The Naked Project: Part 4 - The Science of Mind over Matter
In the last article in The Naked Project series, which you can read here, we talked about how our brains and bodies become wired to think and feel shitty about ourselves. Today we go a little deeper with the science of mind over matter:
Another example of the power of our thoughts comes in a study on visualization and performance in basketball conducted by Dr. Judd Blaslotto at the University of Chicago. Dr. Blaslotto randomly selected a group of students to take a series of free throws. After tallying the percentage of successful throws the students were then divided into three groups and asked to perform three separate tasks over a month-long period: the first was told not to touch a basketball, no practicing or playing for 30 days; the second was told to practice shooting free throws for half an hour a day; the third was to come to the gym every day and visualize hitting every free throw with eyes closed. Then they were all asked to come back and make the same number of free throws they tried at the beginning of the study. The first group, which did nothing, saw no change in performance; the second, which practiced every day, saw a 24 percent improvement, and the third, which had simply visualized free-throws, saw a 23 percent improvement. These results demonstrate that repeatedly thinking about something has a real and measurable effect on the function of the body. Those who visualized could rewire their brains in such a way that there was little difference between themselves and those who physically practiced every day for a month, building up muscle memory and physical skill.
The influence of our thoughts on our physicality has been demonstrated repeatedly through neurological research. A 2015 study from the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute confirmed that mental visualization can build physical strength – another demonstration of how the mind changes the body. A group of healthy participants immobilized with rigid casts from their elbows to their fingers were able to maintain strength and reduce associated muscle loss after imagining intensely contracting their wrists for five seconds, then resting for five seconds, five times per week. The control group saw a 45 percent muscle loss versus the group doing visualization, which lost 24 percent. The imagery group were also able to activate the muscle more quickly when the casts were removed.
Another 2003 study published in Neuropsychologia, "From mental power to muscle power--gaining strength by using the mind”, demonstrated that participants could significantly increase muscle strength in their little fingers by visualization alone. Again, this speaks to the idea of how the mind effects the body and the nervous system and, ultimately, your weight.
Our neural circuitry defines so much about the way we live, from the decisions and judgements we make to the foods we crave and the way we store fat in our bodies. Another new and groundbreaking study on obesity conducted at the University of Texas-Southwestern scanned the brains of 30 women -- 15 lean and 15 obese—all of whom had eaten the same meal and reported being full. When they were shown pictures of food during the MRI, the brains of the obese women lit up, while brains of the lean women did not. Something in their hardwiring was compelling them to continue to eat. Even when the obese women underwent weight loss surgery – bariatric procedures to reduce the size of their stomachs to feel more full after less food -- their brains reverted back to craving food after a year.
While the researchers did not know why the brains of these women were wired differently, the study does shed light on why so many obese people struggle to keep the weight off long-term. But that’s not the whole story. Weight loss, whether through surgery or through diet and exercise, will never be sustainable if you do not go deep enough to address the root causes of the brain’s hard wiring. Years of building certain neural pathways will affect both behavior and body chemistry.
Behavior can change, but it’s not enough, because our own physiology is fighting against us. A craving is in fact a biochemical reaction in the mind-body. By definition it is a change in the body’s chemistry which triggers a thought (must eat chocolate) which triggers a behavior (eating chocolate). You cannot separate the two things, and I would argue that brain chemistry, or I should say the emotions and thoughts behind the chemistry, come first.
How? As the brain monitors the status of the body it notices those feelings and generates thoughts that produce corresponding chemical messengers. So the more we think the same thoughts, the more we produce the chemicals, which produce the same feelings, which signal the same genes. In other words, all that negativity gets amplified. Whatever we think about, and the energy and intensity of those thoughts, directly influences our brain, body, nervous system, metabolism, immunity, and so on. All that shit talk just ricochets back and forth between mind and body, wreaking havoc with our overall wellness and, yes ladies, weight.
So now you know. Stay tuned next time we talk more scientific and how to change the way we think in order to change our bodies.
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Thanks so much for listening to your body with me. And with every conversation please: Love, Energize, Move, and Rise!