Most of you reading this believe you are about to read a handy-dandy, quick way to lose weight. After all, I am a physician and I am supposed to provide you that. Right? Haven’t you heard interviews with docs? We usually say things as, “I love to take care of people.” Well, I guess I’m about to come out of the closet because I really don’t like to take care of people. Surely, there are times when people need to be taken care of, and then it is deeply gratifying to come to one’s aid. But, the majority of the time, most people need to be shown and guided in ways to take care of themselves. And that is what I love to do.
In my career, I have observed a few things. One of the most profound is that illness rarely arises out of the blue. It is usually the culmination of a string of poor lifestyle choices; really, bad habits. When we think of bad habits though, we usually think in the terms of those that involve eating habits or various forms of substance abuse. However, the bad habits that I find have the most profound effects on our health are the daily, recurrent diets of anger, regret, resentment, guilt, blame, and worry. These are the root causes of all other bad choices.
There is a portion of our brain, what I have dubbed the Automatic Brain (AB), which is responsible for these six feelings/emotions and the fight-or-flight reaction to danger that causes them. Eliminating them from your life will have a massive positive effect on your future success and happiness.
As I have written before, The Elimination Diet: “Remove anger, regret, resentment, guilt, blame, and worry. Then watch your health, and life, improve.”
Pent up anger can lead to self-destructive behaviors or explode in overt hurt to others (ever hear of road rage?). But it is important to know where anger arises. It is the fight of the fight-or-flight reaction and it always means you are reacting to a perceived danger, threat, or vulnerability. It should never be believed or trusted as an actionable guide. To eliminate it, you must first explore why you feel threatened; in other words, what is at the core of your rage? Do you feel one-upped by a life circumstance; such as money challenges, relationship pressures, unresolved childhood abuses?
Happy or sad, at least we know what the past gave to us. It is known; the experiences and feelings, familiar. Regret is our ABs attempt to fight or flee the discomfort of present challenges or future unknowns. It is a powerful emotion that can freeze us in depression and despair. To understand that the past does not have to predict the future is to begin eliminating this feeling.
Years ago, I was faced with a confrontational challenge. If I said nothing I would be sick with resentment for years to come. If I confronted the individual, I too would be sick, with nervousness/anxiety, but it would end once I addressed what needed to be addressed. Avoiding a confrontation provides a short-term gain, but results in the long-term pain of resentment. To eliminate this, you will need to learn about what it takes to be assertive. This means allowing the short-term pain of addressing a challenge, so to achieve the long-term gain of eliminating resentment. Being assertive removes the resentment that develops when you do something that you really do not want to do so to avoid the pain of sticking up for yourself. It is very different from being aggressive. Learn the difference and begin the elimination process.
One of the greatest subconscious dangers that the human brain detects is that of the potential of losing security, often misinterpreted as losing love. Usually, the individual provoking the guilt feels in danger of losing the love of the recipient…you! Your guilt actually has nothing to do with you. Since our ABs will do whatever it takes, by all means necessary, to fight or flee losing security (our innate defense), that person will use guilt-producing language and behavior whose aim is not to lose you. Sometimes it is instituted as a means to be in control; to one-up. Understanding that the guilt is not really your guilt, but based on an arbitrary/manipulative set of rules usually established by someone else, can help to eliminate it.
Your AB will cause you to fight or flee anything that it detects as dangerous, threatening, or circumstances where you feel vulnerable. In other words, it tries to “protect” all aspects of you. The idea that you need to accept personal responsibility and exert more self-control is a hard pill to swallow and can lead to negative opinions of yourself. Maybe you view your gifts as inferior to others. Your AB rejects those negative opinions because they imply vulnerability. Therefore, the fight-or-flight shows up as blame or scapegoating. That pesky brain of ours will cause you to look for blame in things that are out of your control to protect your sense of self. “I’m the way I am because it’s in my genes, or because I have a hormonal problem, or because I am big-boned.” Or, even worse, you’re in the predicament you’re in because of a certain group of people. These are the flight reactions your AB creates to the perceived danger of lacking self-control, of being weak.
The only purpose our AB exists is to protect us from perceived danger. The inherent danger for all animal species, including humans, is the unknown. No matter how hard we try, we can never know precisely what the future will hold. In order to prepare for this unknown of the future, we usually conjure up worst case scenarios which manifest in the form of worry. This ill-fated attempt actually makes us less prepared, as the anxiety it causes disrupts our sense of balance. By attending to present challenges in decisive ways, we better our chances at a danger-free future. When of my favorite Zen parables ends with the lesson, “When you have one eye on your goal [the future in this case], you only have one eye on the path [the present] in which to find the way.” Focus on your daily steps and forge a strong, worry-free path toward your future.
A final note:
When you target these six and make a concerted effort to rid them from your life, I promise you, it will work better than any diet, vitamin, or medication to move you into a state of health of mind, body, and spirit. I am often asked how one might achieve this elimination process. For that, I have developed a ten-step program to help you.