Last year I spent time touring the country educating other practitioners on the topic of “Resetting The Addicted Brain”. As I received an overwhelming positive response from healthcare practitioners nationwide, I wanted to share some of the information with those of you wanting to start the year with some health related resolutions.
When it comes to bad habits understanding the brain’s neurochemistry, and a substance called ‘dopamine’, is a great place to start. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that regulates something called a ‘reward pathway’. The brain uses this reward pathway for our survival. So, for example: eating, reproducing and exercising all cause dopamine release which encourages us to do these things again and again.
Other substances (like nicotine, alcohol and sugar) unfortunately stimulate this same release of dopamine. This leaves us wanting more due to reward pathway signalling. Such things also up regulate how much dopamine the brain needs. Which means breaking bad habits can be extremely difficult due to the chemistry of the brain changing.
The body uses amino acids to make brain messengers like dopamine and, what’s great is, we can increase our intake in the diet by eating more protein rich foods like meat, chicken, fish, eggs, yoghurt, nuts and seeds. Animal sources are particularly good, as these also contain other nutrients like vitamins B6, B12, zinc and iron that help the body convert amino acids into brain messengers. Exercise increases our endorphins, which also influences the release of dopamine.
Stop for a moment and consider: what habits have you formed that may be stimulating the signalling of your reward pathway (clue: these are usually things you tend to do over and over again for no apparent reason). Then consider what steps you can take to ensure these bad habits are broken. To begin with, it can be as simple as swapping out a bad habit for a healthy one. For example if you find yourself binging on sugary foods in the afternoon when your energy plummets, perhaps consider protein rich snacks as an alternative like nuts and seeds. Stock up and ensure you have your favourites on hand so it’s a simple process. Or if you enjoy a glass of wine after dinner, why not swap that out for a walk around the block each evening. It’s much easier to distract your mind by swapping into a healthy habit – that also targets your dopamine pathway – rather than trying to go cold turkey.
Now is the perfect time to set yourself up for the year ahead, and hopefully I have shown you how it is far more than just a matter of willpower. We all know eating a healthy diet and exercising is good for our physical health, but the science is clear: our brain has much to benefit from these healthy habits too.
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