Sunday, March 15, 2015

Paleo and the Three (Four) Minds: Or How to Stick to Your Diet During Tough Times

     I first heard of the theory of three minds back in high school when I took a class in psychology. Though I've never been a big fan of Sigmund Freud, the theory stuck out to me. It states that there are three minds within us all, and while he gave them fancy names, it basically boils down to your aware mind, your unaware mind, and your primitive mind, but I like to take it one step further and include your super-aware mind.

When a salad looks this good, it's easy to
decide to eat salad every day.
     Your aware mind is that part of you that is ready to change, to eat better, to get in shape, to feel better. It's the part of you that decides you're going to eat a salad for lunch every day, and you're only going to drink water. It's your awareness that when you look in the mirror, you don't like what you see, or when you walk up stairs, you don't like how you get out of breath, or when you eat certain foods (like bread), you don't like how you get bloated and gassy. Your aware mind is the part of you that wants to change and has big plans. It's the part that you may have confused with your willpower, but willpower just isn't that simple. The aware mind is not your willpower. It is just that part of you that can become aware of a situation and plan for certain eventualities. It's that part of you that you have to employ in order to have strategies in place for when the other minds come into play.

If this is in your pantry, it's all too easy for
your unaware mind to reach for a cookie.
     Your unaware mind is the part of you that is functional without your awareness. Think of it as that part of you that gets you through your day, like how you can drive to work without remembering how you got there because nothing significant happened to bring your aware mind into play. It's the part of you that reaches for the same old thing when you get hungry and haven't planned. It's the part of you that needs you to clean out your cabinets and fridge in order to have none of the usual things on hand.

     Your primitive mind is the part of you that is the hardest to access. It's the part of you that relies on habits. I actually heard this explained first in my study of yoga as a "samskara" which basically means rut or impression. It's that way we wear a particular pattern into our lives by doing the same thing over and over again. The problem comes when we practice unhealthy habits and those unhealthy habits become samskara. We can change our samskara by forging new habits, but we have to employ our aware mind to set up thesee new habits. This can be achieved easier if we don't let ourselves get too tired, too hungry, or too stressed. Strategies for not getting too tired are to get a good amount of sleep, set electronic curfews, and take naps. Strategies for not getting too hungry are to keep Paleo-approved snacks with you. These can include nuts or nut butters (not peanut) or Paleo-approved jerky for times you're feeling light-headed and need protein; apples or other crunchy foods for when you're stressed and need a good crunch; seeds salted with sea salt for when you're craving something salty; dates are great for sweet and chewy cravings; and dark chocolate for when nothing but chocolate will get you through. Strategies for not getting too stressed can be a little harder. Stress happens. It is very hard not to let stressful events get the better of us at times. The key is to have things you enjoy that help you unwind. Exercise is good because it helps release endorphins. Prayer and meditation can also reduce stress. It's also good to have friends and loved ones you can talk to or do things you enjoy with to help in stress reduction.

     The super-aware mind, however can be your best friend. This part is what allows us to connect to God. Scientists have been studying this phenomenon, and have found that through prayer or meditation, we can activate parts of the brain, coined "the God centers." We can strengthen our brains, and with the help of God, we can forge new samskaras and increase our willpower to get us through the tough times until Paleo becomes such a way of life that we are no longer tempted by SAD food.

     Over the past month, I've had a rough time. I've been sick, Ray started a new medication but had to go back off of it because of it's effect on his blood sugar. The kids have been sick. With all of this going on, plus the added stress of working long, stressful hours at work, sticking to Paleo can be hard. I find myself craving sweets after really hard days. I also need something crunchy when I get off work. I keep an apple in my lunch bag for after-work crunchy needs, and I have an ounce of dark chocolate at the end of the day. And if the craving gets really bad, I'll give in to some dates or even some cookies or cupcakes made from almond flour or coconut flour. And coffee has been on my mind more often than not, and since I like my coffee sweet, I've been adding coconut sugar to it. All of these things have helped me keep my sanity without making me feel worse.