Dr. Kristin Schaefer-Schiumo| Manhasset NY

My Brain Wants The Frappuccino....Seriously!

How many times have you said to yourself, "this is it, I'm changing my life"? Maybe you've worked out, decluttered your closet or home, stopped working out, lost weight, gone gluten free or dairy free or both, gained weight, or feasted on dairy and gluten to your hearts content. In short you, like most people, swing back and forth between what you know is healthy for you in the long run and what you "need" or "want" in the short run to feel good. Believe it or not, this experience is very much tied to your brain function. In fact, there is a neurological explanation for why New Years resolutions are usually unsuccessful. As a whole, our brains have evolved to be efficient by using our prefrontal cortex to consciously make decisions and learn complex tasks. As we repeat our routines and behaviors over and over again with time, they become automatic and then are controlled by our basal ganglia. This frees up that prefrontal cortex to learn new, complicated tasks. At this point you may be asking, "what does all this have to do with my "need" for a Frappuccino?" Well, when you're feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed, your prefrontal cortex is not in control. Chronic levels of stress bring your limbic system online. The limbic system of the brain regulates levels of emotion and is much more likely to choose that Frappechino over a salad! When you're under chronic levels of stress, your cortisol levels are high and you repeat the automatic behaviors that are not serving you. This could be eating high levels of sugar or simple carbohydrates, drinking too much wine, beer or liquor, or being unable to get off that couch. But as you know, these behaviors are a quick fix or temporary high, and do not provide lasting or meaningful health or peace. So, how do we get and keep our prefrontal cortex online? Contrary to popular belief, information alone is not enough. That is why wellness programs providing information about healthy nutrition and exercise, or books discussing mindfulness, the power of gratitude, or time management and organizational strategies are largely ineffective. Instead, guidance on how to meaningfully apply information and ideas is critical. As a psychologist, I have over 20 years of experience helping clients effectively integrate mindfulness strategies, emotional relearning, behavioral self-care, and effective and positive forms of communication. You will be far more likely to succeed in maintaining long-term, health promoting behaviors when you have the structure, support and knowledge base of a truly effective professional. Then, you will be able to consciously choose that Frappechino from time to time, while also maintaining healthy behaviors over the long haul.