Fabricated Tornados

“Stay out of other peoples’ tornados.”

That is a quote I heard from a grade 5 student, who happens to have autism.  He was thanking donors at a fundraising dinner for his new school.  In a beautifully delivered short presentation, he described his new school experience and “stay out of other peoples’ tornados” was an important lesson he has learned.

What a great personal philosophy.  I know several adults that could stand to adopt that advice, myself included. 

And for adults, I would add “and don’t fabricate your own.” 

We create so much unnecessary drama – as Shakespere said – “Much ado about nothing.” Ado – a state of agitation or fuss, especially about something unimportant.  It’s so easy to get sucked into a vortex of agitation and fuss over fictitious ‘what if, then tornados.’  Drama – fictitious stories – about what might, maybe happen however remotely possible.

Most times I can see my ‘what if, then tornado’ forming in the distance, knocking down the powerlines.  Here it comes, batten down the hatches and get out the flashlights!  And instead of taking steps to prevent worsening of the scenario, I simply brace myself and hope it dissipates on its own accord.

My self-fabricated ‘what if, then tornado’ lands me demented in a 10 X 15 room with cats, or homeless after the humane society apprehends my sheep dogs.  These two scenarios, are complete fictions more impossible than possible.  My brilliant, but not updated brain, thinks telling myself these stories is helpful and will motivate me.  Its negativity bias at its best!

“Don’t take any financial risks – you will end up homeless.” 
“Plan for dementia, it’s inevitable.”

My brain is doing its job, keeping me safe and secure.  Thanks brain, noted.  No tornados necessary thanks. 

“Stay out of other peoples’ tornados, and don’t fabricate your own!”

So good!

Buff it up, my friends!
Dr. Karen

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

Thoughts are optional

Thoughts.  Our brain is constantly streaming with random thoughts.  And as much as you may wish it, you cannot erase any thought permanently.  Unwelcome intrusions, some thoughts – “I can’t do anything right”  “I’m a failure”  “I am unworthy” – or some version thereof, like a bad rash, keep coming back.  Before I learned about managing my mind, when an unwelcome, unwanted thought popped into my brain, I would focus on it, argue with it, or try to suppress it, quite effectively making the thought even stronger.  Sometimes I would repeatedly recall, usually very incorrectly, a conversation or recent experience/situation that ‘proves’ the unwanted thought. Sometimes I would fabricate long discussions (complete fictions) – between myself and another absent person – all in my mind and work myself into a tizzy.  Thoughts.  Very powerful, sometimes debilitating thoughts.

Then I learned to manage my mind and, in my view, the secret to an incredible life (if not the universe) – thoughts are optional.  Optional!  Take those streaming unhelpful thoughts and  acknowledge then ignore them.  “Oh, there is that thought I no longer believe again.”   Huh.  Silly brain.  Then brush it off your shoulder (literally or figuratively.)  No need to shift your focus, no need to argue, cajole, forgive or suppress.  No senseless repetition, no creative fabrication required!  Then, the most amazing thing happens.  That thought dissipates.  It holds no power what-so-ever.  Complete non-issue.  Whenever possible, acknowledge and ignore unhelpful thoughts. 

You may notice a pattern in your thoughts as you pay attention to your thoughts.  If that pattern is helpful, keep it.  If it’s not helpful, change it.  Remember, thoughts are optional.  Intentionally choose a thought that is true, believable and helpful then replace the unhelpful thought with the new helpful intentional thought.

“I can’t do anything right.” 
“Oh, there is that thought I no longer believe.”
“Huh, I do some things right…..”
Or “I do many things right….”
Or “In fact, I do many things very well….”

If you struggle to identify, let alone replace unhelpful thoughts, try this thought experiment. 

Imagine you have an inner committee or Board of Directors, of which you are the Chief Executive Officer.  (You are, after all, the CEO of your life!)  The sole purpose of this Board of Directors is to ensure your prosperity and help you create the vibrant and meaningful life you have defined.  

Identify 3 or 4 (no more) individuals, dead or alive, who may or may not know you personally, with whom you would confer daily about anything and everything. 

Who would be on your Board?  Why? 
How would you define the vibrant and meaningful life it pursues? 
What questions would you ask it daily? 

Amongst others currently living who do not know me (whom I shall not list for fear of embarrassing them), Abraham Lincoln sits at the head of my inner boardroom table.  I just love his quote: “We shall proceed with both feet planted firmly midair!”

While it is true, I really have no idea what Abraham Lincoln would actually recommend, my thoughts and beliefs about what he might suggest is all that matters.  The point is to generate a new perspective and to think outside the proverbial box to create an intentional helpful thought that advances you toward the vibrant and meaningful life and future you have designed. 

What if you met with that Board of Directors each and every morning?  How different would your day, and subsequently your life, unfold?  

Well worth pondering.

Thoughts are optional.  You can choose whatever thought you want – the secret to an incredible life!  You can choose what you want to think intentionally.  Seriously.  Tell your brain what to think and create the life and future you want.

Buff it up, my friends
Dr. Karen

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

Happiness reconsidered.

I have been re-thinking happiness lately.

We all strive to be happy.  As a society we are obsessed with chasing happiness.  But the harder you chase it, the more elusive it seems.  Such has been my experience anyway. 

Our brain has been hard-wired to seek happiness since the dawn of time.  This ‘seek happiness’ default program in combination with the ‘avoid pain’ default program ensured our survival when we lived in a hostile world.  But somewhere along the evolutionary line, our quest for happiness has morphed into an expectation that we should be happy – always.  And when we are not, we think that something is wrong with us.

Modern and ancient philosophers continue to tease apart this puzzle.  Aristotle, described four distinct levels of happiness – Laetus, Felix, Beatitudo and Sublime Beatitudo.  How is your Latin?  As non-existent as mine? Try this – Pleasure, Achievement, Contribution and Ultimate Good.

Pleasure. Pleasure is pretty self-explanatory.  It’s intense and relatively easy to achieve but also quite transient.  If you have ever sought solace and found yourself at the bottom of a bag of potato chips licking the salty crumbs off your fingers, you know what I am talking about – instant gratification.  But because it’s so short lived, pleasure often does not solve the problem at hand, and in the long run, has its own associated negative consequences.   Eating gives us pleasure.  Over-eating – negative consequence.  If pleasure is your only source of happiness, life can be pretty shallow.

Achievement.  This is happiness derived from being better than someone else.  Everyone likes winning – in sport, at work, in academics and in relationships.  Achievement in and of itself is not a bad thing,  but achievement is the holy grail in the comparison game.  It’s such a dangerous game and it’s rampant, like a highly contagious infectious disease with no symptoms until it’s disseminated far and wide.  Unrelenting comparison against some unrealistic, random, constantly changing, stupid societal norm only serves to feed our deep insecurities.  If you derive your happiness from always being better than the next gal, you are bound for disappointment.  No one always wins. It’s just the way life is! 

Contribution.  Concern for the well-being of others is at the core of contribution.  We are happy, when others in our lives are happy.  Many reach this level, particularly if you are a parent.  Simply put, contribution is shared love for another.  How can there possibly be a problem with holding the happiness of others in high esteem?  What parent does not want more for their child?  It’s called love and sacrifice.  They put the well-being and happiness of their child first and foremost above their own health, well-being and happiness.  Often to their own detriment.  When your happiness is dependent on someone else’s happiness, there is no winning! 

Ultimate Good.  Aptly described by Stephen Covey, ultimate good involves leaving a legacy or fulfilling your ultimate purpose in life.  Others consider it knowing the love of God in spiritual/religious terms.  Leave a legacy – such a wonderful aspiration! But make it an expectation and happiness evaporates.   What remains is a deep sense of disappointment, self-reprimand and ‘not-good-enoughness.’ 

So depressing, huh?  The pursuit of happiness backfired! 

Not really.  The problem lies in the expectation that we ‘should’ be happy. 

I would like to offer that happiness is not the pinnacle for which to strive.  What if, instead we strive for true meaning in life and genuine connection with others?  Think about it.  If your life has meaning and you have connection with others – would you not be happy? And best of all, it would be defined as you define it! 

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines happiness as a “a state of well-being and contentment.”  Perhaps, as defined by Emily Esfahani in ‘The Power of Meaning,‘ we should tweak it just a bit…. “A state of feeling you are where you want to be, with whom you want to be, doing what you wish to do.” So much more descriptive!

Meaning + Connection = Happiness.  Now there is an equation worth resolving! More later!

Buff it up, my friends
Dr. Karen

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

My “Except-For” Diet

It is very true – permanent weight loss is not about eating or restrictions.  It is about changing long held, deeply ingrained not-helpful beliefs and habits.  A belief is a recurrent thought and the subsequent action becomes a habit.  And as I have mentioned before (and will again) thoughts are optional.  If you want to change your habits, you must change your thoughts first.

I self-sabotaged and suffered – for decades – thanks to my version of the “Except-For” diet.  You can call it what you like but in essence, the “Except-For” diet is self-sabotage in its best disguise.  You commit to ‘behave.’  You follow all your healthy eating rules…. You pass on the croutons, you dutifully munch on styrofoam rice cakes (I am so glad those are a thing of my past!), or choke back that nutrient dense dreadful tasting chalky consistency protein – kale – avocado oil enriched green smoothie.  Ummm… Yummm… <<Gasp>>  And then <<BOOM>> blindsided by the weekend or a birthday or anniversary or some convenient holiday….  And a munch-fest is born. 

Incidentally, weekends arrive quite predictably as do birthdays or anniversaries or holidays… or insert ‘reason – ur um… excuse’ to bend the rules.  So we cannot be blindsided by these things! 

I had a ready made justification for my “Except-For” munch-fests – I met with my trainer very consistently for years… “I worked out three times this week…” Then Saturday night – pizza – 3 (okay truthfully 4) slices… or just a few potato chips (translate into half a family sized bag…) just a couple of Almond Crunch Cookies (half a package)… <<SIGH>>

Given the financial considerations of retirement, I gave up my ready-made justification.  I was spending hundreds of dollars per month on strength training and self-sabotaging myself every step of the way…. A luxury I could no longer afford.  And not so unpredictably, I gained my hard-earned weight loss and lost my hard-earned strength! 

Yet another chapter in my yo-yo dieting saga, closed.

I am not sure when I equated thin with happy or successful or worthy.  But I am sure it was before I was 20.  Seriously?  For more than three decades, I chased this untruth?!?!  Seriously?!?!?

Frustrating as all the yo’s of my yo-yo dieting were, I would not understand the real truth behind my weight related challenges without them.  It’s not about the food.  It’s about how we think about ourselves and how we respond to those thoughts (often with eating.)  It is about managing our minds – managing our thoughts and emotions without food. 

Once we can unhinge eating from our emotions, and our weight from our self-worth…. Maintaining our weight after our weight loss journey is a done deal.  

Food freedom – so worth it!

Buff it up, my friends
Dr. Karen

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

The N = 1 Project

Delving deep into self-care by definition is a uniquely personal thing.  What works for one person may or may not work for you.  Statistics are based on populations, not individuals.  Research is often funded by companies that have a vested interested in what they are going to recommend – their product.  Research is often conducted on white mice or middle aged white male volunteers.  So if you happen to be a woman with African American and Irish grandparents, do those research results really pertain to you?   Maybe. Maybe not.  Your friend – same age, similar heritage, similar friends, similar lifestyles – may have lost 30 pounds following a high fat low carb diet regime, but you frustratingly gained weight.  It does not mean something is wrong with you.  It just proves people are all different and respond differently. 

We all know someone who is thin as a rail and eats whatever they want whenever they want, others who just look at food and gain weight (life can be so unfair at times!), and others who have boundless energy on 4 – 5 hours sleep for weeks on end. 

We are all different – and that is a good thing!  How boring life would be if we were all the same.

Enter the N=1 Project.  In research terms, N is the number of subjects in an experiment.  Statistically speaking N is calculated to be a high enough number such that 95 out of 100 times the result would be the same.  This is a 95% confidence interval.  The researchers are confident that they will get the same result 95% of the time.  Of course, the converse is also true, meaning they won’t 5% of the time.  But if N=1, then you are the only subject.  The result either happens (100%) or it doesn’t (0%).  And truly, this is all that matters when it comes to your health and wellness goals. 

If your friend loses weight on a 2000kcal diet and you don’t, well, you don’t and it is disappointing.  This is where the almighty question comes in.  HOW IS THIS WORKING FOR ME?  In coach speak it’s called outcome based decision making.  You try X, collect observations (the data), check results.  Hmmm…. Nothing changed.  Hmmm….. tweak X, collect observations…. Check results…. Oh lost 3 pounds, bravo….

Tweak, observe, check result. Tweak, observe, check result.  Tweak, observe, check result. Tweak, observe, check result.  I used to call this ‘tinkering’ when I was trying to find an appropriate dose of medication for kids with ADHD.  Though frustrating at times, it is the fastest way to the best results. 

The challenge is, most of us do not know what or how to tweak.  Or we tweak too many things at one time so we do not know what actually made the difference one way or another. 

Start your own N=1 project.  Start someplace, but start.  Don’t wait for Monday, or your birthday, or the 1st of the month.  Pay attention to what you are eating and why you are eating it.  Sadly, we rarely eat because we are truly hungry.  We are emotional eaters yet unaware we are emotional eaters.  Believe it or not, it is a fact that if you are not hungry, eating is not the solution.  (Who knew?)

Creating lots of little N=1 experiments is a great way to increase self-awareness and a great way to be continuously learning about ourselves.  N=1 experiments let help us monitor what is working (or not), and keep us moving closer to our goals. 

Tweak and tinker all the way to your goal!

Buff it up, my friends
Dr. Karen

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

Strive to Thrive, Proactive Health

Up until very recently – like you, I expect – I believed prevention was the best medicine.  It is likely a safe assumption that few of us actively seek injury or disease.   But I recently read a functional medicine blog that compared preventive medicine to avoiding divorce in a marriage.  Both come from a place of scarcity. If I don’t get sick, I’m healthy. If we don’t divorce, we’re happy.  What a great analogy!  Certainly, prevention is a good start – absolutely we should do our best to avoid disease.  But proactive health is an infinitely better approach. 

We should strive to thrive.

Our health and well-being are much, much more than the absence of disease. 

Caring for yourself should not mean you get through the winter congested and coughing but still able to trudge through your daily grind. 

Caring for yourself should not be a non-GMO, new and improved chocolate covered chia seed granola bar for breakfast on the run. 

Caring for yourself should not mean you can walk up a flight of stairs if you must.

Caring for yourself should not be masking aches and pains with over-the-counter analgesics or popping antacids like candy. 

Yet, this is often our reality.

With strive to thrive proactive health, caring for yourself means you thrive with a vibrance and enthusiasm to embrace each and every day with a bring it on attitude.  How incredible would that be?

Caring for yourself includes a deep and refreshing 7-9 hour sleep nightly. 

Caring for yourself includes laughing until to cry and crying when you need to.  

Caring for yourself means you provide your body with adequate nutrition and sufficient exercise so that you can do what you want when you want well into your 90s and remember it! 

Our 21st century lifestyle is speeding uncontrollably towards an impending health crisis.  It’s a train wreck in the making.  We are bombarded daily with environmental toxins – exhaust, herbicides, preservatives and noise pollution.  Social media skews our perception that everyone else has life all figured out and that the world is on the brink of destruction.   Employers squeeze budgets and raise expectations while providing fewer resources.  We re-fuel with highly processed, high fat, high sugar, high salt, addictive non-satiating grab-n-go food stuffs.  Our butts are expanding as our daily commutes get longer.  It is no wonder unrelenting stress, anxiety and/or depression is the new societal norm and impending, unavoidable dementia has everyone terrified. Very sadly for the first time in recorded history, children – our future leaders – are predicted to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.  Shorter! So sad.

What can be done to avoid this impending health train wreck?

Fortunately, the human body has an amazing capacity for adapting to the onslaught of daily abuse society now accepts as ‘normal.’ Even more impressive is the human brain’s ability to decide to follow a different path. 

We can choose differently. 

We can eat real food.  We can move our bodies more than we sit.  We can stretch our joints and strengthen our muscles.  We can get adequate sleep.  We can increase our resilience and reframe our circumstances.  We can eliminate/avoid environmental toxins.  We can embrace rather than avoid our emotions. 

We can choose differently.  And choice is a precious gift not to be ignored.

Buff it up, my friends
Dr. Karen

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

Never Too Old

“You are too old to not change.”

I was told that by a very wise and patient nutrition coach several years ago when I was commiserating about being on the wrong side of 50y to make another 180o career change. I was defending my position complaining that I don’t have time to ‘screw up’ my finances before I retire.  When I was ‘but a youngster’ I didn’t think twice about major changes.  Back to school at 27y, yep, no problem.  Need a PhD to pursue your dream at 31y, OK.  Tick.  Off to medical school at 35y…. Admittedly, a little hesitancy is starting to creep in… Move across the country twice during residency… Done.  When I reflect back on all that change, it’s no wonder I am feeling restless yet have a desire to stay put.

I now consider myself on the right side of 60y, though I am closer to 60y than I am to 50y. I often ask myself “How the hell did this happen?”  And if I am not careful I end up in a quagmire of self-pity, playing the ‘what-if-regret’ game, a self-sabotage game that has few – if any – benefits.  I still ‘think’ as I did at 27y, despite my aches and creaks. 

Some people celebrate turning 50y – the half century mark – while others utterly dread it.  I am not dreading turning 60y.  To be honest, I feel better now than I did at 50y (even 40y) having shed considerable extra weight, correcting numerous chronic health concerns and slowly shifting my mindset.  Why dread the change in decades?  Barring any unexpected incidents, you are going to turn 50y (and 60y and eventually 70y and hopefully 80y and thereafter 90y) anyway, so might as well celebrate.

Change can be challenging, even if you have never made a 180o career change, never relocated across the country, or have never gone back to school.   Time marches on as it always has and always will.  Involuntarily thrust upon us or by choice, change is inevitable. 

Change is inevitable – and that is a good thing.  How boring would life be if it always remained the same?

You can choose to think that the best part of your life is behind you, or you can choose otherwise.  Choose the latter… you never know where you may end up!

Buff it up, my friends
Dr. Karen

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

Decisions, decisions and more decisions!

Have you ever played ping pong with your decisions?  Ponder, ponder, ponder… decide… no maybe…. Ponder, ponder, ponder…. Decide… Okay but… no…. ponder, ponder, ponder…  All right now we’re are getting somewhere…. Ponder, ponder, ponder…

Or even worse, after an unreasonably long ping pong match, have you reached a decision and your ‘gut instincts’ just twist into a knot with an unarticulated cringe.  But then you proceed anyway? 

No matter which side of the decision ping-pong table I ended up on, despite long and excruciating debate, I often found myself dissatisfied with my decision, irrespective of the consequences of my decision.  So I started defaulting to other people’s opinions.  Other people I considered more informed… very, VERY bad idea!

Soon after finishing residency, ready to relocate closer to my family, I went on a house hunting trip and explored homes.  After my usual ping-pong match, swayed by the real estate agent, I bought a lovely Century home….“You will never have trouble selling a century home….. great location close to the hospital…. nice big yard for the dog.”  I trusted her, not my instincts.  My heart sank almost immediately, but I proceeded.  

As always, life happens and an unexpected turn of events triggered a need for relocation a few years later.  She was wrong or she lied to make the sale (I am trying to believe the former!)  Not only did I lose considerable money, but it took over 2 years to sell.  Though I have since purchased another home which I love and where I wish to remain until I am no longer cognizant of where I live, it is unlikely I will trust a real estate agent again. 

Since that somewhat miserable experience, I make my own decisions for good or bad. I continue to seek advice, but now I listen for that unarticulated cringe and respond accordingly.  Even when the cringe seems completely crazy and counter-intuitive, I listen and listen carefully.

Being an academic, I actively searched for advice about making better decisions.  Now there is a rabbit hole with lots of diversions – WHOOSH!  I thought nutrition advice was confusing until I dabbled into the psychology of decision making. 

Some of the ideas I pulled from that particular rabbit hole…..

  1. You do not have to defend your decision to anyone except yourself.
  2. Have a plan to manage the inevitable “What have I done?” disaster scenario, because it will come (guaranteed) and haunt you, probably more than once.
  3. No matter what decision you make, make sure you are happy with the reason behind your decision.
  4. Limit the decisions you need to make routinely – develop intentional habits instead.  Don’t waste your ‘limited decision making energy’ choosing between 25 different brands of toothpaste – seriously does not matter.  Pick one, stick with it, move on.
  5. Whenever possible make decisions ahead of time, based on your values and priorities.  Schedule an appointment with yourself and honor that appointment as you would respect an appointment with a friend or colleague.  Consider how different your life would be if you followed through on the daily decisions we ‘skip’ in the moment.  We never feel like working out until we are actually 5 or 10 minutes into the workout.  Workout anyway. 
  6. Believe that every decision you have ever made was the right decision, regardless of the outcome.  No one intentionally makes a poor decision.  We always make the best decision possible with the information we have at the time of the decision.  Stop second guessing.
  7. Believe you will succeed irrespective of which side of the decision ping-pong table you land on.  Then which option would you choose?  Take a new job in a new city and be wildly happy.  Stay in current position and be wildly happy.  Being wildly happy is independent of the decision and your choice – always (how incredible is that?) 
  8. What would your future, successful self recommend?  This one is a bit tricky but incredibly helpful.  It’s the reverse of “What would you have told your younger self, given where you are now?”  The difference is, you cannot change what your younger self did, but you can influence your present self, based on what you believe your future self would recommend.  What a powerful thought experiment! 
  9. Believe in yourself and what you are capable of!
  10. Believe in yourself and what you are capable of… worth repeating!

We are happiest when we live in alignment with our values, priorities and our dreams.  Our decisions need to align with those values, priorities and dreams.  Everything else is non-essential. 

Listen for the unarticulated cringe – no matter how crazy and counter-intuitive. 

Buff it up, my friends
Dr. Karen

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

Aging – Inevitables and most-likelies

Aging.  We all age.  If we are not aging, we are no longer living.  Sure, aging has some ‘inevitables’ – wrinkles and age spots, thinner skin, greying hair, visual changes, and hearing difficulties.  Aging also has some ‘most-likelies’ – decreased muscle mass (about 10% per decade in our senior years), decreased range of motion in our joints, balance challenges, slowed metabolism with subsequent weight gain and for women, some crazy hormone fluctuations.  

We can and most definitely should manage the ‘most likelies’ of aging.  We can strength train to counter or slow the rate of muscle loss.  We can start a daily stretching or yoga practice to keep our joints nimble.  We can work on our balance.  (Simply stand on one foot while watching television or reading, it’s harder than you might think.)  We can monitor our intake and choose a diet packed with unprocessed, nutrient dense whole foods.  We can get up off the couch and walk out and about the neighborhood – no need to run a marathon.   We can limit alcohol and refrain from smoking. 

These things – muscle loss, weight gain, decreased mobility are mere inconveniences relative to what really terrifies us…. dementia.  As we age we are turning to the marvels of medicine for therapy or cure.  I think we will be sadly disappointed, though we likely won’t recall our disappointment.  I guess that is a bit of a bonus. 

Some holistic and naturopathic doctors are referring to dementia as type 3 diabetes, implying there is an abnormality in glucose regulation contributing to our cognitive decline.  Given the rampant increase in obesity, type 2 diabetes and dementia in the past 50 years, since the low-fat, high carb indoctrination of the 70s and 80’s I would not be surprised if there is some causal relationship. Time will tell. 

Medical research will figure it out over the next 5 decades – maybe.   But it sure is a quagmire of conflicting evidence right now.   I can attest to significantly increased mental clarity over the past year with the elimination of refined sugar and flour from my diet.    And if elimination of refined sugar and flour is responsible for my increased clarity, sign me up!  If it might, even remotely, delay or eliminate the possibility of developing the non-Alzheimer-dementia that prevails in my family, I am all in!

One additional protective factor for aging well is connection.  The more social connection we maintain, the happier and healthier we remain, despite other detrimental health/lifestyle choices.  Social isolation is toxic.  Studies of citizens in the blue zones (pockets of the world with the longest longevity and the most centenarians) identified connection to family, friends, or community as a key determining factor in that longevity.  Loneliness/isolation is as bad for your health. 

Sitting, smoking alone drinking alcohol while snacking is on the avoid list!  Instead break a sweat once a day with a friend then share a homemade meal made with unprocessed whole foods while laughing wholeheartedly!

We do not have to fear aging.  Accept inevitables, but commit to minimizing the ‘most likelies’ as much as possible.  Shed some excess weight, don’t smoke, move more, strengthen and stretch your muscle and joints, drink moderately or less, keep connected to friends and family, eliminate sugar/flour and eat a diet containing nutrient dense whole foods.  Start today.  Don’t wait until your 7th decade.

Buff it up, my friends
Dr. Karen

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

Novelty trumps safe and secure!

Why is it, there is a such a huge gap between what we say we want to do and what we actually do?

I am trying to effect change in my life.    In some areas I am progressing (writing – LOVE it!)  In other areas – not so much (decluttering.)  Some activities are hit and miss (cello practice.)  And in still others – precious little (exercise – SIGH!)  Yet these are all things that I ‘say’ I want to incorporate into my life and things I believe will help me build a vibrant and meaningful life. 

So…. What’s with the gap? 

It’s our brain…. It wants to keep us safe and secure… and change to the brain is lethal!

The brain is hard wired to do three things – seek pleasure, avoid pain and be efficient.   These things were all extremely useful to keep us alive ‘back in the day.’  Well brain, we are no longer ‘back in the day,’ living in a life-threatening, eat or be eaten environment….  Get with the program.  Seriously, keep up!

“No brain, it is okay, we are not going to die because I wish to exercise and stretch in the morning.” 

“No brain, it is okay, we do not need to eat until morning…. we are not going to die without an evening snack.” 

“No brain, learning something new is fun, not something that could potentially kill us!” 

That is my pre-frontal cortex (thinky-brain) chatting with my unconscious, primitive brain (lizard-brain.)  Thinky is the CEO part of my brain that can be intentional, make decisions, plan, organize, focus attention and delegate.  It’s the last bit that is problematic.  Thinky delegates the execution of a brilliant, intentional plan to Lizzy. 

Bad plan Thinky!  Lizzy’s mandate is to keep us alive in a hostile environment, and in the heat of the moment will follow the ‘change lethal/familiar safe,’ default and <<BOOM>> “No, that’s not how we do things! – plan aborted!

Thinky can cajole, persuade, and simplify and Lizzy nods and agrees and…. Just like Lucy with the football, pulls out at the last second and Charlie Brown ends up flat on his back…. Again!

Surely there is a solution.  We did after all, rise to the top of the evolutionary food chain! 

Perhaps the solution lies in our desire for novelty.  Novelty trumps safe and secure.  Otherwise, we would still be hiding out in damp, dark and cold caves, not temperature controlled luxury condos! Someone ‘back-in-the-day’ decided an upgrade was necessary and started a ripple, and many centuries later – Luxury condo!  (bet she didn’t see that comin’!)

How can we incorporate novelty into the changes we want to make?  Exercise – for example – bores me immensely!  I KNOW it is an activity that is really good for me and my future health and well-being.  But that does not make it less boring and it certainly does not make it novel!  

When I first starting exploring the idea – novelty is good for your brain – I was really disheartened.  I read a lot.  All kinds of non-fiction stuff – motivation, willpower, learning, perfectionism, mood, and brain neuroplasticity.  New, intriguing and useful info for me and my musings, but as it turns out, it’s NOT novel!  Reading is old hat for the brain.  I learned how to read decades ago!  Hmmmm…..

I did read that learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument ‘counts’ as novel for the brain.  I tried learning French (I am Canadian after all) but nope, not interested. Perhaps because I took French throughout high school it is not novel.  So, I took up the cello, which I totally and thoroughly love!  I am three years into lessons and of late, practicing can be hit or miss.  Which makes me wonder if the novel bit is over?  Hmmm…. I wonder how long novel stays novel?  

I have yet to find a solution on ‘how to keep novel, novel.’  No doubt someone somewhere has already started a ripple….  I wonder where it will lead centuries from now?  What is the cold cave to luxury condo equivalent?  Hmmmm…..

In the meantime, I will endeavor to engage Thinky in the execution of plans and keep working on changing my unconscious defaults.  As much as I love Lizzy for keeping me safe and secure, the default is out of date.  Time for an upgrade Lizzy!

Buff it up, my friends
Dr Karen

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