Article 8: Tackling Lifestyle Disorders

– Generation wide struggle with de-addiction?

– Dr. Usha Nandini M

Huh?

How can the whole generation be tagged as addicted?!

That must be the first reaction of most of the readers. Well, I can apologize for being insensitive but that does not take away the point that most lifestyle disorders are due to addiction behaviors and tackling them is as hard as (if not harder than) de-addiction programs. Now don’t mistake me I’m not talking about drug addiction with drugs, (not that it doesn’t contribute but) that’s not what is meant here. When I say lifestyle disorders are caused by addiction, I’m talking about addiction to food, luxury, laziness (physical mostly), sitting, most importantly or the more inclusive word for it could be addiction to status quo or unwillingness to change and grow. It’s not entirely our fault. It’s partly the fault of our brain and body which is not evolving as rapidly as the world around us. 

Yes, I’m blaming evolution.

Why? You ask? You know that there are parts of the brain that have been persistent throughout evolution and the highly evolved parts are what makes the difference i.e., makes us human beings.

Those parts of the brain that remained undefeated by the evolutionary process have been essential for survival. After all, survival is the ultimate goal. In order for a species to survive, it needs to eat, reproduce and escape being harmed. All of these are so essential for survival that it needs to be reinforced by nature and the animal in question should be repeatedly doing it again and again. This is the why the reward centers of the brain get activated by food and sex. It is simply the reason we do things that makes us feel good or the vice versa i.e., the things that make us feel good activate the reward centers or rather the whole circuitry. This reward circuit is the reason why we are addicted to whatever we are and hence not able to act against it despite the whole obviousness of the harm it causes.

Luckily, we are humans and hence we have highly evolved parts of the brain that can influence these primitive circuits. This is what we must hack into if we want to tackle the lifestyle disorders.

The bottom line is that lifestyle disorders are caused due to harmful lifestyle choices and hence tackling it means to change the said choices and practices. In a single word, it is called ‘Behavior Modification’. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But this is THE most difficult thing ever!!!!(put as many exclamation marks as you might want)

Doesn’t mean we can’t try, does it? ‘How’ is the question. We look at it like we already said, like a de addiction program. The motivational cycle from precontemplation should be changed to contemplation and then to the action stage. This is where doctors, nurses, caretakers, parents, self help books, YouTube channels and everything of that sort comes into play. To motivate you into changing your lifestyle. Apart from all these, getting older, fear of not being able to be there for the children, fear of taking lifelong medications act as important motivators. Once the motivation sets in, we need to begin action and maintain the motivation. This can be reinforced by the same culprit i.e.., the reward pathway. Once we start changing our lifestyle practices, we get the feel good sensation of doing something productive for our body and this sense of satisfaction will enable us to maintain the cycle.

Let’s take a specific example- Eating Behavior. Food, being the basic need for survival is always sought by the primitive brain. It always feels good to find food. It thinks we might go into starvation or hibernation and hence find ways to eat and store energy. This was good for survival but now with the abundance in the availability of food, the process has backfired and led to overweight, obesity, Diabetes, Hypertension, Metabolic syndrome and other such disorders. Now, for the lifestyle that we live, we might not need the whole three full meal system. But our body and our brain is accustomed to it. Hunger is like a withdrawal symptom. There is a slight hint of hunger and we go eat like an alcohol seeking addict. Initially if we try to resist hunger or cheat the brain with lesser calories like drinking water etc., we will be surprised to find that we didn’t really need to feel so hungry and that we aren’t that energy deprived. Our body has energy reserves in the form of fat which can be utilized if we don’t provide fresh food. But the brain doesn’t tap into the savings unless it feels like it is starving. We do that by not giving in to hunger. This behavior slowly cuts in the calories, reduces our weight and this makes us feel good. This feel good sensation triggers the reward pathway and hence the behavior change is continued. This is the basis of diet, intermittent fasting and all other fancy jargon.

It’s not as simple as portrayed, but you get the point. Same goes with exercise, cutting down the cigarette or alcohol, reducing screen time and managing stress. Be aware of the process, so that you don’t feel compelled or coerced into changing your behavior and then fall back into the same old style.

Do not be so hard on yourself for succumbing to unhealthy lifestyle, instead get up and go do something about it. (Yes, I’m trying to get you from Precontemplation to action stage too!)

Enjoy the process, it helps better with our hijack plan.

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