5 years ago

Interview with Matt Stone

I’ve just published an interview with Matt Stone in the Interviews section. Check it out! I am very pleased with how the interview turned out. Matt was very gracious to agree to the interview, and his responses really far exceeded my expectations. I have a great deal of respect for Matt’s transparency, honesty, and humility…not to mention the wisdom he has gained with regard to metabolism and health.

5 years ago

What Is Health Food?

200px-BlotterKelloggsCornFlakesAdvertizement1910sListen, if you’re obsessed with eating healthfully, then I’m going to guess that you’ve got some mistaken ideas about what health food is. I know I did…for a very long time. Here’s a brief history of some of my ideas about health food:

  • healthy food contains no fat
  • healthy food comes exclusively from plants
  • healthy food is whole food such as whole grains
  • healthy food is raw food
  • healthy food contains no salt
  • healthy food is grain-free
  • healthy food is low carbohydrate
  • healthy food is no carbohyrdrate
  • healthy food is vegetable juice
  • healthy food is grass-fed beef liver and raw grass-fed butter (and maybe the occasional piece of organic red leaf lettuce) and nothing else

The truth is that there is no such thing as health food in the universal sense because what is healthful for one person at one point may not be healthful for another person or even for that same person at another time.

I contend that what makes food health food is the following:

  • The person eating the food eats it because they feel a desire for the food and joy in eating the food
  • The person eating the food releases all stress and anxiety about food, eating, or anything else before, during, and after eating

We all have our reasons to seeking out “health food”, and I would suggest that a good many of those reasons are dysfunctional and really don’t serve our health. For me the search for health food started as a way in which to rid myself of breasts. After years and years the habit of seeking health food was so ingrained that I lost sight of the underlying reason that started it all, but I kept going with the obsessive search for perfection. I wanted to be superhuman, pure, and achieve what amounted to god-like status through diet. But as my health food continued to lead me further and further into a downward spiral of worsening health, eventually weakening my digestion, my metabolism, and my immunity to the point where I could barely eat 1500 calories even on a good day, I was irritable, I was fatigued, and I was caught up in a full-blown nightmare of obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. I know I’m not the only one either. I have heard from others. I have read others’ stories. I know that this is a well-kept secret epidemic that affects millions of people. Millions of people who are bloated, insomniac, cold-intolerant, depressed, constipated, dehydrated, and/or suffering from all sorts of other mysterious ailments. And the search for health food is a big part of the problem, not the solution.

If someone has to tell you that some food is health food, then it probably isn’t. Most of what passes for health food isn’t. That isn’t to say that for some people on occasion a raw vegetable salad or wheatgrass juice or a zero-carbohydrate day or a grass-fed beef liver only day might not be healthy. But the key to knowing what is health food is listening to your body and your desires. What truly feels as though it would be the most delicious and satisfying food or meal for you right now? Chocolate cake? Lifesavers candy? Peanut butter? Jello? Sourdough bread and cheese? Ice cream? Or maybe a baked potato with butter and lots of salt? Pretzels? Yum!

Tell me if when I listed off those things you didn’t have objections. Maybe you’re on a gluten-free diet or a low carbohydrate diet. Maybe you don’t eat refined foods. Maybe you don’t eat dairy because of lactose or casein intolerance. Maybe you’re on a low salt diet. Peanuts have toxins, you say. Ice cream will make you fat. You don’t eat sugar. But forget about all that for a moment. Granted, there are some rare cases in which a person knows they have a genuine, intense, negative reaction to a food. In such a case it is prudent not to eat that food (for now.) But tell the truth: most of us don’t have Celiac disease. Most of us just have an idea that gluten is bad. Or maybe we have a mild discomfort from lots of gluten. But that’s different from full-blown Celiac. So this requires real honesty. And if you find yourself craving bread and pretzels and cheese and ice cream…maybe that’s your body telling you what you need.

See, I subscribed to this whole notion that the body cannot be trusted for a long time. I believed that I needed to look to external authorities for help in discovering what to eat. I thought someone else could tell me what is health food. But sometimes health food is raw vegetables and sometimes health food is gluten-rich, chocolate cake with ice cream and goitrogen-containing strawberries and salicylate-containing peppermint and caramel all made with refined white sugar and refined white wheat flour and lots of refined table salt. You can know which is which with a really simple test: what do you want to eat? What does your body want? I’m not advocating for extreme diets. I’m not advocating for eating lots of white sugar…unless that’s what your body wants.

Listen to your body. Trust your body. Stop stressing about the food. Stop stressing altogether. I know it sounds as though it’s easier said than done. But I’m writing this as someone who obsessed for 20+ years. I was so obsessive that I spent years washing my hands and turning in circles every time I even thought the word “sugar” or “McDonalds”. I believe that I know about stress and obsession and anxiety more than most. If I can do it, you can do it. And I’d be glad to help you if you want to reach out and ask. The key, in my experience, really and truly, as simple as it sounds, is to physically relax. Let the thoughts happen and just relax your body. Relax your jaw. Relax your belly. Relax your forehead. Relax your shoulders. And just keep relaxing. And eat what you desire, as much as you desire whenever you desire. Don’t worry about it. Things have a way of working out. Your body will tell you what you need, and it will change over time. So don’t worry about it.

5 years ago

How Memory Affects Your Health

Memory can play a huge role in your health – far greater than most people realize. Many traditions have long held that there is a mind-body connection, often explicitly stating that one’s mental health is largely responsible for one’s physical health. It turns out that modern science is starting to catch up with these assertions.

The information that gets stored in memory is often a complex set of information. This is what is known as associative memory in which multiple things may be grouped together into a single memory coupling. Perhaps the most well-known demonstration of associative memory is Pavlov’s famous experiment in which he intentionally coupled a sound (the ringing of a bell) with the presentation of food to a group of dogs. After enough repetition, the two independent things (the sound and the food) became coupled in the dogs’ memories so that the mere ringing of the bell (without presenting food) would then result in the same response as had previously occurred when the food was present (i.e. salivating.) But we all have lots of experiences of this sort in our own lives. If you’ve ever heard a song and found yourself feeling happy or sad all of a sudden, then you have experienced associative memory.

The fact is that associative memory is responsible for much of our pain. The reason is that our minds automatically encode memories in associative form. When we have an experience our minds group together not only the visuals, sounds, smells, and tastes, but also the kinesthetic response – in other words, our feelings. If you had a traumatic experience, say, a car crash, then your mind may group together the images and sounds and smells with the feelings of shock, terror, and pain. The result is that it is possible that subsequently any of the images or sounds or smells that you associate with the event could trigger the feelings as well.

I find it useful to reference the modern, scientific model of memory, in which we categorize memory as either implicit or explicit. Explicit memory is anything that you can consciously recall. For example, you may recall a specific event in which you first rode a bicycle. Explicit memory includes episodic (such as autobiographical) memory as well as semantic (i.e. remembering facts you learned or recognizing people you have met.)

Implicit memory, on the other hand, occurs below the conscious threshold. While you may have explicit memories of times in which you rode a bicycle, the actually skill of riding a bicycle is stored in implicit memory. You don’t have to consciously think about the mechanics of riding a bicycle in order to do it. In fact, it would be detrimental if you had to think about it. Instead, the memory is encoded, stored, and retrieved all below the conscious threshold.

When you combine associative memory and implicit memory what can result is that you may experience painful feelings, including not only emotional states, but also physical sensations, as the result of triggers associated with memories that you don’t necessarily even recall consciously. (Although, in some cases, such as post-traumatic stress, there may be clear recall of episodic memories.)

The point is that much of the emotional and physical pain that we experience, even if we cannot necessarily consciously associate it to specific memories, is likely due to association with memories. The good news is that it is entirely possible to decouple the aspects of associative memory, even if it is stored implicitly. The result is that recalling aspects of the memory or seeing similar images or hearing similar sounds or smelling similar smells will no longer result in an automatic painful response.

In order to understand how to decouple associated memories, it is useful to understand how memories get stored. Research shows that memories are unstable for a short period (around 10 minutes) following the actual event. Following that period the information is encoded into the mind-body in a more stable form. What is interesting is that in several studies over the past few years researchers have demonstrated something that alternative practitioners have known for years – that recalling a memory results in a new period of destabilization. That is then followed by a period of re-encoding the memory, a process known as reconsolidation. I think of this a bit like editing a file on a computer – you can open the file to edit it, and then when you save the file, the changes overwrite the old information.

Typically, when we recall memories the memory plays in much the same way as it was stored. It is typical that minor changes will occur naturally, either reinforcing or slightly modifying the memory. But usually the result is that any changes will occur very slowly, and the changes will be unpredictable. If the memory is particularly strong (even one below the conscious threshold that results in a seemingly irrational painful feeling) then the chances are that the reconsolidated memory will be as strong as before if not stronger. However, what is very exciting is that it is possible to use the destabilized timeframe in order to rewrite the memory with conscious intent. We can then reprogram our mind to store the old memory with a new feeling such a feeling of safety or peace or happiness.

There are lots of specific techniques for reprogramming memories, including EFT, FasterEFT, Eye Movement Integration, and various mindfulness practices. It is my belief that all of these techniques share the same basic principles of action. Here is my theory on the mechanics of successful memory reprogramming:

  1. Recall the memory. I believe that intentionally recalling the memory will often yield the best results. However, in practice I find that this process is still effective when used as the memory is recalled spontaneously. If it is possible to recall the memory explicitly then that is usually the easiest and most effective route. In other words, if it is possible to recall episodic memory details such as images, sounds, smells, and tastes, then that is my preferred method. However, if no explicit memory exists, then I believe this process will still work by simply tuning in to the feelings – be they physical or emotional. The key to success with this first step is to make the recall as strong as possible. Our habitual responses tend to be to try and avoid the painful experiences, but my experience shows that intentionally intensifying the memory/feeling is the best way to reprogram.
  2. Bring your awareness to the present and to the peace, safety, and happiness that are naturally present right now. Do this while still holding on to the memory. This is the step during which the various techniques can be most effective in achieving this goal. It is not particularly useful or necessary to try and consciously think about present peace, safety, and happiness. Rather, this will occur naturally simply by becoming aware of the present moment. Tapping and eye movement are two great ways to achieve this. However, by far, I find that the single most effective “technique” is to physically relax. If a memory (whether implicit or explicit) provokes a stress response then the best way to reprogram is to choose to physically relax instead while remembering the memory (which may mean simply allowing the feelings or sensations that arise if there is no explicit memory.) This may seem impossible or contradictory, but I promise that it really works if you do it. The key is to allow whatever happens, even attempting to intensify it while simultaneously physically relaxing. Notice the places where you habitually tense, and relax those areas. Notice your belly, your jaw, and your shoulders, for example – places where many people are chronically tense. Don’t get stressed if you can’t do it “perfectly.” Just by bringing awareness and the intent to relax you will be making positive changes.

That is it. Believe it or not, it is really that simple. Some times multiple repetitions of the process will be necessary. However, I believe that if you do the process with complete engagement, without shying away, allowing the memory recall to be complete and as strong as possible while using the tapping or eye movement techniques or the physical relaxation technique (or all three if you are obsessive like that) then the process will be successful in one round. It may then take several minutes or hours for the mind-body to reconsolidate around the new memory. Scientific research demonstrates that this usually occurs within 10 minutes to 6 hours, which is fairly consistent with the reports of alternative practitioners. During this time the brain and nervous system literally reorganize, creating new neural pathways and structures to support the new memory. And, in fact, because of the complex nature of the nervous system, it often happens that reprogramming a single memory can result in a massive reorganization in which many related memories also re-encode in happier, more peaceful ways.

The result is that you then have increased choice and flexibility. You can recall events that you want to recall, but without having to feel painful feelings automatically.

If you have any questions or comments, please post them below.

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