said habits are formed in three weeks, and as with any new undertaking, you improve with practice. Most of the benefits of meditation are actually realized during your active life, through improved focus and memory as well as handling of stressful situations. Meditation is, by its very definition, a quiet practice, so the improvements may begin quietly, too, but they are no less powerful in their impact.

 

 

 

 

There is no question meditation is good for us.

Meditation has many known benefits that have been scientifically validated. In order to live a healthy, full life, you must have the tools to bring awareness, willpower, stress mastery and action into your daily activity. Meditation is one of those tools. Here are several reasons why you should meditate, even if you just start with five minutes every day.

Practicing meditation increases blood flow in the brain.

Blood flows to the areas involved in enhancing awareness. These areas must be trained if you want to benefit from the power they have to create a robust and productive thought life.

Meditation increases awareness.

Meditation increases awareness. Awareness creates choice. You can choose your behaviors and you can choose the life you will live.

Meditation increases inner peace and calmness and decreases reactivity and stress.

Meditation deactivates flight or fight and activates the relaxation response. It does this by deactivating your sympathetic nervous system, your flight-or-fight system, and activating your parasympathetic nervous system. Meditation relaxes your mind and your body. It gives you rest. Meditation reduces fear and anxiety, and therefore, reduces the negative impact these emotions have on your health.

Meditation also enhances focus.

With meditation, you develop a wider and more flexible attention span. It is easier to focus on what you should be focused on. Meditation helps you direct your focus to what truly matters to you. It helps you to place your attention on what has actual value to you. Meditation helps you to live in the present moment.

Meditation improves emotional control.

You are able to remain emotionally objective when dealing with emotionally volatile situations. You become less reactive, less personal about things. Meditation reduces your tendency to judge yourself and others. This reduces negative emotions.

Meditation allows you to more easily enter into flow states.

Flow states create the experience of energized focus, full engagement, complete absorption, and total enjoyment of whatever you are doing. Flow states are very productive and enjoyable states of being.

Some of the common characteristics of flow states are:

  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
  • Merging of action and awareness- Many problems are the result of acting unconsciously, meaning, just doing what you have always done without being aware of the behavior. You can also fail to take actions in an unconscious manner, meaning, failing to take the actions that would have benefited you. When action and awareness are merged, you see the potential consequences of your action before you acted. You get to choose according your true desires.
  • Loss of reflective self-consciousness. You are not worrying or judging yourself. You’re not constantly dealing with being unsure of yourself. Awareness if not the same as knowing. In a flow state, you are not acting from knowledge, you are acting according to awareness.
  • You experience a sense of personal control or agency over whatever you are doing. You enhance self-efficacy.
  • You lose track of time due to how absorbed you are.
  • You experience whatever you are doing as intrinsically rewarding. You experience meaning. You experience a sense of significance.

 

The more you meditate, the more you experience life from this mindset.

Meditation increases the thickness of the gray matter in your brain in the areas responsible for attention and sensory processing. This increases the integrity and efficiency of the messages between your brain cells. These changes in gray matter help improve the regulation of automatic processes such as:

  1. blood pressure
  2. heart rate
  3. reward anticipation
  4. decision making
  5. empathy
  6. impulse control
  7. emotional control

This enhances conscious control of your decision making and a reduction in the way an anticipated reward controls you. Awareness increases choice.

Meditation also increases white matter in the brain. This is the connective tissues of the brain. This is how the nerve cells all talk with one another.  More white matter enhances your learning ability and your ability to involve more processing areas in your thoughts and decisions. More white matter enhances the speed of communication between your brain cells.

Improvements in this connectivity improves blood flow to areas of the brain associated with awareness, attention, executive functions, calmness, creativity, and compassion

Meditation changes the brain and helps to strengthen it.

Your executive functions allow for planning of complex cognitive behaviors and emotional control. These include how you express your personality, how you make decision, and how you engage socially. Enhanced executive control is associated with an increase in positive emotions and life satisfaction. Enhanced executive control is strongly associated with success.

Meditation prompts healing.

Meditation decreases anxiety, depression, fear, and anger.

What you do without awareness happens on auto pilot.

You sometimes get what you want and you sometimes don’t get what you want. You form interpretations about the results you experience and decide that certain circumstances led to the outcome you desire. However, you have often wrongly interpreted this which means you continue to wander down roads that will not get you where you need to go. You are just guessing.

When awareness is informing your choices, you continue to move towards your goals as you rightly interpret which choices and behaviors are providing the outcomes you desire. You get to choose.

These choices impact how you feel, how you behave, which people and situations you attract or are attracted to, and what meaning you associate with your experiences.

Meditation is challenging but it is worth it.