Refuse to age gracefully.

Raise you right hand and repeat after me…. I hereby solemnly swear that I refuse to age gracefully.  I wholeheartedly believe that age related cognitive decline is a myth. 

True or not, why choose otherwise?  There is no upside. 

It is true there are physiological age-related changes.  Heart function diminishes (cardiac output decreases, blood pressure increases), lung function diminishes (impaired gas exchange, decreased vital capacity), kidney and liver function decrease, gut motility and digestion are altered, muscle mass and bone mass decrease, our skin thins, our joints seize and of course, there is cognitive decline.

Should we just watch and worry, cross our fingers and hope the great fly swatter of life misses us for a few more decades?  Can we fight physiology any more than we can fight the impact of gravity?

I prefer to think of it as working with physiology rather than fighting against it.  When you start to care for your body by listening carefully as it silently screams information, and you tell your brilliant mind what to think – change is possible. 

  • Find a form of exercise that you love.  Break a sweat daily with a friend. Move more than you sit. 
  • Don’t smoke.  Limit alcohol (better yet, don’t drink alcohol at all.)
  • Explore a way of eating that suits you best.  Love and listen to your gut.  It speaks volumes every meal!
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Actively reduce stressors in your life.
  • Actively pursue restful sleep – seven to nine hours every day.

This is nothing new.  These recommendations are all over the web. 

What is scarce on the web is information on changing your brain chatter.  Negate the self-reprimands.  Why not embrace Dr. Joe Dispenza’s hypothesis that our thoughts can heal?

Our thoughts can certainly make us miserable.  So, it absolutely possible that our thoughts can make us well.

Choose your thoughts carefully.  Refuse to age gracefully!  Now there is a thought to adopt.

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

Are you ready to Buff Up Your Brain? Ready to, lose weight, increase your mental clarity and polish up your thoughts? Let’s chat.
Email: DrKaren@karenbackwaymd.com

The tyranny of the bathroom scale

“Hanging your self-worth on failing to achieve some random number set by some ever changing poorly articulated stupid societal norm documented on an inaccurate and cheap bathroom scale, is just silly.” 

That is a quote from my Conquer The Carbs weight loss program.

And it is great concept.  A concept I cannot consistently follow.  HARRUMPH!

Though I wrote that sentence over a year ago now, I still suffer from the tyranny of the bathroom scale.  And I voluntarily subject myself to it daily.  Yep, I weigh myself every day. 

Seriously?  Why? What are you thinking?  Crazy Doctor!  Truthfully, right now I am in the middle of a thirty day (if not longer) Intermittent Fasting experiment and I am monitoring my body’s response.  And to be honest – this experiment, is changing the way I view the almighty scale – a most welcome phenomenon.

Why do we let ourselves be brutalized by an inaccurate number on a weekly, often daily basis?  A number that fluctuates as much as 5 pounds over the course of 24h?  A number that is, at best, a poor indicator of our overall health and well-being? 

It’s just a number!

This has to stop!  Seriously.  The bathroom scale is just a convenient tool to monitor progress.  Nothing more.  Yet we make it mean so much more.  So. Much. More.  So much unnecessary suffering.

That three digit number dictates my mood for the day.  If it’s up 2, I’m disappointed and frustrated.  If it’s down 2, I’m thrilled, practically elated.  If it’s the same – Meh. 

I doubt we will ever stop focusing our attention on the almighty bathroom scale.  We must neutralize its power.  Let’s take that three digit number and change our thoughts about it. 

Let’s explore with a little self-coaching.

That three digit number is a neutral fact. Your weight – as determined by the force of gravity on you body – is a fact.  A neutral fact.  It is your thought about that fact that gives it meaning and power over you.  Some people would be delighted to weigh 200 pounds.  Others are aghast at the thought! 

What is(are) your thought(s) about the neutral fact your weight?  Write them down.  Seriously, get a pen and paper and start writing. 

  • I am so fat, this is impossible!
  • Oh, how lovely!
  • See, You shouldn’t have had that birthday cake!

Chances are, your thoughts tend toward the negative, self-reprimand bitter flavor.  How does the “I am so fat, this is impossible” thought make you feel?  Inspired? Enthusiastic?  I doubt it.  Negative thoughts generate negative feelings (it’s just how the world works.)  More likely you feel discouraged, frustrated or defeated. 

Your feelings in turn drive your actions.  So when you feel defeated, you may give yourself an up-by-the-bootstraps-kick-in-the-butt effort.  Does that actually work?  Not in the long run.  More than likely you turn on the self-criticism, resign to your fate and shift into eat-to-console mode as you sink into the couch with a bag of potato chips.  Confirming your belief – weight loss is impossible.

But…. and this is the best news ever – you can change your thought(s). 

Ask yourself… Is this thought helpful? Does it help me move closer to my goals?

Is ‘I am so fat, this is impossible’ a helpful thought?  Does it help to move you closer to your goals? No.  And emphatic no.

So change your thought – not your circumstances (your weight remains the same, and it’s likely gravity remains unchanged.) What is(are) a better thought(s) that generates a more helpful feeling? 

Let’s say you would like to feel inspired to lose weight.   What thought about your current weight would you need to think to feel inspired on purpose?

Some ideas include:

  • It is possible I can lose weight and keep it off;
  • I can lose weight and not feel hungry all the time;
  • It takes time to lose weight.
  • Everyone struggles at times.

If we choose the thought, everyone struggles at times, is that thought helpful for you?  Does it help you take action to move closer to your goal?  If so, keep it.  If not, keep working through ideas until you find a thought that helps you feel inspired (or however you would prefer to feel over defeated.) How does that new thought make you feel?

Change your thoughts, not your circumstances.
Change your perspective and change your feelings.
Change your feelings and change your actions.
Change your actions and change your results.

Huh?  Look at that!  You changed your circumstances!

You must change your thoughts first.  A change in circumstance will follow.

How cool is that?

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

Are you ready to Buff Up Your Brain? Ready to, lose weight, increase your mental clarity and polish up your thoughts? Let’s chat.
Email: DrKaren@karenbackwaymd.com

An Eudaimonias Life.

I am a novice cello player.  And I love it. 

My first love is classical music.  I am a self-identified classical music snob. My first long term dream was to play clarinet in a symphony orchestra.  I poured my heart and soul into that dream for more than a decade.  But some dreams simply do not materialize and can break your heart.  

Four decades later, when I started to redefine my future, I tried to answer the question – “if you could do whatever you want, what would you do?”  Blank stare.  Nada.  I was at a complete loss.  Somewhere on the ‘web’ I read a suggestion – revisit activities you enjoyed as a kid/teen/young adult.  For me that was music.  Hence my newly kindled love affair with cello!

A dream was born.  A dream just for me.  A dream with no endpoint.  A dream that presents a challenge and keeps my brain alive.  What could be better?

When was the last time you did something meaningful just for you?  Not a pedicure and manicure, soak in the tub or relaxation massage.  Pampering is lovely – by all means self-indulge! Pampering can certainly reduce stress, at least temporarily.  But does it enrich your life beyond the immediate?

Perhaps a definition of meaningful might be helpful here.  According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary meaningful is defined as “full of meaning or significance.”  Not overly helpful.  Meaning is defined as “the thing that one intends to convey especially by language.”  Hmmm….

Meaningful versus happy.  It’s a debate that has its roots in the musings of the ancient philosophers (Aristotle, Socrates and associates.)  It’s a debate that is particularly polarized these days.  We live in a world that is obsessed with the pursuit of happiness.  It is entrenched in the US constitution (for the record I am Canadian – we are entrenched in being ‘nice.’) 

In her book The Power of Meaning, Emily Esfahani Smith argues – quite effectively in my opinion – that the pursuit of happiness is destined to fail.  Only by finding meaning can we live the good life.  Aristotle uses the Greek word ‘eudaimonia’ (to flourish) to describe meaning.  Leading an eudaimonic life “requires cultivating the best qualities within you both morally and intellectually and living up to your potential…. rather than squander[ing] your talents.”

If your life has meaning, would you not also feel deeply happy?  Not a fleeting, in the moment sort of happiness that evaporates with a flippant comment from a co-worker or miserable weather.  But a deep unshakeable contentment.  Given that meaning will be different for everyone, it is difficult to measure.  Broadly speaking, individuals find meaning when they view their lives as significant and worthwhile, believe their lives make sense and feel their lives are driven by a sense of purpose.  Clearly, a meaningful life, is not one size fits all.

I found meaning in music.  It fuels my heart and soul.  Music nourishes my eudaimonic life.

What nourishes your eudaimonic life?

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

Are you ready to Buff Up Your Brain? Ready to, lose weight, increase your mental clarity and polish up your thoughts? Let’s chat.
Email: DrKaren@karenbackwaymd.com

Dreaming is mandatory, not a luxury

Have you ever noticed that women over 50y tend to have ‘settled’ into an ‘it’s just how life is,’ or ‘it’s just how I am,’ mindset, but then go on to complain about their life circumstances, wondering what to change but failing to change?

This is not in the least bit surprising – change is hard and scary.  As discussed previously (Master the way you speak to yourself) our brain considers change lethal, to be avoided at all costs.   Our primitive brain thinks “Familiar/Safe and Secure…..  Change/Lethal”

But there is a great paradox going on in our heads.  I call it “the great grey matter versus white matter debate.” (Technically this is not at all true – grey matter and white matter have quite different functions.)  Part of our brain despises change and loves the familiar (Change… Lethal.)  The other part, desires novelty and is exquisitely curious (Oohhh… What’s that?)

How can this be reconciled?  By dreaming.  Consciously dreaming.

But not just any old, random dream.  Not a dream conjured up from your memories, a slight variation derived from your past.  The past is boring, familiar and easily ‘repeatable.’

Dare to dream from your imagination – yes you have one!  Dust it off.  Dream in 3D, surround sound, technicolor and high definition mega pixels.

Dare to consciously design your dream.  There are multiple definitions of the word dream in Merriam’s Webster’s dictionary….

Dream the noun….

  • a succession of images, thoughts or emotions that pass through the mind during sleep;
  • an object seen in a dream;
  • an involuntary vision occurs to a person when awake;
  • a vision voluntarily indulged in while awake (day dreaming); an aspiration, goal or aim;
  • a wild or vain fancy;
  • something of an unreal beauty.”

Dream as a verb…

  • to indulge in day dreams;
  • to think or conceive of something in a very remote way;
  • to pass or spend time dreaming;”

There are more but you get the drift.  I had to laugh at the “involuntary vision while awake” definition.  Combine that with the “wild or vain fancy” and dreaming sounds almost delusional, as if we are bordering on schizophrenia when we dare to dream.  When you think about it, society these days condones dreaming.  “You’re such a dreamer.”  The day dreamer children and doodlers are swiftly redirected.  Even the definition suggests it might be wise to avoid dreaming – it’s “indulgent.”  Incidentally indulgent means “benignly lenient or permissive.”

All children, teenagers and probably many twenty-somethings dream of the future.  To get to the big leagues (what 9 year old doesn’t want to be a baseball or hockey pro, pulling in millions?), to graduate college, to get their first job, to make their first $100K, to have kids… The choices (dreams) are endless.  But dreaming fades by the time we get to thirty-something as we settle into routines, daily expectations and responsibilities. <<SIGH>>

Give yourself permission to dream.  Let go of the shackles of your past and present.

You don’t have to sell your house, file for divorce and move to Costa Rica.  It’s a thought experiment (I love thought experiments.)  A ‘what if’ experiment.  An ‘if then’ experiment.

Try this thought experiment.  Tonight, while you are sleeping, everything you have ever wished for and dreamed about comes true.  You wake refreshed after a solid 8 hours sleep.  As you brush your teeth you look and around, curiously.  What has changed?

Where do you live?  Where do you work?  How do you spend your time?  What do you think about?  What feelings do you predominantly experience?  What car do you drive? Do you have a dog or a cat, perhaps both?  No detail is too small or elaborate.

I found this exercise very challenging.  It is so easy to dream, but then immediately discredit the idea.

  • I’d love to cycle across Canada… but you are afraid of traffic.
  • Wouldn’t it be incredible to go zip-lining with a few friends… Your shoulder cannot tolerate that…
  • I want to get fit…. You hate the gym…

Almost immediately (if not sooner) my brain justifies its mundane, familiar safe and secure routines.

Fortunately, the more I practice using my imagination, the less challenging I find it.  You will too.

Go ahead.  Give yourself permission to dream.  Dare to design your impossible dream.  Discover your day-dreaming, doodler self.

Not only is it allowed, but it is encouraged.  Dreaming should be mandatory, not a luxury!

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

Are you ready to Buff Up Your Brain? Ready to, lose weight, increase your mental clarity and polish up your thoughts? Let’s chat.
Email: DrKaren@karenbackwaymd.com

Change Your Life One Thought At A Time

You can change your life, one thought at a time.

That is impossible you think…. Ridiculous claim!  Nope.

Unlike any other living thing on the planet, human beings are able to evoke physical reactions with their thoughts and only their thoughts.

Try this thought experiment.  As you sit in your comfy-chair, perhaps with a dog or cat cuddled alongside snoring gently, music playing softly in the background, bring to mind a stressful encounter you experienced in the past week.  Perhaps it was a difficult conversation with a co-worker or even worse, your boss.  Replay that conversation in your mind.  You may notice, your heart rate starts to increase, you may start clenching your teeth, you may feel the need to take a deep cleansing breath.

Or late at night, when the dogs perk up for no apparent reason, trot off to the living room and start barking.  You think you hear something outside.  Did you lock the doors to the car, to the house?  Should you get up, turn on the lights and investigate or pull the covers over your head and hope the intruder is startled by the barking dogs?  Settling back into the pillow to drift back to sleep is not only impossible – you are wide awake, adrenalin flooding your system.

Your thoughts just triggered the stress response… that series of chemical reactions that in turn release our ‘red alert’ hormones.  With your thoughts and only your thoughts.

I love the work of Dr Joe Dispenza.  He suggests that we make ourselves sick with our thoughts.   With our thoughts alone, we can trigger the release of our ‘red alert’ hormones – our acute stress response.  And since we are not designed to handle the acute stress response chronically, it is killing us.  He then postulates, if we can make ourselves sick with our thoughts, then we can just as effectively, heal ourselves with our thoughts.  He elaborates with a personal story describing a self-directed recovery from a tragic, cycling accident which doctors said should have left him unable to walk, and his subsequent studies into the neurophysiology and healing power of thinking.  So fascinating!

Such is the power of the mind, if you learn how to harness it!  You can start right now.

Think a thought.  “I am fat.”  Such an unhelpful thought.  When you think that thought, I am fat, it elicits a feeling such as ‘disappointment.’  Often this triggers another thought… “I can’t lose weight.”  Or “I have so little will power.”  All not helpful thoughts.

Your feeling – disappointment – fuels the actions you take.  When you are disappointed with yourself you may find yourself reaching for carrot sticks, out of a sense of obligation or a get-it-together-willpower-struggle, but more likely than not, you are self-critical (why can’t I follow through on anything?) effectively fuelling more self-critical thoughts, or reaching for some quick relief comfort foods (chocolate anyone?)

Your actions, determine the results you are getting.

Your thought(s), create your feeling(s), which fuel your action(s), that determine your result(s).

Change your thought(s), change your feeling(s), change your action(s) and your result(s).  Change your life!

You can change your life, one thought at a time.

True or not, why not believe it if it helps you become a better version of yourself?

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

Are you ready to Buff Up Your Brain? Ready to, lose weight, increase your mental clarity and polish up your thoughts? Let’s chat.
Email: DrKaren@karenbackwaymd.com

Mind Your Mind: Master The Way You Speak To Yourself

Self-talk.  Brain chatter.  We all do it, incessantly, whether we like it or not.

Have you ever stopped to listen to the incessant commentary going on in your head all day long?  That constant drone of judgey, self-critical brain chatter….

  • “My hair is a mess.”
  • “My jeans feel a bit tight.”
  • “Where is John?”
  • “I need to buy gas.”
  • “I should text Elizabeth.”
  • “Gosh I hate pantyhose.”
  • “Right, forgot John had a dentist appointment today.”
  • “Right, forgot John had a dentist appointment today.”
  • “Bother, I’m late.”

And it goes on and on.  You cannot stop it.

In fact, you have 60,000 random thoughts every day.  SIXTY THOUSAND.  That is a lot of thoughts, most of which, are negative and often self-directed.

Imagine 60,000 random self-critical thoughts silently streaming through your brain undermining your well-being.  Is it any wonder we flop onto the couch with a bag of potato chips and a glass of wine at the end of a long day?

What’s even more annoying, is that 90 – 95% of those 60,000 thoughts never change from day to day, and most are inaccurate.  We are repetitively telling ourselves untruths, all day long.

But here is the best news ever.  Seriously – the BEST NEWS ever.  You can tell your brain what to think.  So awesome!

“Hey brain – enough of that nonsense chatter, let’s think about something useful for a change.”

One of the most effective things you can do to utterly transform your life is master how you speak to yourself.

As with most new skills, the first step is to increase awareness.  Shine a light into the deep and dark crevices of your brain.  Don’t be afraid, but be forewarned, it’ll be a cluttered mess.  You will want to turn off the light and remain oblivious to the thoughts that keep undermining your happiness, self-worth, contentment…

Choose differently.  Start to listen to your brain chatter.  Name it and claim it.  Then – and only then – can you change it.

Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity….
“….doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The second aspect to understand is that it is not your fault.  Read that again – It is not your fault.  It’s evolution.  Your brain is absolutely brilliant.  It not only kept us alive in an eat-or-be-eaten environment, it quite successfully defeated our predators and turned our cold, damp and dark caves into luxury condominiums with climate control and access to all the food we can eat without needing so much as an arrow.  Hunting and gathering became a stroll around the grocery store.

The problem is, our brain is still using the same, centuries old software.  It still thinks we live in an eat-or-be-eaten environment and makes in-the-moment choices from that primitive perspective.  Your primitive brain loves ‘familiar’ and despises change.  As far as your primitive brain is concerned change is lethal, to be avoided at all costs.  It is always on the lookout for danger.  It sees snakes not sticks. Thorns not roses.  A vicious predator, not your boss.

Let’s say – for example – you have decided to get fit.  You purchased your gym membership, dug out your workout outfit and it’s neatly packed with your runners and a towel, ready for that early morning buff-up.

When the alarm sounds in the morning, your primitive brain chimes in….

“Seriously?  What are you thinking woman?!”
“It’s cold.”
“Let’s wait until daylight at least.”
“You haven’t had your cup of java yet and you know you get headaches without it.”
“Just sink back into the pillow.”
“Later is a better time.”

It goes on…

“Remember last year when you went to that smelly gym?”
“All the guys grunting, dripping sweat staring at you?”
“You really don’t know what you are doing with all the viral covered equipment.”
“Isn’t that right?”

Scanning your memory for proof, your primitive brain recalls a nasty encounter with some rude jock 5 years ago.

Sabotage complete.  Pillow wins.  Safe and secure, not dead.

Time to update the software.

Fortunately, evolution provided us with a mind, unequivocally MORE brilliant than your primitive brain.  That mind, can redirect the primitive brain.  Intentionally decide what you want to believe and do.  Then TELL your primitive brain, it will not die.

Instead of listening to the ‘rude jock’ excuse, you can think about your thoughts (called metacognition) and choose differently…

Choose the gym.
Choose to pass on the donut.
Choose to take a risk.
Choose to….

And change your life – one thought at a time!

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

Are you ready to Buff Up Your Brain? Ready to, lose weight, increase your mental clarity and polish up your thoughts? Let’s chat.
Email: DrKaren@karenbackwaymd.com

Buff Up Your Brain: Weight loss for mental clarity

Buff Up Your Brain: Weight Loss For Mental Clarity

Welcome.  Buff Up Your Brain seeks to help women optimize their brain health and increase mental clarity through diet/weight loss, exercise and managing their minds by mastering the way they speak to themselves.

At Buff Up Your Brain, I believe, utterly and completely, that age related cognitive decline is a myth.

Age related cognitive decline.  Where did this originate?  More importantly when did this originate?  When did we as a society accept that age related cognitive decline is a normal, inevitable fact of aging?  Such a not-helpful stance and questionable belief.

There are lots of seniors ‘out there’ that disprove this blatant myth.   ‘Elderly’ actors still making movies – Dick Van Dyke – 93yo tap dancing on table tops in Mary Poppins Returns (2018).    ‘Elderly’ authors – Margaret Attwood, 79yo just released Freedom (2018).  ‘Elderly’ musicians – Yo Yo Ma, Cellist, 63 (still a junior senior) recently completed a world tour where he performed Bach Six Solo Cello Suites in one sitting in 36 different locations.  Pablo Casals (also a cellist) when asked at 91y, why he continued to practice 4 – 5 hours daily, replied “Because I think I am making progress.”  Can you imagine practicing cello at 91y and making progress?  Incredible!

(This – practicing cello at 91y – is a goal of mine – just sayin’!)

So age related cognitive decline is not inevitable.  Age related cognitive decline is not a done deal.

The hippocampus is a key player in this.  The say what?  The hippocampus is the structural part of your brain that is critical in memory and learning and is particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic (nerve damaging) effects of obesity and diabetes (as well as other mental health disorders and sleep disturbances.)

This is fantastic news.  Fantastic, because we can actively intervene and send these disorders packing.

Oh groan – not another diet and exercise plan.

Nope.  Buff Up Your Brain takes a completely different approach.

In fact, your weight is a rather poor reflection of your overall health.  But it is where most of us spend (I would argue waste) our entire lives focusing our attention.  Our entire lives self-reprimanding, self-criticizing.  Our entire lives we ‘compare and despair’ ourselves against some vague unwritten societal norm.  Our entire lives failing to meet some random, poorly articulated, perpetually changing, delusional perception of perfect.  Not only must we be brilliant, thin and buff, we must get that way without working at it, while raising perfect well – behaved children, providing homemade ‘nutritious’ meals and snacks throughout the day, never miss a hockey game or ballet recital…. all while climbing the corporate ladder, nary a hair out of place!

Seriously?  Such utter nonsense.

Buff Up Your Brain is interested in promoting Optimal Brain Health.  Mental Clarity.  Refreshing Sleep.  Happiness.  Meaning.  Connection.  These incredible blessings are available to you, right now.

Oh groan. <SIGH>

Nope.  All of these things are within your mental grasp, within your imagination.  And if you can imagine it, you can achieve it.  You just have to learn to master how you speak to yourself.

Buff Up Your Brain is interested in helping you learn to master the way you speak to yourself.

Master the way you speak to yourself and change your life.  It is utterly possible.

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

Are you ready to Buff Up Your Brain? Ready to, lose weight, increase your mental clarity and polish up your thoughts? Let’s chat.
Email: DrKaren@karenbackwaymd.com