Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thoughts on the Brain (Dead) Diet

As a practicing psychiatrist for over 30 years I can tell you confidently that what you see and hear affects your brain and your behavior. The good news is you can use that fact to have a better life. You have a large level of control over what you allow in to your brain. You can turn off the TV, or make better choices about what you watch. You can select music that is soothing. You can engage in thoughtful learning activities that will help you live a better life today and extend the vibrant function of your brain for additional years. Just as so many are "diet conscious" when it comes to food intake, let me encourage you to monitor your "brain diet" as well.
Dr. Daniel Amen, quoted above, has been writing to me for months, trying to get me to pull up my bootstraps, buy a lot of his books and supplements, and find perfect joy. Now he wants me to go on a "brain diet." Not that he's wrong. I just know from research, and a long life spent repeating the same mistakes, that diets don't work.

The truth is, diet is a word like budget; whatever it's supposed to denote, it says to us, "Deny yourself." Dieticians try to convince us otherwise. They want us to deny the truth of desire, the allure of pepperoni-mushroom pizzas and hot fudge sundaes, and switch our brains around to think positively about snacking on raw cauliflower. This is like trying to reformat a hard drive with a feather. All you're going to accomplish is confusion.

But people keep trying. I remember decades ago sitting with a bunch of other plump women listening to a Weight Watchers motivational speaker brightly say that instead of a piece of apple pie, we could enjoy a graham cracker with applesauce on it. And cinnamon! Mmmm, wrong. Now WW has changed their tune; you can have one little piece of pie, just count the calories, disguised as points. But the Weight Watcher's speaker who said that was a good thirty or forty pounds overweight. "It's a constant struggle," she told us, or maybe she said "challenge." One of those battle words. They always want us to fight.

Dr. Amen is right, in theory. Just as every Godiva chocolate bar applies itself to your thighs, every TV drama goes in and changes your brain, teaches you something about the way the world works, and how a person should act. And it's true, you don't want to stuff your brain repeatedly with ideas like romantic Love or Winning will redeem you. You're getting these messages everywhere in the culture as it is, and maybe from your hormones, as well.

It's the natural Zen in me that is drawn to the ideas put forth in a little diet-NOT! book titled Intuitive Eating, which I am pleased to see has been reprinted and put out on audio. This is an intelligent book written by qualified women who know for a fact that diets don't work, and who encourage their miserable clients to learn to eat what they enjoy, and mindfully enjoy what they eat. It's another instance of accidental Buddhism.

I have to think we should approach what we stuff in our minds with the same idea: watch what you enjoy, know you're watching it. Step into that fantasy world if you like, know it's a fantasy, have fun. Then step out into the real world. The key is not to eat fictions automatically, because you don't have anything else to do, or don't want to do what you need to do. That's like eating directly from the bag of Double-stuf Oreos with the clicker in your hand until you feel sick and there is nothing left but chocolate crumbs all over the rug. Take what you want. Be with it while you eat it. This is really not so hard. Any second-grader can tell you how to spend time with a single M&M.

As for organic carrot sticks and inspirational morning dharma from Tricycle and listening to Mozart, I often find I like things like that as long as someone isn't telling me I Ought To. That's the key. Fresh, open to everything, be there. Now. You know.

1 comment:

  1. Yes. If you're going to eat a dozen Double-Stuf Oreos it would help to have your eyes wide open!