Most of you reading this blog have probably seen the TED Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor describing in detail what a left hemisphere stroke looked and felt like as it happened to her. Her knowledge of brain anatomy and brain function both helped and hindered her during the stroke – she spent a little too much time enraptured in the thrall of her own failing brain’s decline.
Probably fewer of you have managed to read Jill’s book, My Stroke of Insight. In that book she makes one thing abundantly clear: her mother, GG (Gladys Gillman Taylor), played a tremendous role in Jill’s recovery. It was her mother who took Jill home, realizing as she did that it was no longer her 37-year-old daughter she would be caring for. In terms of left-brain function, GG suddenly had a 2-year-old on her hands. And she would have to coach and teach Jill things like language skills and the names of objects and many other functions critical to left hemisphere operations all over again. Essentially, she had to raise her daughter twice, the second time on Jill’s brain’s healing timetable and in accord with her slowly re-growing capacities.
Making the Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience Obesity-Operational
The fact that Jill Bolte Taylor is able to give a TED Talk and appear on Oprah and tour the country giving talks and presentations is a testament to both compassionate, committed parenting and to the extraordinary fact of brain plasticity. It is this parenting and plasticity that contributed to my brainstorm about how I might begin to creatively food-rehab my own burgeoning weight – my brain would have to be remodeled, specifically in the areas involved with food, nourishment and eating behaviors – even if it ended up with me having to handcuff my hands behind my back for a week every month (with velvet handcuffs, of course)! But I would also need skillful, patient help to actually get the brain remodeling job done, much as I needed when I worked as a home remodeler.
And as with any good remodeling project, I needed to begin with a good blueprint. The way that certain foods often feel to me is similar to how I imagine crack feels to a crack addict: I’ve got to have some, and I’ve got to have some right now. With that realization in mind, I began to draw my blueprint based on findings from the addiction research literature. And what better place to start than with a former drug addict turn neuroscientist’s first-hand, researched account – Marc Lewis’s, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain! Before we actually explore what Lewis has to say, let’s take a quick look at just how complex the issue of skillfully managing weight actually is.
The Crushing Complexity of Obesity Management
Several weeks ago David Berreby, writing in the online magazine, Aeon, described in depth just how overwhelmingly complex the management of weight and nourishment actually turns out to be. I’m not going to list all the complexities here, but take some time to read his article. From the global food supply chains, to food content and quality, to metabolic ghettos, you’ll see just how many forces – including the way your own brain has developed and operates – are aligned against you.
The Biology of Desire
Marc Lewis’s experience with learning to kick cocaine and meth and prescription drugs, and how he managed to find his way through this enormously complex issue, primarily succeeds as a result of his knowledge and understanding of how the brain works, similar to Jill Bolte Taylor examining her stroke from the perspective of a scientist,
Lewis too, takes a close up, personal examination of his addiction through the lens of neuroscience. Along the way, he lays it out clearly: drugs, alcohol, sex, nicotine or food – all addictions are the result of brain-based learning. And essentially addiction is learning that involves two different circuits in the brain: the “Wanting” circuitry and the “Getting” circuitry. For most of us struggling with weight management, these circuits began firing together as a system in our early learning adventures with food. But one of the great findings in recent years is that the Wanting and the Getting circuitry can become decoupled with practice and with knowledgeable, competent help – people who understand how the brain works and what needs to happen for the decoupling process to actually occur and to be sustained.
In this vein, I predict two recent brain research findings will truly turn out to be game-changers. I’ll write about them and more next week.
Meanwhile, if you email: firstname.lastname@example.org, I’ll send you a free copy of The Weight Weight Chronicles – 100 recent scientific studies that underscore just how complex this problem actually is and why it’s so easy to fall for shallow and cinchy solutions.