Second Arrows

A few weeks ago I went to my first meditation class at The Den. The topic of focus was “second arrows”:

“When hit with discomfort, the conventional reaction is to whine and regret, kick oneself, take it hard. So we feel two afflictions: 1) the inevitable, physical feelings [a first arrow the world blasts us with] and 2) the additional, mental reactions [the second arrow we shoot into ourself]. We may fail to note any relief or escape from uncomfortable feelings [the first arrow] other than to distract ourselves with sensual pleasure. So we cling to diversions, rather than observing what is actually present, the arising and passing of feelings.”

—The Buddha, The Arrow Sutta

I think it’s important to allow that first “arrow” to hit you–a break up, the loss of a job, betrayal, etc but forbidding it from having a last effect. Initially, there will be that hollow feeling in your chest, a burning in your stomach and that rage that seems to envelop you (fight or flight response/sympathetic nervous system). But your thoughts surrounding these sensations either amplify them or control them. If you feel that burning sensation in your gut and say to yourself “I’m feeling rage,” you’re going to make it worse. It’s such a quick cycle so it takes a lot of practice but it is your choice as to which course of action to take.

I’ve had my fair share of these situations and I’ve definitely shot those second arrows–especially during my last breakup. A friend reminded me of this Buddhist ideal when I was feeling especially upset and it helped me check myself. I realized exactly what I was doing and how it wasn’t serving me in any way. This is where the buzzword we all love to hear people talk about–“mindfulness”–comes in. Something I practice often is getting myself out of unnecessary deep thought–if I’m driving, I drive; if I’m eating, I focus on that; if I’m reading, I pay attention to each word and process it. All of this takes concentration and practice but the physical sensations and reactions to situations do go away over time.

There are innumerable self-guided meditation videos and articles online but I highly encourage a group setting class. The social obligation of staying the entire time has prevented me from leaving classes when I’ve gotten anxious or lost my ability to concentrate. Because who wants to be that disruptive person that leaves early?

And if you’re like me, fresh out of a tumultuous relationship, don’t shoot those second arrows. Don’t go through old texts and think to yourself, “but he/she said…” Delete those messages and let it be. Understand that the only things you have control over are your actions and thoughts.

Break Up with Sugar

Last weekend I went to Pop Physique’s nutrition talk with Miriam Jacobson, a registered dietician. The talk was mainly about sugar and why we eat so much of it–here’s what I learned:

Our sugar addiction is mostly related to our emotional health–it’s a behavioral response.

What is sugar?
Bread. Quinoa. Squash. Sweet potatoes. Legumes. Edamame. Black beans–all in addition to those small packets of sugar found at every coffeeshop, fruit, and of course–candy and donuts.

Eating legumes is better than eating a donut because it takes the body longer to break down and doesn’t cause as much of a spike in blood sugar (which can lead to weight gain). After eating a donut you have a blood sugar spike and then a dip. This is when we crave more sugar–which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Our bodies need sugar but when there’s this dip in blood sugar, we go for the crappy/unhealthy sugar options.

Carbohydrates
A diet that’s high in refined carbohydrates causes your body to crave more sugar. When you choose to eat more simple carbs, it actually takes nutrients to process the carbs. When you eat a piece of white bread, your body needs to use chromium to metabolize that white bread. And when you have a chromium deficiency you crave more sugar. It’s a vicious cycle.

Protein
Protein causes us to be satiated. Not having enough protein with every meal leads to sugar cravings. Eating it in the morning is essential because it helps prevent that 3pm sugar crash (have 12-15 grams for breakfast e.g. 2 eggs or a protein shake). It helps stabilize that blood sugar response. Protein in combination with carbs such as legumes and sweet potatoes makes us feel more energized and mentally acute.

Fake Sugars
Sugar alcohols make our bodies crave more sugar because they create a false response. Our bodies/brain expect a sugar high that it doesn’t get–so it secretes hormones that causes us to crave more sugar. These fake sugars are often 600x sweeter than actual sugar so they desensitizes our taste buds and train our bodies to crave more sweet things.

Stevia
When it comes to stevia, look at how you’re using it. If you feel like you need it, then cut back.

Candida
Candida is a yeast and a fungus that grows inside all of us (it decomposes our bodies when we die). It’s opportunistic–when we have a bad diet, when we’re stressed out or on antibiotics–it tends to over grow. Since it feeds off of sugar, it causes us to crave more. It also feeds off of alcohol and stress. An overgrowth can create a lot of havoc in our bodies–bloating, digestive pain, reflux, brain fog, joint pain, yeast infections, etc.

It’s a conditioned response.
We train our bodies to crave it. For example, “Every day after lunch, I’m going to have some chocolate.” The anticipation of enjoying the sugar is more rewarding and satisfying than the fleeting moment of the dopamine hit. It hits and then goes away.

Sugar is rewarding and has a big effect on our brain health–it is classified as a drug. In studies with mice, they will choose sugar over cocaine–that’s how addictive it is. Sugar secretes endorphins and dopamine (FYI–working out also secretes endorphins) which makes us feel really good. When we’re sad it’s an easy pick me up.

The hit needs to become bigger over time–it’s like a drug. The receptors in our brain start to desensitize so you need to eat more sugar to get the same pleasurable response that you had, for example, the day before.

How are you using it?
You have control over your diet. “Is this what I want to be eating right now? Or is my body addicted to it?” Build awareness. Look at your food with the question: “Is this nutrients or anti-nutrients?” “Am I really hungry or just bored at my job? Stressed?” Is it habit or is something more emotional going on? You have to step back and ask yourself these questions and then choose a better option like meditation, taking a walk, listening to music, etc. Separate from the world a little and process that stress.

What do we do?

Diet
A diet that’s high in starch causes our body to crave more sugar because of the blood sugar response. Think about a plate as your hands put together and one palm should be a piece of protein. For example, pasture raised eggs. It’s important to look at where your food comes from. If your food was fed corn and grains, it’ll lead to inflammation (this inflammation will manifest as a digestive imbalance, joint pain, foggy brain or it might even be silent). Wild salmon is another great addition to reduce cravings. Chia seeds are another option that are high in Omega-3’s and protein. Other options: pasture raised chickens, grass-fed beef.

Anti-inflammatory fats are important. One serving would be a tablespoon of oil, 1/4 of an avocado, some raw almonds, raw cashews,  pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia or flax. Fried foods and roasted nuts are off-limits. When they heat nuts the fats get damaged and that leads to inflammation in the body.
Vegetables is where people usually fall short. A whole hand (on your metaphorical hand plate) should be non-starchy vegetables (2 cups). Vegetables have fiber which help that blood sugar response. Cruciferous vegetables are the best option–broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, etc. They help boost the liver’s detoxification efforts which helps the liver process hormones (estrogen, testosterone, insulin). Green juices are a good addition to your diet but don’t rely on them for your vegetable intake.

The best carbohydrates are the complex ones: sweet potatoes, quinoa, lentils, hummus–not toast.
It’s important to not overdo it with fruit. You shouldn’t exceed 2-3 servings per day. Bananas, mangoes, dates and dried fruit have way more sugar than apples, peaches and berries. Acai bowls are a sugar bomb.

Alcohol
If you’re going to drink, stay away from grain based alcohols (like whiskey). So tequila and red wine would be good options.

Digestive System
90% of serotonin is created in the gut. It’s important to eliminate yeast and add in healthy bacteria like probiotics. It helps the gut heal and elevates our mood. An imbalance of bacteria can lead to depression.

Rewire your brain
We aren’t born with habits, we make habits. We can rewire our brains. Connect to you “why?” If you have weight goals, ask yourself why–is it to feel energized? About keeping a promise to yourself? Understand your purpose and what drives you. When things get hard, it’s easy to cheat. It’s important to connect to your higher purpose–it makes the decision much easier. Create an intention when you decide what to eat and how you’re going to eat. Set a place setting at a table–don’t eat while watching TV (this leads to overeating).

Creating new networks in our brain takes work. We often make associations in our brain–e.g. “every time I sit down to watch a TV show, I eat popcorn.” You start to associate watching a TV show with eating popcorn. Ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” It could be because of habit, stress, or even just a way of unwinding. “What’s a different and healthier decision?” It could be a protein shake or tea with almond milk. Changing the habit makes it an easier switch than just going cold turkey. The more you repeat these new habits, the easier it gets. You begin to adopt them into your every day life. It only takes 14 days without sugar to retrain our taste buds.