Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Train Your Brain to Crave Health

            In a pilot study published last week in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, scientists say that changing your eating behavior can actually change how your brain reacts to high-calorie and low-calorie foods.  It may be possible to rewire your brain so that it wants -- even craves, healthier foods.  How?  Through the discipline of a healthy diet.  The research suggests that you may be able to convince your brain that healthy foods taste better than unhealthy ones.
            The study used MRI brain scans to test overweight and obese people in two groups.   The scans revealed that the people in the weight-loss program had changes in areas of the brain reward center involved in learning and addiction.  Specifically, this area showed increased sensitivity to healthy, low-calorie foods and decreased sensitivity to higher-calorie foods.
            For many looking for lasting freedom from the severe problems caused by excess body weight, this study provides hope.  The American Journal of Medicine recently reported 35% of the adult population is obese.   Excess weight, especially obesity, diminishes almost every aspect of health, from reproductive and respiratory function to memory and mood. Obesity increases the risk of several debilitating, and deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It does this through a variety of pathways, some as straightforward as the mechanical stress of carrying extra pounds and some involving complex changes in hormones and metabolism. Obesity decreases the quality and length of life.  The good news, however, is that weight loss is the surest way to curtail and stop the obesity-related  symptoms above, and reduce the individual, national, and global healthcare costs.
            When I read about this study I couldn't help myself make a spiritual correlation.  Because of poor eating habits, a physical body manifests obesity.  Similarly, the non-physical part of a person's being is also damaged when mental, emotional, and spiritual garbage destroys one's inner person.  Our inner being (the most real part of who we are) must be fed just like our physical being in order to survive.  It needs and craves a healthy diet of inspiration, encouragement, and affirmation.  It is also true that in order to thrive (not just survive), what we feed our spirit and soul can influence (and be influenced by) the types of experiences we choose to feed on. 
            As a Christian counselor, it is amazing to me, the number of people who do not make the connection between their lack of time spent with God, and their feeling distanced from Him.  Then, estranged from God, problems in life are amplified.  Spending time with God is like spending time with a human being.  The Bible is filled with examples of people who consider God a person and relate to Him that way.  It is very simple.  To get to know someone, you must spend time with him.  To be influenced, built up, and fed by God, you must spend time in His company.   Many are aware of this need, but what keeps them from spending time in God's presence?   They crave lesser important things than God.    
            Many people who claim that God is a priority in their lives, do not take the steps necessary to make sure He remains a priority.  They allow distractions to steal the nourishment God wants to provide them.  Movies, video games, shopping, "hanging out," so-called social media, or even seemingly more productive things like work and church activities, all must take second place to intentional and consistent "secret place" time with God.  The problems creep in their busyness because they place too much weight on the importance of other things instead of God.  This misplaced weight creates an "over weight" condition of their heart.  It's like settling for a "sugar diet" over vegetables and protein needed for steady growth. 
            This condition is very common.  Sometimes it drives a person to dysfunction.  Even if dysfunctional behavior can be avoided, at the very least, an existence of mediocrity is often the result.  So can a person train the brain to crave more of God? 
            A steady healthy diet of cultivating deeper intimacy with God can change a person's thinking and feeling patterns.  This healthy diet takes discipline.  Training is about discipline.  Discipline is the key ingredient for a recipe of mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  The wisdom of the Proverbs speak much about discipline.  Here are two pointed examples.  "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid" (Proverbs 12:1).  The second states, "Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding" (Proverbs 15:32).  Some say, "I'm not a disciplined person," as if that should justify their undisciplined behavior. These verses are very clear.  No healthy outcomes are achieved, and no excess fat gets trimmed, without discipline.  To be a disciple requires discipline.  The deeper you go in discipleship, the more disciplined a disciple you become.   The more you experience God, the more of God you want to experience.   The more healing you experience in your mind and heart, the more healing you want to pursue. 
            With a busy lifestyle, another common excuse for failing to practice spiritual disciplines  is time.  By saying, "I don't have time for ...," you're really saying, "I'm not willing to make time for..."  Time is never the real issue.  Make time for God--He's the only one who's big enough to make time work for you.  By craving more of God, He can change your cravings for more disciplined use of time.
            It also amazes me the extent to which people try to justify bad behavior.  Things they know are wrong they continue to do anyway.  Sin is sin.  Wanting your own way over God's is rebellion.  Rebellion is sin.  For example, living an immoral lifestyle or toying with a secret behavior until you get caught or called out, is not living worthy of the calling of a disciple of Christ freed from sin.  Another Proverb exhorts us to disciplined intention towards righteous living.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).  When you live in truth, you empower the truth and your appetite for truth increases.  When  you live in falsehood, you empower falsehood and your appetite for falsehood increases.
            Some may say, "I've already tried changing. It hasn't worked, and I feel worse off than ever."   I would answer as follows.  A disciplined person never gives up.  You may have to find a different way to do something, but try and "try, again" will pull you forward.  You  must be determined to fail forward (see John Maxwell's book called Failing Forward).  A setback is not evidence of a lack of progress.  It's just a setback.  Setbacks are normal.  As long as you're making forward steps after the one backwards, you can call that progress.  As long as you keep choosing the discipline to step forward, your forward progress will eventually make it easier to choose (and yes, even crave) the disciplined and healthier life. 
            Several months ago my wife and I were introduced to the Nutribullet.  We have been faithfully including a healthy shake made of vegetables and fruits carefully selected for their nutritional value.  The first time I tasted one of these shakes, I was not impressed.   But with each passing day it became more tolerable to the point now where I feel the deficiency when we miss a shake for the day.   I can truthfully say that my body is craving the nutrients has caused me to crave the taste of the shake.  I didn't need a scientific study to show me how this works, but I can add my testimonial to the study's validity.
            I can also speak to the benefit of spiritual disciplines.  I do not watch TV or movies and I do not have a smart phone.   I'm not saying these things are "wrong" for everyone,  but I believe my life is more interesting without them.  Better than it's ever been is my relationship with Father, fellowship with Jesus, and ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.  My hope is for you to know God in the way He designed for you to know Him.  I continue to seek that goal for myself, but based on my experience already, I can assure you, it works!

                Note:   The book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses themes of dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom in forgiveness.  This book is designed to help people (especially in the Christian faith)  to discover and dislodge things in life that lead to defeat. Don't miss out on your chance to use this book as a helpful tool in discovering Refuge in Christ. It can be purchased by clicking here: . If you get anywhere near Pennsylvania for vacation or on business, be sure to look us up for lodging at 

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry