Your brain on anorexia. Pretend it is like a drug, one that helps you control every aspect of your life. It’s the icing on the cake but it doesn’t happen overnight, it doesn’t happen at birth, it develops overtime. Researchers have shown and tried to prove that a genetic variation to chromosome 1 in the human brain is linked to anorexia. There is no proof though, the same malfunction in chromosome 1 links to depression, mood disorders and even obesity. So what any one researcher may attempt to prove is anything but that. There is no proof that anorexia is caused by some genetic problem, or that it is biological. Do I believe that certain people are susceptible to anorexia? Of course. But like all aspects of life I try and cover in my blog, ‘it’s all in your head’ and that’s where your brain on anorexia comes in…
The human brain amazes me. I have talked about it before, but really it is amazing to know what happens in there and at the same time have no flippin idea what it is all about or let alone what it means. A brain high on anorexia is a brain marked for measurable achievement and control. The problem is the individual uses it to their disadvantage in life and ultimately the control walls come crumbling down. Using the characteristics of your brain on anorexia is an excuse. Humans are full of excuses.
Your brain, everyone’s brain is wired to be successful and strive for achievement. The problem, especially in modern day society is that people are achieving what they don’t want. People work their asses off to get to the top in the business world, achieve perfect grades through college, please mom and dad with high school sports or band practice….the list is endless. It is measurable to achieve such goals, but it isn’t what the human brain wants. You are getting your own way for other people and influential sources. Make sense? These high achievers, those who strive for the best of the best, the next big hit essentially spend life wasting feelings.
The brain gives you signals…feelings. NEVER waste a feeling. Wasting a feeling is wasting a life. Are you happy you got a 4.0? Experience it. Are you pissed you ran into the corner of your bed and flipped the F-bomb? Feel it. Did you try and new recipe and it tasted awful yet you still ate? Feel it. End a relationship and feeling worthless? FEEL IT.
But don’t just feel it, use it to your advantage. Be productive with your feelings. If you feel like shit, use it to motivate yourself by focusing on all the positives you wish to achieve in life, in your recovery, and within yourself.
I recently broke up with a boyfriend. Long story short, I refuse to be an obligation in someone’s life but rather expect to be a priority when I date someone. You shouldn’t have to feel obligated to call me or forced to do X Y or Z. well, I felt like an obligation and nothing was going to make it change. I was sad, I moped, I got angry. I felt it all. But every negative situation has a hidden positive. It’s called the law of polarity. If there is bad there is good. I am a happier individual at this very moment because I experienced the negativity of breaking up with someone who was not fulfilling what I expected. It’s not selfish and yes, I did like him. The loneliness sucks, but I will admit I am much more energetic not worrying about whether ill hear from him let alone see him and whether he was just in it for a piece of a$$. People at work have asked why I am so bouncy and happy this week. I didn’t personally notice, but I realize how much of a burden dating him was causing me now that I experienced it.
You always need to experience the negative, but need to allow the positive in. there is no one species more powerfully minded than the human being. There is no one category of human more powerfully minded than the mind on anorexia. Think about it. Evolution serves to prove us that starving is impossible because of the genetic make up of our species causing this uncontrollable binge eating desire in the face of malnutrition. It is an adaptation of evolution. We need to stay alive.
Recovery is about experiencing the negativity of anorexia. You have to experience this. When you accept recovery, you accept the never ending shit list anorexia provides you with. In recovery, you accept the positive that comes with reestablishing nourishment. You need to use your brain to your advantage so you can turn a negative situation into a positive one so you needs are fulfilled.
It is a conscious choice made by the sufferer. Whether it is bulimia, binge eating, depression, or anorexia the point is there is a choice to be made. The choice can only be made by you. Either give into your current conditions or accept recovery where you live by the conditions you set out for yourself. YOU should be making the conditions.
Acceptance comes with stress which is a big part of understanding the brain. If you accept your conditions, or what recovery means to you and plan to willingfully do what you need to do the stress is eased. If you attack recovery in a pissed off hating the world and not realizing how selfish you are and how unreal your problems are then you are causing so much unneeded stress.
The actions of stress and pleasure in my opinion are the rock solid paving blocks to health and nutrition. Glucocorticoids can be called our stress messengers for understanding purposes. They are closely tied to cortisol and dopamine regulation. Researchers will tell you that we all need to be on SSRI’s for depression so we can be mellow and uncharacteristically melancholy 24 hours a day. Like most things, I call bullshit on this. Stress is good at the right times and for the right reasons. Many things that increase glucocorticoid levels but don’t seem to cause any negative outcomes.
Stress leads to a sub par functioning brain. There is good stress (a cold shower, sex, or a quick sprint) and there is bad stress (aspects consumed by repetitive thoughts, visual stimulus of food, and a negative outlook). So not everything is so damned devastating. The bad stress is chronic in many, MANY people these days and is essentially where the grounds are laid for the problems so many also suffer, be it diabetes, osteoporosis or eating disorders.
There is proof that psychosocial factors such as stress are the single most important variable in determining the length of a life. Chronic stress, like your obsessive thoughts and MUST DO rituals hollow your bones and deplete your muscles. It isn’t the starving and food restriction that cause as many problems as it is the by products you enable yourself to be made possible. Your bones leech calcium out of them because of what happened in your brain.
Stress also triggers diabetes. Your brain is over consumed in thought and unnecessary desire. The signal of stress is relayed to EVERY organ in your body. Everything that happens in your body starts in YOUR HEAD, your thoughts, and your perception of yourself and life.
Short bouts of intense exercise release these glucocorticoids but exercise is good for not only your mind but your body. Physical exercise DONE CORRECTLY is strongly associated with all sorts of positive health effects.
Then there is sex- whether you do it doggy style or monkey wild, it turns out that sex triggers a large stress response, leading to, again, these glucocorticoids releasing. I found this abstract on sex:
We found that acute sexual experience increased circulating corticosterone levels and the number of new neurons in the hippocampus. Chronic sexual experience no longer produced an increase in corticosterone levels but continued to promote adult neurogenesis and stimulate the growth of dendritic spines and dendritic architecture. Chronic sexual experience also reduced anxiety-like behavior. These findings suggest that a rewarding experience not only buffers against the deleterious actions of early elevated glucocorticoids but actually promotes neuronal growth and reduces anxiety.
The previous 2 stressors are good for your brain. While stressful in a short bout in your brain, sex ultimately is healthy. Obviously I am not advocating tiger woods like sex addiction here because too much of a good thing is a bad thing and the effect will wear off. But, in good amounts both exercise and sex correlate with health to your body. Chronic stress as one experiences with eating disorders bring about a large drop in neurogenesis. This is where I am left with the chicken and the egg. Did losing good cells in your brain lead to chronic stress and anorexia or did anorexia lead to chronic stress?
I go with the first. A lack of good stress and the overproduction of bad stress ultimately lead to anorexia. The anorexic brain is the dark side of this chronic stress. The by product of your constant stress is starvation. You fixate on not only your own flaws but flaws everywhere, mistakes in everything you do and an obsessive preoccupation in your own problems. The harder than normal aspect with the anorexic mind is the fact that you get stuck in this life-living-repetitive loop of negativity. Its not that you experience negativity periodically or in bouts, it’s that it is fucking there ALL THE TIME. Ever read a recovery blog and see someone wishing it would just GO AWAY…that’s what I mean.
Without overly geeking out on you DHEA blunts somewhat the effects of cortisol, a stress hormone. Supplying yourself with an unnatural endogenous hormone, in my opinion, is not solving anything when you are the only one who can tackle and mentally manage your problems, whether they are real or not. Depression has a severely close tie to chronic stress. Anorexia has a severely close tie to depression and high stress. DHEA is also influenced in the obnoxious mood swings of anorexics with the high bouts of happiness followed by volatile downward spirals of sadness.
Point of my geek out: Our feelings, our mind, our brain can and do change the way we think. While sadness may be occasionally helpful and make us more focus oriented, happiness has the opposite effect to some degree. Finding balance of the good and the bad is good for your mental health. FEEL your feelings. Allow for their experience.
Most people will prove through different neuron firing and PubMed studies that dopamine is the pleasure seeking core of the human brain. I am going to take a wild guess again, that like most things, this is very lacking and inaccurate. When I use my desire to learn about nutrition and the brain, I look anywhere but to studies on anorexia. They are all misleading and incomplete.
For one, studies show that if you force someone to eat something they despise, their dopamine pathway is excited. Does that make sense in terms of dopamine being a pleasure seeking part of the brain? Not so much. I hate personally eating food I do not like. But this ‘reward’ path is ignited. If you are drowning under water, struggling for your next breath of life your dopamine pathway is also ignited. Pleasurable? Not so much even though the result is your brain releasing gobbly amounts of the neurotransmitter.
What I DO think dopamine serves to do? Regulate attention and desire. Dopamine is part of a small central area in your brain that makes up your reward pathway. This pathway is responsible for happy emotions AKA pleasure. It doesn’t matter you’re binging on sugar or smoking a fat joint, this byproduct fills you with the happy-tickle sensation. THIS, THIS RIGHT HERE, this aspect of the byproduct of your actions is AT THE CORE in my opinion of MANY MANY problems in America. Everyone is looking for their next big hit. The worlds largest burger is beat and someone actually eats the fucking 8lb thing, average Joe decides a 5lb bag of peanut M&M’s will solve his chronic stress at work, and the anorexic is soothed and in control with starvation. THIS ACTION IN YOUR BRAIN is the essence of good vs. bad health. Whatever it is you do to focus your attention is allowing you to push away something that is real. You have trouble making sense and accessing or assessing the world you live in.
There has got to be a limitation to how much sensitivity your brain can deal with before you become a quack job. Over igniting your dopamine pathway will lead you down a path of insensitivity. So, while one M&M was overly sweet and satisfying the first time, now you need the whole damn bag dipped in cream cheese icing to get your hit from it. Maybe this is why marijuana use is highly linked to these same pathways? During recovery, I woefully advocate removing ALL triggers from your environment that you possibly can. For example, do not eat the same thing everyday, do not eat at the same times everyday, do not even shower or wake up at the same times. I do understand some people when they accept recovery accept all foods are safe in certain quantities. HOWEVER, until you are no long malnourished I really, REALLY think this is a bad idea. Almost as bad as sticking to ‘safe food.’
The point, processed, refined, and sugary foods are the reason so many peoples dopamine paths are fucked up. Get rid of the shit. Modified food modifies how your brain works. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO SEE THIS. Anything in a bag, a box or that you can’t fucking kill, pick or grow is modifying your brain. SUGAR IS more addictive than cocaine.
I don’t think that people experience pleasure in pain like drowning, but I do think their attention is on HIGH alert in such situations. So does the malnourished anorexic have high shots of the dopamine neurotransmitter pumping? I venture a guess at yes. Your attention is ALWAYS focused on SOMETHING that can be traced back to your anorexia, your rituals and your control bubble. This, in essence is chronic stress.
Why I advocate accepting recovery is BECAUSE of the reduction in stress it will bring about. Instead of self analyzing every aspect of every fucking move you make in life, accept. You need, must have a desire, to accept what you think is real IS NOT. It is called self distancing. Detach yourself from your disorder and past experiences, and look at them from the outside. By living these thoughts and restrictions or desires outside you see the confusion, the fantasy and experience the visceral feelings. Take this negative experience and USE IT to make sense of your recovery and your acceptance. Put the emotional distress where it belongs.
I know, before you attempt the self distancing, you’re overly consumed with curiosity. Is this chick on to something or is she full of bullshit? Is she spouting the truth of is she so full of shit her eyes are brown. This curiosity LEADS to uncertainty, and this uncertainty should carry the knowledge to use curiosity to your advantage. It’s the stimulus you need to be proactive in recovery and not become a chronically stressed bystander. If I can prime your hunger for recovery then my job is done. It will lead you to acceptance.
If you haven’t yet accepted recovery, the fact that anorexia is all in your head and your problems are the byproduct of a severe level of malnutrition, the try the activity I mentioned earlier and take yourself out of yourself. See your disorder for what it really is. Hell, see all your feelings and problems in life for what they really are. Make your feelings relevant to the actions you take in life. Make recovery relevant to what you accept it will bring.
Next post….I will delve into the need for social interaction in recovery. Sneak peek: loneliness is deadly.