You’ve tried many things to change your body and may have short-term success only to find yourself gaining the weight back. With so many theories on weight management, dieting and exercise, there seems to be one area that is not usually addressed and that is the mind. In this episode, we will discuss why the body holds onto weight, why it is so hard to change your body long-term and the mindset of creating the body you love.
This information is for educational purposes and not intended to diagnose or treat any mental or physical conditions. Please consult your physician before beginning any mind-body intervention.
3 Reasons Why Your Body Holds onto Weight
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:30
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I'm Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We’re continuing our series on the mind body. Before we begin, I want to remind you to subscribe to our podcast. If you're listening on iTunes, Spotify, and other podcast hosting services, make sure you subscribe, so you don't miss any episode. If you're on YouTube, there's a little button in the corner, you can click and subscribe to our channel, get some bonus videos on meditation we post every week. Today, we are talking about the three reasons why the body hangs on to weight. We're gonna talk about weight management, weight loss, dieting, and the mind body connection.
Robert Maldonado 01:21
Let's dive in. Genetics, an important factor, of course, conditioning, we'll talk about culture and experience, and the emotions, how we think about food, what kind of relationship we have with food.
Debra Maldonado 01:39
I'm an expert, not only because I've had my own weight challenges early in life and body image stuff. When I was a hypnotherapist, one of the main big attractions is weight loss. I've personally worked one on one with thousands of people on weight loss. One of the things I noticed is it's not about dieting, it's not about changing and going to the gym more often, calories in-calories out. There's something else going on. The first question I asked them is, what age did you first notice you started gaining weight, or you started thinking your body wasn't good enough, you started this idea “I have to diet”? Every person has, unless you don't deal with weight and it's never been an issue for you, but if you struggled with weight, there's that moment. When you're listening to this, think about when was the time when you first looked in the mirror or at the scale, or someone made a comment about your body, and boom, it starts an emotional connection. We're going to get into that today. But let's start off with the genetics. We all say “Blame it on the genes.” But why are genetics a powerful component of our weight management?
Robert Maldonado 03:08
In psychology, there's been a long-standing debate. It's called the nature-nurture debate. Is it genetics or is it the environment that we grew up in? The latest consensus it's that it's about 50/50, half of our weight comes from our genetics, and half from our cultural and environmental conditioning.
Debra Maldonado 03:43
So it's like a roll of the dice in a way. Is that why some siblings would not have an issue with weigh and some do? Some sort of cross-genetic dice.
Robert Maldonado 03:58
We don't get to choose our genetics or our parents. We do the best with what we have. Because the other 50% is our environment and conditioning. As adults, we can set up our own environments to where they benefit us. In other podcasts, we talk about genetics and epigenetics. We wanted to focus more on the conditioning aspect of it. The story begins with Pavlov and food. He was looking at how dogs get conditioned around food, the old salivation experiment. He discovered that the environment, the things happening at the moment the food is presented, have a powerful imprint on the dog's mind. If you ring a bell right before you're going to give the dog the food, the dog learns that the bell signals the coming of food and begins to salivate before the food arrives. You'll notice whenever you try or have to skip a meal, around the time you're used to, you'll start to get hungry, the body is conditioned to receive food in that time. That's why travel is so disruptive as well, you're stepping outside that pattern.
Debra Maldonado 06:04
Especially during international travel, it's three o'clock in the morning the US time, we arrive, they're serving breakfasts, and you're like “I'm not hungry for breakfast.” Because we're off track there. But also we're conditioned. From my experience working with a lot of people on weight, there's a celebratory aspect of food. There's this environment of when the family gets together, it's time to eat, there's a good feeling around it. We start to condition ourselves at dinner time, that's when we all get together. Unless you had not a good dinner time, you could have an adverse reaction to food. But most of the time, there is a celebratory group connection that you get around food.
Robert Maldonado 06:58
It's certainly a bonding experience, with family members, with your friends. All those experiences are conditioning elements that your mind body holds on to, and rightly so. But now if you think about the negative aspects of that, if you are conditioned around the family to eat unhealthy foods, you're going to associate fried chicken or greasy, fatty, sugary foods with that feel good emotional bonding.
Debra Maldonado 07:43
I remember, as kids, if you finished all your meal, you get to have dessert, and if you don't finish your meal, you don't get dessert. Everything is about the feeding. There's been research with breastfeeding. When a baby is breastfed, it's conditioned to eat only when it's hungry. When it's bottle fed, it's fed at a certain time and you always get the same amount. The mother's like “Finish the bottle.” There is a big difference too, early in life that conditioning is so powerful. Also think about the media. Not only our family conditioning, but the media, how glamorous food can be on commercials and in magazines, billboards as you're driving down the road, taking a road trip, that beautiful sign of a juicy burger there.
Robert Maldonado 08:43
Back in the 30s, there was a famous psychologist Watson. After he finished his training in university, he went to work for Madison Avenue, the madmen, the advertising companies. He really pioneered this idea of “let's use behavioral principles to advertise.”
Debra Maldonado 09:18
Certain colors make people hungry. If you go past a restaurant, they pipe the smell out on purpose. The guy who ate McDonald's for 60 days said everything they do is psychologically making you crave that food. “Supersize Me”. On the other side, as a woman I have to say — I’m sure men have it too, but I think women have it worse with the idealized body. Media wants you to eat, but then it tells you you have to be super thin, like a model, where you look almost unhealthy, that's the ideal body. Instagram and a lot of social media channels are reinforcing that. Get more clicks if you have this perfect yoga body. We give mixed messages of “Eat, but also you have to have the perfect body.” It causes a lot of conflict within us. It conditions us to desire this body, our body with its curves isn't enough, is wrong, we need to look a certain way. But you have to enjoy food because you can't not have food. That's a way we're conditioned to feel guilty for being overweight, but also conditioned to eat. It sets us up for failure.
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Robert Maldonado 12:05
If you think about children, most of us grew up with television and the media, now the internet, but it's not a big deal when you think about adults, we can manage our consumption. But for children, we're conditioning them to crave sugar and unhealthy foods, at the same time giving them that message that you should have the perfect body. It's setting up people to have internal conflict with food. It's not a great mystery that all these eating disorders are popping up in the so-called westernized world because it's an internal conflict we're setting people up for, to crave food that is not healthy for them, not good for them at all levels, at the same time to have these perfect bodies that are idealized and unattainable.
Debra Maldonado 13:21
We have conditioning but we can't just say “I decided I'm not going to listen to the media anymore. I'm going to love my body. I'm not going to listen to that commercial.” We can't consciously recondition ourselves. We could try but it's not on a conscious level. What we need to do is go deeper, that's the emotion and the unconscious.
Robert Maldonado 13:49
Most of us have tried to change behavior patterns, diet, going to the gym, change something about our lifestyle. We know it's very difficult. Why is it difficult? Because conditioning occurs at the unconscious level. If you think about emotion, that's where it is. It's much older parts of the brain, much deeper than our cognition, our ability to think through things. It's unconscious in the sense that if we look into our mind, we don't see it, we see our thoughts or we hear our thoughts. But we don't get to the core of the conditioning, which is an emotional assumption about who we are and what the nature of the world is.
Debra Maldonado 14:44
Also what food is associated with, or dieting, or being a certain shape. When I was doing hypnotherapy on weight loss — this is for men and women — I saw a lot of emotion around starving and not eating. Many of my clients would say “I go out to dinner, everyone's getting dessert, I don't get it, I'm being punished.” There's an emotion of I've been a bad person, I can't have this. There's also one common thing, the relationship with men for women. When they started to develop puberty, they got the wrong attention from family members, they could even go into abuse, or comments around their body, they were getting too much attention, it didn't feel safe. When they gained weight, there was some feeling of safety. Many overweight women, I don't know if men have the same thing, but the women I've worked with have this idea they're invisible. When they started to lose weight, we’d work together, they’d start to lose weight, they’d start getting comments, and they fall off, the resistance would hit it. You don't want to be seen, it’s beyond just dieting. It's about what your emotional trigger is. What is that emotional drive to keep you in this pattern? It's a protective mechanism, it doesn't mean something's broken within you. Your mind said “Let's do this so we can keep this because this makes me feel good.” Emotional conditioning, as we know, is moving away from pain to pleasure.
Robert Maldonado 16:31
Getting at the emotions, at the unconscious mind requires deeper work than simply trying to shift your thoughts from negative to positive. It requires understanding what an emotion is, understanding that emotions are neither negative nor positive. They're designed to tell us what the meaning of things are. They imprint on us unconsciously because every moment of our lives, we're feeling something. But most of the time, we're not thinking about what we're feeling. We're saying “That's the way things are.” We're just experiencing life.
Debra Maldonado 17:21
It teaches us what things mean. But it's really not what things mean, it's what we've been conditioned to think what things mean.
Robert Maldonado 17:31
If you go back to those associations, if I grew up in a family where it was a happy time to sit and have a great meal, bond with each other, have a great time, those are imprinted in my mind body, that's how I relate to food in some respects. But most of us didn't have purely that experience. It was a mixture of things. If the those foods that imprinted on me were not the best for me, or are not the best for me now.
Debra Maldonado 18:11
The craving, I feel like I’ll have ice cream, or I feel like I want chips or whatever you crave. There's something associated with that emotionally?
Robert Maldonado 18:20
If mom gave me milk and cookies to sooth me, now I associate sugar and sweetness with soothing and loving attention, which is not the healthiest for me but I might use sugar now as a soothing mechanism.
Debra Maldonado 18:43
A lot of times, the women I've worked with — and men— would have a troubled household, there was fighting, or the parents were strict or critical. Then they'd go to the grandparent. And guess what, the grandparent is always throwing the rules away, here’s cookies, here's the treats. When I'd go to my Nana’s, she’d give us Dr. Peppers or cokes in the bottle, the pinwheels, and sugar, that's what we ate. We're always associating a treat and that feeling of unconditional love with a grandparent mostly than the parent who's the disciplinarian. We start to crave that sense of emotional connection, food becomes love, food becomes acceptance, food becomes bliss. Why would we want to rob ourselves? When we go on a diet, we feel like we're being punished again. It's not even conscious.
Robert Maldonado 19:38
There's another factor that food is not as good as it used to be. Food was healthier in the past and now most of it is processed. When we're eating, perhaps it looks the same, but it's not the same quality. Then we get into trouble as well.
Debra Maldonado 20:00
We're craving this love, this connection, feeling good. We get these mixed signals of “Food is delicious, but look thin.” No wonder two thirds of the US is overweight. It's a problem. I think globally, in the Western world, people have these issues. I think in the US, it's the worst. Certain parts of the US are terrible, you could see cultural issues. The joke of LA is everyone's super thin but no one eats. In the South, you can eat and be round, and it's okay. How can we change this? Besides working on the emotion, there's something deeper, and that's the spiritual solution. I feel like the biggest reason why we aren't happy in life is a spiritual hunger. We don’t want the sweets, we want something deeper.
Robert Maldonado 21:07
It's one of the elements the research points out. If we want to address the situation, the first thing to look at is the genetics. You don't necessarily have to understand all your genetics but if you look at where your family comes from, your ancestry perhaps, you start to get some ideas of what were the traditional foods your particular group ate, what their environment was. Often, those foods can be very beneficial for you because you inherited those genes, you grew up with that tradition. Your body is designed to feed off those foods. It's a good idea to look at your genetics, to think about what those cultures ate, what their lifestyle was. Then look at your conditioning, your family, the traditions in the family, what was going on around the meal time, those are also important aspects. If there was hunger, or lack, or just poor eating habits, you can be pretty sure your mind took note of it somehow. You didn’t necessarily pick up those habits and acting them out now, but they're in your unconscious, you're still reacting to them somehow.
Debra Maldonado 23:07
But also the emotional root, what does food mean to me emotionally? Why does it bring me pleasure? Some people actually have it reversed, where they push food away, they almost hate food, don't enjoy food, because their pleasure’s tied to a certain look of their body. It can lead to disorders as well. You can swing both sides, where you actually are afraid of food.
Robert Maldonado 23:39
The whole nature-nurture piece is you want to look at both sides, your genetics and how you were conditioned around food, what you are ascribing to food. How are you using it? Are you using it for nourishment or for pleasure, or entertainment, or to fulfill unmet emotional needs? All those are aspects of our relationship to food, but what are your particular ones? You want to start to pay attention to that. We know bringing awareness is one of the first principles. But it's the right awareness. Because often people fall into that obsessiveness of “I gotta watch what I eat, how much I weigh.” That is not a good approach because you're using your ego against you. It becomes very self-critical, always putting you down for not meeting those goals that you're setting out for yourself.
Debra Maldonado 24:53
I can relate to that. Early on, when I was 16, I was a little curvy. I worked at Wendy's, so I had those Frosties and french fries. When I was younger, I could eat anything I wanted. But when I started going through puberty, I started to gain a little weight, like 10-15 pounds. Then I had my tonsils out and lost all that extra weight. When I lost extra weight, I got super thin. Everyone complimented me “Wow, Debbie, you look so great. You're so beautiful now.” It's the culture again that rewards the body looking a certain way. In my early 20s, I became obsessed with keeping that weight off. I’d weigh myself every time I ate, I became really obsessed. If I gained a pound, I’d be so hard on myself. It was a miserable life. I remember thinking one day “I'm gonna have to live the rest of my life not able to enjoy food, because when I eat food, I have to feel guilty and then have to diet again.” It was like “When can I just eat what I want to eat, when can it be normal?” I'm sure many people can relate to that constant obsession. When is this ride going to be over? What shifted for me is when I started working in the city, I started finding passion in something else, I just stopped thinking about food, that's when I started to get in my natural balance. Dieting, weighing myself, starving myself was not going to do it. I started to recalibrate my relationship with food as not being so dysfunctional, where I'm starving, and then eating and making up for those times. But the last thing is the spiritual level, there's something beyond me just eating healthy and being a thin person. There's some meaning in life. That's where I started to look at purpose.
Robert Maldonado 26:59
If we're using food as a substitute for meaningful life, that's part of the unhealthy pattern we get into. Having a purpose in life, a deeper connection to your own awareness, your mind body, is a great way to think about yourself, to relate to food, start making bigger changes in your life in a creative positive way.
Debra Maldonado 27:36
You're not just obsessed with the mind body, the conscious thinking, the unconscious mind, there's another element, a deeper part of ourselves we're connecting with, that's larger than this little machine we're trying to live life with.
Robert Maldonado 27:54
We think about fasting, fasting has been in the news recently, a lot of people are practicing intermittent fasting. It's very powerful. Every spiritual practice on the planet has had this practice of fasting. If you ask, why is food connected to your spiritual life? Because it is essentially that connection between mind and body, spirit and matter. It is the way we express our spirituality through food. Food has always been connected with life, abundance, sustenance, spiritual food, it's symbolic of our spiritual nourishment.
Debra Maldonado 28:47
As a Catholic you have the wafer, the breaking of the bread, Last Supper. In Islam they have fasting and feasting.
Robert Maldonado 29:05
Both fasting and feasting are religious and spiritual practices.
Debra Maldonado 29:12
Why fasting? Because we're removing our external bodily desires, taking a step back and relying on God or the divine to sustain us, withdrawing the sense urges to fast. We don't want to diet for the sake of having the perfect body. We want to have a healthy relationship with the world, food, our own bodies.
Robert Maldonado 29:48
The spiritual aspects of fasting is saying “I'm dropping my typical pattern, not eating for a while, and looking inward.” It's a purification of the mind body.
Debra Maldonado 30:07
Biologically, there’s all this research now, what fasting does and how it balances out the body systems.
Robert Maldonado 30:18
It resets and recalibrates the metabolic system, you're going back to factory settings. The body has its own wisdom, its own nature. You're paying attention to it. The research shows it's a great way to reset your metabolic pattern. It doesn't require much, you don't necessarily have to fast for days. Intermittent fasting, dropping one meal, skipping breakfast or dinner. Doing it for a few days per week can have beneficial effects on your mind body.
Debra Maldonado 31:12
I think that beyond just fasting, because that's an easy thing to do, we really have to go to “Who am I? What's my purpose?” Ask ourselves a deeper questions of life, because our purpose isn't to have the perfect body, or to lose 10 pounds, or to be healthier. That's part of it, we do want to be healthier, we do want to avoid disease, and we know that being overweight does impact your body's health. But how do we go to the deeper reason of why we're here. We're not doing it just so our body lives and is more comfortable for the remainder of our life, we want to do it because there's some deeper knowledge we need to attain about ourselves and about why we're here. Otherwise, we're just rearranging the furniture, I'm gonna fast now because it's spiritual. I'm going to go on this workout program and this diet but it's not really addressing that deep spiritual connection. I think once you have that, once you satiate your spiritual hunger, all the other stuff is easier to do. Have you noticed that too? When people start to find nourishment with spirit, their cravings for money, success, fame, having ideal body, relationships start to shift. It doesn't mean you don't have those things. But it doesn't define you like it used to.
Robert Maldonado 32:41
We can see at all levels, from the biological to the spiritual, our relationship with food is so important. It impacts our human condition at all levels.
Debra Maldonado 33:01
This is food for thought, no pun intended, for today. We’ll continue this series on mind body next week where we're going to talk about the power of sleep, which is also a big problem in our society. So many people suffer from insomnia. What we can do, why do we have it, how can we have better sleep and be happier, healthier human beings. We'll see you next week. Hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.
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