Dr. Sarah Stombaugh:
This is Dr. Sarah Stombaugh, and you are listening to the Conquer Your Weight Podcast, episode number 15.
Welcome to the Conquer Your Weight podcast, where you will learn to understand your mind and body so you can achieve long-term weight loss. Here's your host, obesity medicine physician and life coach, Dr. Sarah Stombaugh.
Dr. Sarah Stombaugh:
Hi everyone. Thank you so much for joining me today. I am excited today to talk more about feelings because I was so surprised how much you all enjoyed talking about feelings in the last episode. And so we are going to dive even deeper into feelings today. And today we're going to talk about positive emotions, which everybody loves to talk about, positive emotions. So I think it's gonna be really fun. And we're going to talk about learning to embrace the feelings in your life and how to really pay attention to yourself and the way that you're feeling so that you can have the full human experience. And it's funny because like we were talking about last week, one of the things that happens so often is we try to ignore our feelings and not just our negative feelings, but we often ignore our positive feelings as well.
And it's not that we're trying to ignore them, we just don't stop and acknowledge when we're having those positive feelings. And I was thinking about this a bit more last week because we talked about learning to allow and experience your negative feelings rather than forcing yourself into false pleasures with buffering behaviors like overeating or over drinking, overspending, scrolling mindlessly through social media, zoning out in front of the television for hours on end. And if you haven't listened to that last episode, episode 14, go back and take a listen before you do today's episode because the information that we talked about there will be really important background information that I want you to have and fully understand so that you can appreciate today's episode. I am recording this episode a couple of days in advance of when it's going to air because we'll be out of town.
And as I'm recording it, it's my youngest son's second birthday, and I am feeling totally giddy right now. And it's funny because giddy is not a common emotion for me to feel, but today that's exactly where I am. And I absolutely love celebrating birthdays. I'm not sure why birthdays specifically are so fun for me, probably because gift giving is one of my love languages and also my son's birthdays. I have two sons. They are turning two and four and their birthdays are three days apart. And so I'm not sure how they're gonna feel about it as they get older. But for right now, we just embrace both birthdays. We turn it on to like a few day long extravaganza, and we just totally enjoy it. And if you have kids or spend time with little kids, you know, it doesn't take a lot of effort to make their days extra special.
So this morning I blew up some helium balloons and they were so excited. I mean, I literally spent like $2 on these balloons. We have a helium tank at home, which if you are a parent, I will highly recommend having a helium tank blowing up like a balloon or two. And just having it around the house leads to so much joy. And this morning they are shrieking and laughing and running around the room with this gleeful energy, so excited. And that level of energy and excitement is infectious. So here I am feeling totally giddy and I wanna talk a moment about what it feels like to feel giddy because it feels so good to just stop and bask in that feeling to close your eyes and allow the sensation of giddiness. And when I feel giddy, I feel this like warm bubbling in my chest, like champagne bubbles are rising up inside of me and then popping and it feels really amazing and I wish I could bottle up this feeling and take it with me, but instead I'm just going to sit and allow it and enjoy it right now.
And what happens a lot of times is we don't give our chance to experience our natural feelings whether we are talking about our positive or our negative feelings. And in addition, we often look to things outside of ourselves to bring us pleasure, rather looking rather than looking inside of ourselves. So last week, one of the biggest things we talked about was buffering behaviors. These are behaviors we do in order to escape feeling a negative emotion. And the reason that these buffering behaviors is so enticing to us is we know that we can get a quick hit of dopamine from doing those behaviors. And dopamine you can think of as the pleasure hormone in your brain. When you eat a sweet or a processed food, we get a hit of dopamine in our brain when we drink alcohol. You get another hit of dopamine in your brain when you scroll through social media.
I'm like scrolling with my thumb over here. We're bombarded with little dopamine hits with every little swipe you make when we buy something, we get a dopamine hit. If we watch porn, we get a dopamine hit. And reliably we know that we can get dopamine from these type of activities even if it's short-lived and even if those behaviors end up being counterproductive to what we're trying to achieve, right? So you're trying to achieve weight loss, you overeat, you have that instant hit of dopamine. Long term that's not great, but in the short term, you're still getting that hit of dopamine, which feels pretty good in the moment. And our brains love dopamine. When we get ahead of dopamine, you get this feedback signal in your brain saying, that was good, do that again. And our primitive brain is all about seeking pleasure and reward. And if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.
This feedback cycle was important for our evolution and our survival. You could imagine that finding and eating a sweet berry in the wild would give us a little hit of dopamine, which encouraged us to continue to seek out food. Having sex would give us a hit of dopamine, which allowed us to propagate our species. If we interacted with others in our tribe, we got a hit of dopamine. And that provided safety and protection for our species. And so it makes sense that we would get rewarded for these type of behaviors. But in modern days, we've taken all of these natural pleasures and we've concentrated them. And so instead of a wild berry, you can drink a bottle of soda. Instead of having sex with a partner, you can watch pornography instead of interacting with your tribe, you can mindlessly scroll through social media and all of these forms of concentrated pleasure give us these huge hits of dopamine.
And our poor little primitive brain just doesn't understand. It, sees the big hit of dopamine and thinks, wow, this must be really important for my survival. And it's so easy to get into a cycle where we turn to things like overeating over drinking mindlessly, scrolling through social media, all of those type of behaviors. Because every time we do those behaviors, we get that hit of dopamine, which reinforces that the behavior was good or that it was important for us. And when we're so used to getting these huge hits of dopamine from concentrated sources, we barely even notice the dopamine that we get from the true pleasures in your life. So this isn't going to be super scientific, but bear with me here. Imagine that when you're drinking a bottle of soda, you get a hit of 100 dopamine molecules in your brain. So you've just got these 100 molecules and they're bopping around your brain, and you get to experience the pleasure of those 100 dopamine molecules, and it feels really good.
Now imagine that you eat a strawberry and it's good and it's sweet, but it really just pales in comparison to the bottle of soda. When you eat that strawberry, maybe you're getting five little dopamine molecules and those sad five little dopamine molecules are bopping around your brain. And we barely even notice them because what's five dopamine molecules when you're used to getting a hundred dopamine molecules from drinking a bottle of soda? And so our receptors barely even notice that wimpy hit you just got from eating a strawberry. And here's where we're so lucky, because we're developed humans and we have a developed brain. And so with intentionality, we can take control and we can retrain our brains. And it means that we're learning to rely less on concentrated and false pleasures in our lives, like all of those buffering behaviors, and instead paying attention to what the true pleasures are in our lives.
In last week's podcast, we talked about learning to rely less on buffering behaviors. And when we learn to identify our feelings, particularly our negative feelings, and allow them, we don't need to escape with buffering behaviors, you learn what it means to have a negative feeling. You sit and feel that negative feeling, and then it dissipates and it takes practice. And depending where you're at, like we talked about, you might even be starting at the very fundamentals of learning to identify what feeling you're experiencing in the first place. And as you're better at identifying your feelings, then you practice experience them. You close your eyes, you feel the vibration in your body, and you allow yourself to feel whichever negative emotion is coming up. Your body will process it and the feeling will dissipate. It's just a vibration in your body. It's nothing more. And I don't want you to think that life is all of a sudden going to be miserable and full of negative emotions.
The reality is you were having all of those same feelings before you were just trying really hard to ignore them. You're trying really hard to ignore them. And we're so used to ignoring our negative emotions that, like I said, we're ignoring all of our emotions oftentimes both our positive and our negative emotions. So in addition to what we talked about last week with learning how to feel your negative emotions, I want you to practice feeling your positive emotions as well. And this sounds funny, but like I said, a lot of us aren't really doing that and we're not practiced in it. And notice when it's coming up, when a positive emotion comes, stop and allow it. And you might have to be really intentional about this process, especially at first because our brains have a negativity, a bias we pay attention to, and we remember the negative things that happen in our lives because remembering those negative things in our life is also an important survival tool.
It keeps us from making fatal mistakes. If you see something go wrong, you want to remember it, so you'll never make that mistake again. So oftentimes we have these positive experiences and because one, we're not practiced, and two, we're so focused on the negative things in our life, we barely even take notice of the positive experiences that we're having. And then you add that in with being used to getting huge hits of dopamine from our concentrated pleasures, right? Like those 100 dopamine molecules from overeating or over drinking, pornography, social media. And we don't really notice what are the true joys in our life. So one thing I find it really helpful to do is sit down and write a list of all of the things that bring you joy. And again, this is real true joy. Things that have absolutely no consequences. You can experience them, have a positive emotion, and there's not going to be any sort of negative effect down the road.
So I'm not saying that you can't enjoy your food, but I want you to focus on not putting any food or alcohol or those types of things on this list, because especially if you are here, as many of my patients are to lose weight, then when we are identifying food with our positive emotions, it has potentially that consequence down the road of weight gain. So I want you to focus on all of the things that bring you real joy with no consequences. And I do this exercise with my patients a lot. And the crazy thing is, is that most of the time it's just crickets, like they sit and stare at me because all they can think of is brownies and beer and steak and you know, whatever their favorite foods are. And they're thinking about all of those experiences and they struggle to come up with a list of things that bring them true joy.
So if that's you, that's completely okay. It means it's something you've not been paying attention to. And so you can work on it, and it's something that you can develop over time because I promise you those things bring you joy. You just haven't been noticing them. So I'll give you an example of things in life that bring me true, real joy that has a no consequences. So one is you step outside and take a deep breath of fresh air. Maybe you've been inside for hours, maybe you've been taking care of COVID patients, or you know, as a physician I would wear a mask for 8, 10, 12 hours a day, and that first breath of fresh air is just amazing and just savoring that moment. When I go through a walk in nature and I'm not listening to a podcast, I'm not talking on the phone, I'm just walking through nature and smelling maybe the grass, maybe there's some moss, I hear the birds chirping, I hear some noises off in the distance.
And just experiencing that in the morning, I have a warm cup of tea. And there's, if you're a tea drinker, you'll know what I'm talking about. You've got your boiling water and you're maybe waiting for your tea to steep, or even if it's fully steeped, you still have to wait for it to cool off a little bit before you can drink it. And so you're just holding that warm cup of tea, breathing in the aroma, and just experiencing that I have two young kids and watching them play brings me so much joy. And sure there's the times that they fight and everything like that, but sometimes, you know, like I've watched them run up and down a hill a hundred times, and each time it brings them so much joy. And just seeing that joy, like we were talking about with the balloons and their birthdays, it's absolutely contagious.
Having a good moment with friends or family where you're laughing and sharing these jokes, sharing an intimate moment with a loved one, achieving a big goal that you've set for yourself in your personal life or in your business when you're preparing or enjoying a nourishing meal. For me, it's so important to step into an organized and a clean space in my home. About probably a year, year and a half ago, I went through and really fully cleaned out my closet, and we've maintained that clean space and it feels so refreshing to just look at that clean space and feel that, I don't know, it just feels like the lack of clutter and it creates space not just in my physical space, in my home, but also within my brain. And all of these things give us small hits of dopamine, and we're so used to those huge concentrated hits of dopamine from the false pleasures.
It's not always easy to stop and notice these things, but over time, as you stop relying on those buffering behaviors and you start paying attention to the true joy in your, the true joy in your life, you'll find that these true joys feel really good. And like I said, the best part of these is they have no downside. If there is a downside, you should stop and question if that's actually starting to serve the role as a true joy in your life. One of the things we can start paying attention to true joys in your life is to do a daily gratitude practice. Many people find it helpful to do this with others, but it's really just about accountability and intentionality. So you can do it by yourself, you can do it with someone else, but you want to make sure to carve out, honestly like one or two minutes each day where you're stopping to reflect on the positive things that happened that day.
And one thing our family does at the dinner table every night is the three best things about your day. And so we'll ask to each other, Hey, what are the best three things that happened about your day? And you know how it can go some days it's easy, right? You've had a great day. It's easy to rattle off three things just like nothing. But even on the tough days, we still come up with three things. And sometimes my husband will sit there staring at each other because like begrudgingly, we're coming up with like, I'm so glad to be sitting here eating dinner with my husband and and maybe that is one of the best things that happened in your day, and that's okay, but that's actually a really wonderful thing. So stopping to recognize when those positive things happen. The other thing that comes up for me when I'm thinking about experiencing positive emotions is that over time we can learn how to balance our negative emotions.
And one of the most fun things for me about life coaching is you can learn how your brain creates thoughts and then thus your feelings about a situation. And over time, you can learn how your brain is creating some of the negative emotions in your life, and oftentimes completely unnecessarily. And we could talk about that a bit today. But to be honest with you, I just wanna stop and bask in the positive emotions. I want you to stop. I want you to pay attention, and I want you to really think about your positive emotions. What are the things in life that bring you true joy with no consequences? We're gonna talk about more about feelings later, so don't worry. But just stop and notice and acknowledge and pay attention to that, and we are gonna end there. So thank you so much for joining me today. If you are interested in learning more about me, or if you live in Illinois or Virginia and would like to be a patient in my telemedicine based weight loss practice, check out my website. It's www.sarahstombaughmd.com.
That's S-A-R-A-H-S-T-O-M-B-A-U-G-H-M-D dot com. If you've enjoyed the podcast today, please subscribe and leave me a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks for joining me. I look forward to seeing you next week. Bye-bye.