Reward ≠ Food

rewardnotfood

Patient and client conversations can be a rich source of writing inspiration to address common concerns. As we discuss new changes, cravings, accomplishments and challenges, ideas start to percolate as we work together to find the best solution for the individual. If the same issue is mentioned by different individuals more than three times in relatively short succession, we can almost *feel* the universe tapping on our shoulder.

The latest recurrent theme among us all seems to be regarding emotional eating, over-eating, and reward-eating.

Let’s break this last one down. Why would we associate certain foods with a reward?

    • With thousands of years of evolution working for (or against) us, humans naturally crave sweet flavor. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would get a little *ping* of dopamine by eating berries and other naturally sweet substances. The brain would reward eating this food, which some argue helped our ancestors survive by promoting fat storage to see them through the leaner times. This survival mechanism is all but unnecessary during the times in which we live, with plentiful food stores and sedentary lifestyles (when was the last time we burnt 2000+ calories a day hunting down buffalo?).
    • An ostensible lack of other options or ideas for rewarding ourselves. We’ve leaned on food to give ourselves a pat on the back after a hard day in the office, for finishing a big project, or to relax after a full day with the kids finally in bed. After many years of this, we may have forgotten how to celebrate our accomplishments without cake, doughnuts, french fries, or chips.

After the sleeve of cookies is finished, there can be a poignant anxiety that settles in. Guilt and shame follow soon after and we feel terrible about ourselves. Then we say “what the Hades, I’m probably never going to lose the weight anyway” and keep going or we decide with firmness and determination, “starting tomorrow, no cookies ever again!” However, we all know how this plays out; the deprivation leads to cravings and the whole cycle begins anew.

When you eat, try eating to nourish your body and experience pleasure. Tying food to your reward-system will unravel advances in your health goals and, here’s the kicker, it doesn’t even work. By the time we are done with the chocolate chip cookie party, we only temporarily feel sated before we either look for more sugar (during the ‘down’ of our blood sugar rollercoaster) or we feel guilty…..which drowns out what ephemeral feeling of pleasure we got from the food in the first place.

By having some non-food rewards instead, or at least sprinkling them into your current routine, you can start to challenge the ‘need’ for something sweet and, instead, ‘treat’ yourself ‘sweetly’ (double puns, couldn’t resist :D). Here are a few ideas to get your started on non-food rewards:

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Soothe your Scalp

soothe-your-scalp

Because your scalp is an extension of the skin on your body, its health can be influenced by diet, stress, products, genetics, and weather. We generally spend time taking care of our facial skin and hair, neglecting our scalps…until a problem arises. Whether it’s an itchy or flaky scalp, you can help bring it back into balance.

If you find the flakes have a yellowish tinge, it could be seborrheic dermatitis, or dandruff. This is a very common cause of flakes and is often a result of a fungus called malassezia. Excessive sebum can feed the fungus, causing irritation and inflammation as well as tiny white flakes.

Perhaps the issue is scalpal eczema which results in a very sensitive skin which can be itchy and have an accompanying red rash. The dryness of winter can exacerbate this condition and the flakes produced tend to resemble oat bran.

Psorasis is auto-immune disorder, typically inherited, that can impact skin all over the body, including the scalp. The immune system goes into over-drive, producing more skin cells than can be sloughed away naturally, causing a build up of scaly patches.

Stress, diet, chemical or food sensitivities, allergies, and weather can play a role in the need to brush your shoulders off.

Chemical sensitivities are hard to tie down (ever notice how many ingredients are in a typical shampoo?!) but keep an eye on products such as hair dye, styling products and other scalpal hygiene products.

Food sensitivities can play a role in skin’s irritation and breakouts. Talk with a qualified registered dietitian-nutritionist to help figure out what foods are helping versus hurting the situation. Omega-3s can help replenish moisture in an irritated or dry scalp. Research shows that high-glycemic diets and high blood sugar can increase inflammation. Refined, white carbohydrates typically found in sweets, pasta, bread and junk food can spike blood sugar. Probiotics can also help reduce dandruff since they help maintain a balance of yeast in the body. An anti-inflammatory diet including vegetables and fruits, protein providing certain minerals, and avoiding added sugar and processed foods is a good place to start.

Certain shampoos, herbs, and essential oils can help with fighting the fungus and cooling the scalp.

Stress can change your immune system and create inflammation in the body. Proper sleep is great for taming tension and anxiety; calming activities (i.e. reading, yoga, exercise, and meditation) can help.

May your scalp be soothed and shoulders free from flakes.