Health Goals

Most of us believe self control is largely a character issue. However recent research suggests that willpower by itself is inherently limited. Because the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area of the brain in charge of willpower, can become easily overtaxed willpower can decrease dramatically when you try to do too much too soon. Studies show that the PFC can be improved by focusing on 1 behavior change at a time which in turn can lead to other positive changes. One such study asked college students to improve their posture and over the course of two weeks noticed other improvements of self control happened as a consequence. The key take away here is that the PFC cannot process multiple requests to change at the same time. Some of my patients who attempted to do too many health goals at once were not successful.

Three tips to help you reach your health goals

1. The brain cannot handle multiple health goals at once
For example, all it takes is 5 extra bits of information to decrease willpower in the PFC. One study tested willpower by having subjects choose a fruit salad or a slice of chocolate cake while keeping in mind a two digit or seven digit set of numbers. Those trying to juggle 7 digits were twice as likely to choose the cake over a fruit salad. The solution is to focus on only 1 health goal at a time. This way you not only start your health goal but continue to commit to it until it becomes a positive habit and is successful.

2. Calories do count but not in the way you think
Another study gave one set of students lemonade with artificial sweetener and the second set of students lemonade with sugar. After viewing a video all the students were tested on several self control tasks. Those given the lemonade with artificial sugar, which had 0 calories, performed tasks less successfully than those who had consumed the sugar lemonade, which contained calories. The conclusion suggests that calories are needed to supply the brain with food to function effectively and increase self control. Skipping meals to lose weight or because you are too busy only makes it harder to maintain your willpower and will often lead to overeating or eating snack foods. I recommend you plan your meals and eat at regular times throughout the day to maintain proper blood sugar levels, and nourish the brain so it supports your health goals.

3. Even simple exercise is important to maintaining your health goals
Exercise releases positive endorphins so you end up feeling better once you adhere to a regular activity routine. By exercise I mean just doing some daily physical activity to start. For example it could mean something as simple as a daily walk around the block or joining a gym. Exercise activates the brain reward center which helps us feel good, improves our mood, helps us sleep better and stimulates the flow blood to nourish the brain.

Many of my patients talk to me about losing weight and ask if acupuncture alone can help. I always make the joke that if acupuncture worked perfectly for weight loss by itself I’d be a wealthy woman. What I do know is acupuncture can help sustain your health goals in these areas:

o Become more relaxed which cuts back on anxiety induced cravings
o Feel clear headed and better able to concentrate on your goals and daily tasks
o Have more energy to sustain your commitment to positive behavior change
o Improve your digestion which allows the body to efficiently process the food you eat