Empowerment, enlightenment, addictions, emotions, and aminos. Wait. What?

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This is going to be long, there’s a lot to cover so please, I hope you take the time to read all of it. If you think you are not an addict or this doesn’t fit you, I ask you to read it anyway. Enlightenment is the path to empowerment. Enlightenment is the destruction of “conventional” thinking and tapping that power within yourself. Enlightenment leads to a better you. Enlightenment leads to compassion. While you read this, I want you to keep your mind open, not react to certain sections here until you read the whole thing. I’m not making excuses. I’m not pointing fingers. I’m not giving anyone a few pass. I’m trying to make a point and enlighten you. There are going to be points here where you are going to say “yeh, but…”
Stop.
That word sucks.
“But” is an unhealthy word.
Every time you say “but,” what you are really saying is “I’m making an excuse” and “what I said first isn’t important.” Think about it:

You say – “I didn’t mean to hurt you, but, I was…”
You mean – “I hurt you because I did, I’m making you feel better by saying I didn’t mean to, when yes, I chose to do it anyway”

You say – “I thought of going, but, I had to…”
You mean – “I didn’t want to go bad enough so here is my excuse why.”

You say – “That looks great on you, but, would look better like…”
You mean – “You don’t look as good as you think you do and I’m going to tell you why I think so instead of just being nice.”

Now lets look at them with a better word that really means what you are trying to say – right, you are taking responsibility for your words instead of an excuse:

You say – “I didn’t mean to hurt you and I did anyway.”
You say – “I though of going and didn’t because this was more important to me.”
You say – “That looks great on you and I think it would look even better this way.”

We take responsibility for our words AND we acknowledge the feelings of the other person at the same time, instead of discounting them by making an excuse for ourselves.

As an addict, I have a different perspective than the general public on addiction. As someone who dives into science until I can make sense of what is going on, I’ve looked at this from just about every conceivable angle possible. For those who look on addicts with disdain, I ask you to try to adjust your thinking. What is “addiction?”

Short definition: individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Long definition: Addiction affects neurotransmission and interactions between cortical and hippocampal circuits and brain reward structures, such that the memory of previous exposures to rewards (such as food, sex, alcohol and other drugs) leads to a biological and behavioral response to external cues, in turn triggering craving and/or engagement in addictive behaviors. SCIENCE!! SCIENCE PEOPLE SCIENCE!! HOBBITS LOVE SCIENCE!!

Are they the same thing? Yes. No. Maybe. The short definition is what is generally “accepted” as “conventional” definition of addiction. It points to a pathological (compulsive, obsessive behavior, aka negative) moral breakdown in behavior. We know what this points to – alcoholics, drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, sex addicts, etc. It implies damaging and\or self-destructive behavior, right? So this means that it should automatically exclude things like…

  • Collecting objects like cars, Precious Moments, art, shoes, etc., because hey, these are fun things, right? They aren’t hurting anyone…
  • Collecting less tangible items like stocks and wealth, or immersing in religion, because that’s our “security,” our “peace of mind.”
  • Being on Facebook, G+, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. for more than a few minutes a day. We’re just being “social.”
  • Staying at work longer than normal to “just finish up this report.” Again, our “security” and “peace of mind.”
  • Hitting the gym ever day, even those days when you just “aren’t feeling it.” This is our health and you know you will “feel better” when you finish.

These are all “positive” things, they aren’t an addiction. Or are they? Are they actually “positive” or does the end result give us a “positive” feeling? A feeling of…wait for it…reward and relief. So, I’m sure some of you right now are saying “yeh, Hobbit, I see where you are going with this AND it’s different. That isn’t hurting anyone and these are healthy things.”

Are they?
Are they that different just because they are socially acceptable?

I question this line of thinking. Have you ever gone shopping for yourself for something “special” you collect, dragging along someone who really didn’t want to go but went anyway? Have you ever told someone, especially a child “you can’t touch that, it’s not a toy?” What about amassing some financial security, selling high and buying low so that you get the deal before someone else does? Ever told someone you love “one more minute, I just want to finish reading this thing on Facebook,” as if that post is more important than the person right in the same room with you? Ever stay late at work to wrap up a project and miss a child’s event, the opportunity to ask how their day went while they were still excited over it, or miss tucking them into bed? Gotten that euphoria after a really good work out? These all are no different from a fundamental perspective than someone having a few drinks before bed to calm their mind, engaging in risky sex to feel like they matter to someone, or trying to get the cards to fall their way at the blackjack table. All involve the same mechanisms, we just CHOOSE to look at them as completely different because hey, druggies and nymphos are BAD, but we are good. All “addicts” are trying to feel stable, safe, and at peace… even if it is for a short time. They are human. Just like you. Just like me. They deserve the same compassion and understanding that you give yourself when you score a deal on a Hummel or wrap up that big work project. All they are trying to do is feel better, even if for a short time. Feel. Emotions. We as humans are emotional beings. It is what separates us from other species. Having the label “emotional eater” is crap. Guess what, almost everyone in modern society eats “emotionally.” Unless you eat the same flavorless, scentless, identical food for every meal, you eat emotionally. The process of “deciding” what you are going to eat today involves emotions – what “sounds” good, is going to taste good, and makes you feel like you’ve had a “proper” meal. When you make a “nice meal” or “go out to eat on a special occasion,” that is emotional eating. All those decisions involve emotions. Labeling someone who eats outside of hunger to sooth, suppress, or punish for something they are experiencing emotionally as an “emotional eater” is not only unfair, it creates a cyclic way of thinking that contributes to the person suffering from this to stay there. “Emotional” has a negative context in conventional thinking. There’s that word again!! CONVENTIONAL! We need to stop this. Sorry, “over-emotional” isn’t going to cut it either. We need to call it what it is – an addiction – and treat it as one.

Your emotional health is a combination of attitudes, personality, support systems, and your brain’s neurotransmitter levels. Positive attitudes and a healthy personality help us through life’s difficulties and a good support system of family and friends is also valuable during times of trouble. Despite having these resources, there are times when coping with our experiences and life events changes our neurotransmitter status. Like an overheated automobile, we begin to have difficulty operating properly. We are all at-risk for changes in our brain’s chemistry. Mostly commonly, we will experience depression, anxiety, or stress reactions. As our neurotransmitters change, they bring with them additional symptoms, behaviors, and sensations that add to our on-going difficulties. Recognizing these changes is an important part of treatment and returning your life to normal and reducing our stress. This discussion is offered to explain how the neurotransmitter system in the brain can create psychiatric conditions and mental health problems. It is hoped the discussion will provide information that will be of value to those who suspect their neurotransmitter system is creating problems.

Ok, the science lesson, ready for it? The long definition explained. We have several chemicals and hormones that control not only our emotions, but the relationship of the emotions with hunger and food intake. The major ones are serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, tryptophan. These fall under the umbrella of “neurotransmitters” and their “support staff.” The first thing you need to know about neurotransmitter is that there are two different types. These are inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters. Excitatory neurotransmitters are stimulatory to the brain’s nerve fibers. Inhibitory neurotransmitters are calming brain chemicals. It is the inhibitory transmitters that help us balance our mood; they can be diminished in the face of too many excitatory brain chemicals. Serotonin and dopamine are opposites of one another when it comes to their effect on the brain.

Serotonin falls under the classification as an inhibitory brain chemical. It doesn’t stimulate the brain like dopamine can and will balance out the excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain. You need plenty of serotonin in your brain in order to be calm and have a stable mood. It is also important in the regulation of other brain processes, such as pain control, your sleep cycle, cravings for carbs, and adequate digestion of our food. Serotonin is also found in your gut. RIGHT. Your food processing center!!

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps us focus. In this way, serotonin and dopamine are opposites of each other. If dopamine levels are too low or too high, we can have problems on focusing. We may forget where we placed our keys, we may forget a book passage we just read, or we may suffer form off-task behavior—daydreaming instead of remaining on task. Dopamine is important in helping us have mental drive or an impulse to get things accomplished. It affects our motivation. When we have enough dopamine, we act more towards our desires, needs, and goals and when we finally reach our goals, we will feel happy. One special thing to mention, you should notice that dopamine is unique in that it can be inhibitory and it can be excitatory, whereas serotonin is just inhibitory.

Tryptophan is an amino acid, a protein without which humans could not survive. It comprises one of the building blocks of DNA and is vital to the production of serotonin and melatonin.

As a stress hormone, norepinephrine affects parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled. Along with epinephrine, norepinephrine also underlies the fight-or-flight response, directly increasing heart rate, triggering the release of glucose from energy stores, and increasing blood flow to skeletal muscle. Norepinephrine works hand-in-hand with dopamine.

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid, is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in your central nervous system. GABA helps serotonin and dopamine “communicate” with regions of your brain.

Dopamine-Serotonin-Low

Serotonin and dopamine can be thought of as being two different glasses of milk. Together they take up 100 units of fluid, each taking fifty percent of the total. In order to maintain having a hundred units at all times, you must borrow from one of the glasses to fill up the other. If our life is to be completely balanced, there is about fifty units in the dopamine glass and fifty units in the dopamine class. If they, however, become out of balance, the more likely our lives become out of balance. Half full. Half empty (or in my case, who in the hell drank my drink??) What happens when there is an imbalance between serotonin and dopamine?

1. When Serotonin Levels Are Low

Without serotonin or with low serotonin, we suffer from depression and experience a loss of pleasure. This is the main problem with low serotonin.Other symptoms of low serotonin include the following:

Having a significant sensitivity to pain
Being angry all the time
Having constipation
Having carb cravings and problems with binge eating
Feeling low mood from a lack of sunlight
Having problems with digestion
Feeling easily overwhelmed
Feeling a dependency on other people
Having an excess of vigilance
Suffering from insomnia
Having a lack of joy
Having migraines
Having a lower self-esteem
Having ringing of the ears
Having poor cognition

2. When Dopamine Level Are Low

With low dopamine syndromes, you have no motivation in life. You can feel hopelessness, apathy, and a lack of joy. You have a problem starting things and have problems completing them. Some other symptoms of low dopamine include the following:

Feeling tired
Having problems feeling pleasure
Suffering from insomnia
Having a hard time getting up in the morning
Suffering from mood swings
Forgetting things
Having problems with concentration and focus
Having loss of memory
Having a low sex drive
Having problems connecting to others
Craving caffeine
Craving carbs and sugar
Having problems with weight loss
Having problems dealing with stress

Brain scans of people who have bi-polar, chronic depression\anxiety, ADD\ADHD, OCD, Autism, motor/movement disorders, addictions, paranoia, manic episodes, seizures, and schizophrenia show certain regions of the brain unbalanced with dopamine and serotonin.

When both are dopamine and serotonin are low or the brain cannot use them in the right levels, combine those results. Life sucks. We are depressed. Listless. Not fun to be around. Angry. Read those things again. Yeh. A chemical imbalance can be driving your actions, not being “weak” or “immoral.” So, how do we handle these? Your medical advisers like to do it with drugs, typically with SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). SSRIs are called selective because they seem to primarily affect serotonin, not other neurotransmitters, by increasing the uptake (the body’s reception) of serotonin. The downsides of these? Wildly unstable levels of serotonin, dependency (yeh, addiction), and since we know that there is a relationship between serotonin and dopamine, nothing gets done about the latter. How do we want to do it?

DIET.

First, we know that removing carbs from our diet helps with “the hangries,” mood stabilization, and hunger. This is because carbohydrates raise serotonin quickly in their existence and rapidly deplete it in their absence.

Second, we know that both tryptophan and GABA are amino acids. Right. PROTEINS. They have multiple functions in the body, one of them being neurological. Unfortunately, those functions outside of the brain have priority. These two aminos are only made available to the brain in reasonable quantities AFTER the rest of your body has had their way with them. BOO!. We talk a lot about “hitting your protein” macro. This isn’t just for your muscles, this is also for your brain. Insufficient protein will affect your serotonin, which in turn not only affects your hunger (remember, serotonin is your satiated chemical) but your mood, your mental clarity, and your neurological health.

Third, there are foods that specifically help these two primary chemicals. There are several foods that boost serotonin levels: salmon, chicken, avocados, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Foods that are dopaminergic almonds, coffee, chocolate (any surprise there, knowing dopamine is the “feel good” chemical??), leafy greens, sea vegetables like kelp, and beef, chicken, fish.

Yes, diet is important. Take a trip to your local substance rehab center (not really, trust me, they aren’t a fun place) and see what they give people who are detoxing for foods… they are full of starches and sugars. Why? Because those carbs make the recovering person feel better, it makes the withdrawals from substances a little more comfortable (and easier to control). Same with most “anonymous” type meetings. Coffee with sugar, donuts, muffins, etc. When you spend hours talking about your drug of choice, the sugars help at least keep the brain happy instead of craving the “wrong stuff” because as we know, the brain will do things how it wants. Why do you think when you go to a wake, there’s tables of food? It isn’t because people get hungry, but because the food will help raise the mood, ease grief, and foster a sense of community. Addicts are guided in recovery towards “healthy” activities instead of the destructive ones. You can’t “cure” addiction, just redirect it.

So, for those of us who are chronically (or situational) depressed, anxious, compulsive, or have attention deficits, diet is critical for us. We can “feed our emotions” in a better way. Stop looking at having food when you are overwhelmed as horrible, weak, immoral, and destructive. USE food to help you get through the crisis and in the process, help stabilize your brain chemistry. A steady diet of slow-digesting healthy foods (like proteins and fats) can help keep our neurotransmitters on an even keel. Keeping them even helps us attack life in a more moderate, healthy, and happy manner. You ARE what you eat.What you think is linked to what you eat.

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