Is Your Mind Making You Tired, Fat and Ugly?
If you’ve woken up to find your eye-bags waving at you, that it’s another bad hair day or you feel so low on energy that you can barely pour yourself a bowl of Golden Grahams, chances are you’ll put it all down to a few too many late nights, not enough of your five-a-day and the stresses of modern-day living.
But stop with the obvious excuses. New studies have found that it could be your thoughts that are actually affecting the way you feel, look and live your life. Of course, everyone has down days. Even the most positive of people aren’t immune to negative feelings (after all, research shows that we process 40,000 thoughts per minute), but psychologists now believe that, just as feeling embarrassed can cause a physical reaction (blushing), self-destructive mental chatter can bring on poor health and weight gain.
American psychiatrist Dr Daniel Amen, author of new book Change Your Brain, Change Your Body (Dhs50, Piatkus Books) has spent years studying how our thoughts influence our appearance, energy levels and diet successes, and his research has found that by simply flipping thoughts to positive ones we can overhaul our lives for the better. “Looking at the brain has taught me that in order to change your body, you must first change your mind,” he says. “Mounting evidence shows that when your mind works right, your body reaches optimum health. When your mind is troubled, you’ll struggle with how you look and feel.”
As for these sabotaging negative thoughts, Dr Amen calls them ANTs (Automatic Negative Thought), and he believes they have the power to make an infestation in your brain, preventing you from having the looks and the life that you want. “Learning how to identify your ANTs takes practice and an open mind, but once you’ve identified them, you can get on the path to beating them,” he says. Read on for Dr Amen’s overview of life’s most destructive ANTs and his new tips on eating them up for optimum health, ultimate happiness and the body you’ve always dreamed of.
ANT#1: All or nothing
So, you spent the whole of last week hitting the gym (and not just sitting in the steam room) and your smug face can be seen for miles. Then, a Ladies’ Night ruins your routine and bam! – you suddenly feel like the biggest loser. None of your previous good work counts; as far as you can see it, you are officially a failure. “These ANTs infest your brain when you think everything is all good or all bad,” explains Dr Amen. “It’s a very black and white mentality, which sees you mentally torturing yourself for a very quick, simple – and often small – slip up.”
Eat it up: Re-train your brain into seeing that one blip isn’t the be all and end all. The next time these thoughts of being useless come into your head, think instead, “It’s not so bad, what can I do about this situation to try and fix it?” says Dr Amen. So, for example, if it’s missing a Body Attack class for a bath and a good book, don’t fixate on it, just promise yourself you’ll go the next day (and think about how much harder your body will work after a rest). Eaten the cake that’s been calling you from your fridge all weekend that you swore you’d ignore? Don’t cancel the diet, think that really, what damage is it going to do? “It’s all about gaining perspective,” says Dr Amen.
Like a bit of drama in your life do you? The types of words you use from day to day can send destructive messages to your brain, which then cloud your thinking. “You tend to over-generalise if you use words such as always, never, every time or everyone,” says Dr Amen. “If you think along the lines of ‘I have always had a sweet tooth, so I’ll never be able to give up chocolate’, you’re already consigning yourself to failure.”
Eat it up: “Chances are you feel like you have no control over your behaviours or thoughts, so the key thing here is to start taking back the control,” says Dr Amen, who recommends this visualisation exercise: “The next time you use a word like never, imagine an ant with the word on top of it and then stamping on it. Doing this will send subtle messages to your brain that this word is unacceptable. The more your mind gets used to seeing the stamping, the less inclined it will be to use the word.”
Stop and listen to how you talk to yourself. Most of us spend our days berating ourselves and doing ourselves down, without even realising it, eg ‘I messed up that project. I’m such an idiot’, or ‘I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, how could I be so stupid?’ “This is a very common ANT as most of us are more prone to look at ourselves negatively than positively, but this defeatist attitude can be ruinious for your body,” says Dr Amen.
Eat it up: “You’ve got to flip these thoughts as soon as you think of them,” Dr Amen says. “Swapping your thoughts from ‘I’m a loser’ to ‘I’m NOT a loser’ sounds straightforward, but if you do it often enough it will make a positive impact on your brain and thought processes.” He continues, “If you can’t break the pattern; ask yourself four questions about the label you’re giving yourself: is the negative thought true? Can I absolutely know that it is true? How do I react when I think that thought? And how would I feel if I didn’t have that thought? If you answer each question truthfully, you’ll normally end up with opposite thoughts to the label you were giving yourself.”
ANT#4: Negative thoughts
If you’re the type whose glass is always half empty then chances are that this ANT is one of your major stumbling blocks in life. For you, whatever is happening, it will be the negative aspects of the situation that shine out at you – and the ones that you focus on. Lost 10 pounds, but all you can think about is that you wanted to lose 15? Got a pay rise, but obsessed with the fact that it was less than you asked for? Go on a beautiful holiday, but only notice the cloudy days? You get the idea.
Eat it up: “Whenever you have a negative thought, write it down and then write a positive to it,” suggests Dr Amen. “So, if you’ve lost some weight, but you wanted to lose more write ‘Wow! I lost 10 pounds. I’m on my way to hitting my goal!’ If you only focus on the down side, you’ll give up on it more easily. By putting a positive spin on the same thought, you’re encouraging yourself to keep up the good work.”
Whether it’s applying for a new job or having an awkward conversation, predicting the worst about a scenario even though you don’t know what will happen is the telltale sign that you’ve got a fortune-telling ANT crawling around your brain. “These come to you in the way of ‘I can’t go to that exercise class as I’ll embarrass myself’ or ‘I messed up that interview so I won’t phone back’. As your mind is so powerful, it can actually make what you fear happen,” explains Dr Amen.
Eat it up: “Think about it; if you’ve an inkling that you’re coming down with a cold, it’s likely that you will as you’ll get stressed about it and this lowers your immune system. The same goes for all situations in life when you try to predict what’s going to happen,” says Dr Amen. So, what’s a worrier to do? “Write down what you’re afraid of and then think of solutions. If it’s falling ill, note down how you can stop this, such as eating a healthy dinner or introducing more fruit into your diet – then do what you’ve written down,” says Dr Amen. “Actions always speak louder than the ANTs, so once you start taking action against them, you’ll feel better.”