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Three mind-body causes of weight gain

by: Mike Bundrant, March 10, 2012

Below are three little known mind/body systems that contribute to high stress, weight gain and the inability to lose weight. Chances are you haven't heard of at least one of them, yet they affect your life on every level. When you understand how these systems operate, you can work with them and reverse age-old patterns that may have been contributing to weight gain or other manifestations of chronic stress.

Most experts agree that overeating and weight gain is a stress-induced response. The solution almost always involves reducing stress in some fashion. Some of these glowing experts, after so aptly identifying the cause of the problem, brilliantly suggest you take up a hobby, such as washing your car on Saturday mornings. I'm not kidding. We could call it the clean car diet.

For those who want a deeper understanding of how to heal chronic stress and tension, especially deep seated emotional stress, each of the following is worth further investigation.

The Default Mode Network

Medical research on the source of chronic stress points to the brain's default mode network (DMN). The DMN, active when your mind is not engaged in specific cognitive tasks, is responsible for the stream of self-referential thoughts or mind wandering that is commonly called "autopilot thinking." When the DMN is overactive, it becomes a source of chronic tension.

 Most people today can identify with a mind that won't "turn off." Continual mental activity inhibits relaxation, connection to the environment, peaceful sleep and keeps you in a state of chronic distraction and even self-consciousness.

Scientific research has linked hyperactivity in the DMN to depression, ADHD, insomnia, PTSD and other health conditions. What can be done about it? It turns out that you can deactivate this noisy brain network whenever it acts up. If you're skeptical of this claim, so were researchers. Marcus Raichle, MD, the original DMN researcher, explained in the March 2010 edition of Scientific American:

In 1998 we even had a paper on such findings rejected because one referee suggested that the reported decrease in [DMN] activity was an error in our data. The circuits, the reviewer asserted, were actually being switched on at rest and switched off during the [cognitive] task. Other researchers, however, reproduced our results for both the medial parietal cortex -- and the medial prefrontal cortex (involved with imagining what other people are thinking as well as aspects of our emotional state). Both areas are now considered major hubs of the DMN.

It boils down to this: You can "turn off" the part of the brain that destroys your inner peace.

Engaging in specific kinds of cognitive tasks, also known as awareness practices, has been scientifically proven to alter brain circuitry (not just brain chemistry, but actual circuitry) without the use of drugs.

Wilhelm Reich's Emotional Armoring

Police use Kevlar vests to protect themselves from incoming bullets. The military uses tanks to wage war with greater advantage. Super heroes like Iron Man and Superman come with magnificent armor. Most people understand physical protection, but fail to grasp the even more prevalent need for emotional protection. Your body understands this need and, without seeking your permission, has always attempted to fill it.

From before you can remember, your body has fought to defend against emotional harm. When you were teased as a child, rejected, misunderstood, criticized or mistreated, you felt hurt, pain and anger. If the pain you felt was not acceptable; if you had no outlet for your feelings that could lead to resolution, then your body suppressed your feelings. This is smart, especially when expressing yourself could lead to even more pain or rejection.

Suppressing emotions is a physical process that involves tightening muscles to contain the emotional energy. Clenched jaws, a tight chest, knotted shoulders and a host of muscular patterns emerge over time to hold back the angst and prevent further damage.

Unfortunately, emotional armoring comes at a price. The chronic muscle tension required to dam the emotions is exhausting. It takes energy to hold back. Moreover, emotions aren't processed fully. You can't express yourself fully. Pain is buried and the natural flow of energy in your body is disrupted. Chronic stress and tension rule the day. Your internal Iron Man suit gets heavy after decades of carrying it around. In the end, you feel trapped inside a body that functions like an emotional cage. To make a long story short, you cannot adequately release the normal stress and tension of the day when your body is in such a state.

I know because I've been there. After a year of working weekly with the country's foremost orgone therapist, Mary Lou MacIlvaine, PhD, I began to soften some of my emotional armor. This work is not for the feint of heart, but it is possible to break through and begin to experience a significant amount of emotional freedom and much greater expressiveness.

By the way, a thick layer of fat is also a great emotional shield. To let the fat go, you need to deal with the emotions it may be smothering.

The Primitive Brain's Desire to be Fat

Jon Gabriel is one of my favorite weight loss experts, not just because he personally lost over 200 pounds, but because his methods are sane, well-researched, and psychologically sophisticated. Gabriel teaches that, if you are overweight, it is because your brain has a reason for it. If you try to force yourself to lose weight anyway, you are waging war against your brain. This is a war you are bound to lose!

Again, it all relates to stress. According to Gabriel, the primitive brain doesn't understand modern stress. It interprets stress according to ancient programs. Modern stress is interpreted by the primitive brain as immediate physical danger, famine, or susceptibility to the elements, such as frigid temperatures. It responds with measures appropriate to the perceived danger. If your chronic stress is consistently interpreted as physical danger, your brain will want you to be lean and agile, so you are more prepared to fight or flee. This is why, according to Gabriel, some people cannot gain weight no matter how much they eat. Their brains have a reason to keep them thin.

If your brain interprets stress as potential famine, however, it will demand that you eat while you can. It will also slow your metabolism, enabling you to gain weight as quickly as possible. It needs you to be fat and if you try to be thin, you are setting yourself up for failure.

The key is to identify the underlying, chronic stressors in your life. For some, emotional trauma is the cause. For others, physical causes such as sleep apnea or insomnia are at the root of the problem. For others, a stressful or mismatched relationship may be at the root of the issue. Whatever the cause of the stress that your brain interprets as famine is the key to reprogramming your body to want to be thin.

The source of hope for weight loss success and a more conscious, mindful existence is to identify and learn to let go of underlying issues so that you are not continually fighting an uphill emotional battle.

About the author: Get the free mini-course Three Soul Stirring Questions That Reveal your Deepest Goals by visiting the iNLP Center.

Mike Bundrant is the founder of the iNLP Center, which offers NLP training and personal development coaching. Learn more about Mike's down-to-earth, skill-based coaching that comes with a lifetime membership to the iNLP Center's online school and receive a free life coaching consult.