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Mind Over Biology

The more I read about eating and weight, the more it appears that genetic loading and biology heavily predispose folks to overeat or be fat. When I talk with clients about genetic tendencies and biochemical imbalances, some are relieved that there’s a cause for decades of food struggle and others are bummed out, feeling branded for life. Whatever the cause of food problems, everyone can change their thinking, which ultimately produces healthier attitudes and more constructive behavior around food.

There are a host of factors that may predispose you to overeating and overweight: hormone deficiencies (e.g., ghrelin and leptin) regarding hunger and fullness, early biochemical damage due to trauma and stress, genetic abnormalities (e.g., possessing a gene variant that messes with the brain’s reward signal or one that helps you store fat more efficiently), or an imbalance of the right kind of gut microbes. You can take in this information and feel doomed, or register it with a grain of salt and live by the philosophy that you’ll still do whatever you can to improve your eating.

Although it’s true that due to imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA, dopamine, and norepinephrine, not everyone has the same ability to manage feelings, so far I haven’t read any research that says there’s a biological reason people can’t change their thinking. Sure, it’s more difficult for some than others, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you’re someone who has the deck stacked against you in the eating or weight department, that means you’ll have to work harder than the next person to reach your goals. You can either be upset about this discrepancy or become more determined, and whichever path you take will generate success or failure.

How many of you who want to eat more sanely spend 30 minutes a day working on changing your beliefs? 15 minutes? 1 minute? My hunch is that very few of you put a great deal of energy, if any, into this activity. Instead, you focus on behavior and get frustrated when it doesn’t change. I know from decades of clinical experience that if you spend even 10 minutes every day identifying irrational beliefs, reframing them to rational, and saying them in front of a mirror aloud that your food behavior will start to improve. Change starts with your thinking, no matter what your biological problems are that contribute to eating difficulties or obesity. Commit to establishing a healthy belief system and spend time daily getting your head straight about food. If you’re unwilling, admit it, and accept that you are keeping yourself stuck. Try to understand why you don’t want to do belief work, resolve the issue, then get started changing your thinking.