BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_2333In the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock decided to eat a steady diet of fast food for 30 days to see how it would affect his health. Although he and his doctors expected some changes, they were shocked by how quickly his skin turned sallow, his cholesterol levels and blood pressure skyrocketed and his weight shot up 27 pounds. Worse, his mood changed from one of vibrancy to depression. Below are ten ayurvedic digestion secrets, but first let’s explore why a smooth digestion is central to health.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there is not only a direct connection between the food you eat and your health, but food affects your emotions, your happiness, as well. You could even say that health and happiness have a common source found in a single product of digestion called ojas.

“Ojas is the finest and most refined product of digestion and metabolism,” explains Mark Toomey, Ph.D., the director of Maharishi Ayurveda programs and health practitioner at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center and Spa. “Ojas production depends directly on how we digest and metabolize our food.”

Another interesting point is that, according to ayurveda, we metabolize the experience of all five senses in our environment and our own thoughts. This is why we are so profoundly affected by stress and its effect upon our emotions. Emotions affect our ability to digest food properly, and the digestion of food affects our emotions. Both feed one another.

Ojas is the physical equivalent of both bliss and immunity. It is what causes the eyes to sparkle, the skin to look radiant and the immunity to be strong. And it’s directly related to digestion.

There is a lot written about ojas in the ayurvedic texts. Ojas is said to be slightly yellow in color, to reside in the heart and to also continually circulate throughout the body. It is cool, soft, sweet, stable, viscous, clear, and pure, and when lively in the body, these qualities can be felt in the pulse during an ayurvedic consultation.

“Ojas is also much related to strong Kapha dosha, called bal kapha,” says Dr. Toomey. “A person with good ojas has a solid build, enthusiasm, strength, knowledge and wisdom.”

Digestion in ayurveda is known as agni, which means fire, and that agni has to be operating perfectly in order to transform food into the most refined product, ojas. Ojas is responsible for all lively energy in our awareness and body.

So how do you keep your digestion running perfectly and your ojas at a high level?

“One of the main factors for strong immunity and ojas is to keep the srotas, the micro communication channels of our body, clear. With clear srotas, information can flow freely through the body,” says Dr. Toomey. “This is why it’s so important to keep the digestion running smoothly, to keep impurities from building up and blocking the srotas.”

Ten Ayurvedic Digestion Secrets from Maharishi Ayurveda

  1. Eat a balanced, well-cooked and wholesome diet in timely fashion.
  2. Eat one’s main meal at lunch.
  3. Eat a light breakfast and light dinner. (Doing so not only helps with better digestion, but results in deeper, more restful sleep.
  4. Go to bed by 10 p.m. each night and wake with the sunrise.
  5. Follow the ayurvedic daily and seasonal routines, in tune with the laws of nature, going to bed on time, and eating at the same time every day.
  6. Practice Transcendental Meditation® or the meditation technique of your choice daily to release stress.
  7. Take traditional ayurvedic herbal formulas that nourish the body and mind and develop higher states of consciousness.
  8. Practice behavioral rasayanas. These are the behavioral guidelines that help govern behavior and action in life:
    • Be truthful
    • Free from anger
    • Nonviolent
    • Not exerting to the point of exhaustion
    • Practice calmness
    • Be sweet-spoken
    • Aspire to be stable and steady
    • Practice meditation
    • Engage in cleanliness
    • Be perseverant
    • Observe charity
    • Practice spirituality or the religion of your choosing
    • Be devoted to love and compassion
    • Be balanced in sleep and wakefulness
    • Behave with propriety according to the time and place
    • Be humble in life’s activities
    • Keep the company of elders
    • Hold a positive outlook
    • Practice self-control
    • Do not indulge in alcohol or drugs
    • Be respectful toward teachers and elders
  9. Include foods in your diet that increase ojas. Well-cooked organic vegetables and fresh fruits taken according to one’s prakriti (dosha makeup) are always considered best. Whole organic milk, boiled and flavored with ghee or Organic Vata Tea, is a wonderful addition and supports ojas production.
  10. Certain activities may diminish the production of ojas. They are as follows:
  • Excessive physical exertion (to the point of exhaustion)
  • Rough or inadequate digestion
  • Excessive exposure to wind and sun
  • Staying up late (inadequate rest)
  • Physical or emotional trauma
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive loss of dhatu (blood, mucus or semen)
  • Intake of toxic substances (including exposure to environmental pollution)
  • Stress overloadBy cultivating a strong digestion, a balanced lifestyle and strong ojas, we can improve our health, happiness and immunity. It is never too late to start feeling good. Visit www.mapi.com for more tips on how to live a balanced lifestyle.Remember, it is all about balance…

 

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], March 1,2014. Reprinted with permission.) 

 

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_2668Non-cystic acne is the scourge of teenagers and usually disappears once they are past those difficult years, but for some it continues on and off all their life. From the ayurvedic perspective minor acne can involve all three doshas (mind/body principles), but Pitta dosha and rakta dhatu (blood) are the main culprits. To learn how to get rid of acne, you need to first identify the dosha most involved. Pitta acne, the most common, is all about redness and excess heat, while Vata involves more dryness and Kapha more oiliness.

Here are three Ayurvedic detox programs to choose from based on your predominant dosha: Pitta, Vata-Pitta or Kapha-Pitta. Each program includes a detox, diet & herbal recommendations, facial mask recipe and a tea recipe.

Start with a 15-Day Deep Detox Program –

Pitta Acne Program – most common

• Taking 2 tablets of Herbal Cleanse before going to bed each night will cleanse the bowel. • Taking 2 tablets of Elim-Tox-O morning and evening will cleanse the liver, blood, sweat glands and the elimination system. • Taking 2 tablets of Genitrac morning and evening will purify the urinary tract and assist the removal of toxins.

Once you finish the 15-day detox, now is the time to start taking 2 Radiant Skin tablets AM and PM on an empty stomach with warm water. If the skin still has some irritation or redness after finishing the detox, you may add an extra 2 tablets of Radiant Skin at bedtime. Also continue 2 tablets of Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus) at bedtime. Radiant Skin is an herbal formula that purifies and strengthens the liver, cleanses the blood tissue of toxins, reduces excessive heat and oiliness, and enhances digestion. Its beneficial effects can have a dramatic effect in fighting acne, redness and other skin sensitivities, leaving your skin radiant and blemish-free. Sandalwood helps balances Pitta in the skin (sensitivity) and helps keep the skin clear. Neem is a traditional detoxifier, which helps cleanse the body of toxins. Acne can often be aggravated by emotional stress. If that is the case, it would help to add Stress Free Emotions to the daily regimen. To help pacify Pitta emotions, try aroma oils containing rose oil or sandalwood oil such as Blissful Heart or Cooling Pitta aroma.

Pitta Diet Restrictions:

It’s best to avoid food that aggravates Pitta, such as hot spicy foods or fermented foods like yeast, vinegar, pickles, soy sauce, yogurt, tomato sauce and alcohol. Other foods to avoid include tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and seafood. Also try to avoid mixing incompatible foods such as milk with sour fruits or melons; equal amounts of honey and ghee; and milk or yogurt with any sour foods. Favor sweet juicy fruits, green leafy veggies, and squashes. Have ½ cup of aloe vera juice after meals with ½ tsp. of Turmeric powder added.

Face mask Mix: 1 tsp. of colloidal oatmeal powder, 1 tsp. of ground red lentil powder, 1 tsp. of Youthful Skin Herbalized Clay, ½ tsp. of marshmallow root powder, ¼ tsp. Turmeric, a pinch of rose petal powder with some Organic Rose Water and whole milk until you have a smooth paste.

Apply to skin; leave for 5 minutes; wash with cool water. Apply Youthful Skin toner after washing. Spray skin during the day with Organic Rose Water. Lightly dab a little Youthful Skin Cream to moisturize.

Tea Boil 3 cups of water with 1 tsp. of fennel seeds, 1 tsp. of Indian sarsaparilla, ½ tsp. coriander seeds, ½ tsp. of cumin seeds and a pinch of manjistha.

Let sit 5 to 10 minutes, then strain into a thermos and sip all day.

Vata-Pitta Acne Program

To get rid of acne that is both Vata and Pitta, you will have the redness but more dryness. Follow the Vata diet with Pitta restrictions. It’s best to have less cold food and drinks, or dry and rough food.

15-Day Deep Detox Program –

• Taking 2 tablets of Herbal Cleanse before going to bed each night will cleanse the bowel. • Taking 2 tablets of Elim-Tox-O morning and evening will cleanse the liver, blood, sweat glands and the elimination system. • Taking 2 tablets of Genitrac morning and evening will purify the urinary tract and assist the removal of toxins.

Once you finish the 15-day detox, now is the time to start taking 2 Radiant Skin tablets AM and PM on an empty stomach with warm water. If the skin still has some irritation or redness after finishing the detox, you may add an extra 2 tablets of Radiant Skin at bedtime. Also continue 2 tablets of Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus) at bedtime. Radiant Skin is an herbal formula that purifies and strengthens the liver, cleanses the blood tissue of toxins, reduces excessive heat and oiliness, and enhances digestion. Its beneficial effects can have a dramatic effect in fighting acne, redness and other skin sensitivities, leaving your skin radiant and blemish-free. Sandalwood helps balances Pitta in the skin (sensitivity) and helps keep the skin clear. Neem is a traditional detoxifier, which helps cleanse the body of toxins.

Acne can often be aggravated by emotional stress. If that is the case, it would help to add Stress Free Emotions to the daily regimen. To help pacify Pitta emotions, try aroma oils containing rose oil or sandalwood oil such as Blissful Heart or Cooling Pitta aroma.

Pitta Diet Restrictions: It’s best to avoid food that aggravates Pitta, such as hot spicy foods or fermented foods like yeast, vinegar, pickles, soy sauce, yogurt, tomato sauce and alcohol. Other foods to avoid include tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and seafood. Also try to avoid mixing incompatible foods such as milk with sour fruits or melons; equal amounts of honey and ghee; and milk or yogurt with any sour foods. Favor sweet juicy fruits, green leafy veggies, and squashes.

Face mask Mix: 1 1/2 tsp. of colloidal oatmeal powder, 1 tsp. of ground red lentil powder, 1 tsp. of Youthful Skin Herbalized Clay, ½ tsp. of marshmallow root powder, ¼ tsp. turmeric, a pinch of rose petal powder with some Organic Rose Water and whole milk until you have a smooth paste.

Apply to skin; leave for 5 minutes; wash with cool water. Apply Youthful Skin toner after washing. Spray skin during the day with Organic Rose Water.

Tea Boil 3 cups of water with: 1 tsp. of fennel seeds, 1 tsp. of Indian sarsaparilla, ½ tsp. coriander seeds, ½ tsp. of cumin seeds and a pinch of manjistha.

Let sit 5 to 10 minutes, then strain into a thermos and sip all day.

Kapha-Pitta Acne Program

For Kapha-Pitta acne, you will have the redness but with more oiliness. Follow a Kapha dietwith Pitta restrictions.

hhhh15-Day Deep Detox Program – • Taking 2 tablets of Herbal Cleanse before going to bed each night will cleanse the bowel. • Taking 2 tablets of Elim-Tox morning and evening will cleanse the liver, blood, sweat glands and the elimination system. • Taking 2 tablets of Genitrac morning and evening will purify the urinary tract and assist the removal of toxins.

Once you finish the 15-day detox, now is the time to start taking 2 Radiant Skin tablets AM and PM on an empty stomach with warm water. If the skin still has some irritation or redness after finishing the detox, you may add an extra 2 tablets of Radiant Skin at bedtime. Also include 2 tablets of Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus) at bedtime.Radiant Skin is an herbal formula that purifies and strengthens the liver, cleanses the blood tissue of toxins, reduces excessive heat and oiliness, and enhances digestion. Its beneficial effects can have a dramatic effect in fighting acne, redness and other skin sensitivities, leaving your skin radiant and blemish-free. Sandalwood helps balances Pitta in the skin (sensitivity) and helps keep the skin clear. Neem is a traditional detoxifier, which helps cleanse the body of toxins.

Acne can often be aggravated by emotional stress. If that is the case, it would help to add Stress Free Emotions to the daily regimen. To help pacify Pitta emotions, try aroma oils containing rose oil or sandalwood oil such as Blissful Heart or Cooling Pitta aroma.

Pitta Diet Restrictions: It’s best to avoid food that aggravates Pitta, such as hot spicy foods or fermented foods like yeast, vinegar, pickles, soy sauce, yogurt, tomato sauce and alcohol. Other foods to avoid include tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and seafood. Also try to avoid mixing incompatible foods such as milk with sour fruits or melons; equal amounts of honey and ghee; and milk or yogurt with any sour foods.

Face mask Mix 1 tsp. of colloidal oatmeal powder, 1 tsp. of ground red lentil powder, 1 ½ tsp. of Youthful Skin Herbalized Clay, ½ tsp. of marshmallow root powder, ¼ tsp. Turmeric, a pinch of rose petal powder with some Organic Rose Water and whole milk until you have a smooth paste.

Apply to skin; leave for 5 minutes; wash with cool water. Apply Youthful Skin toner after washing. TIP: Adding a few drops of lemon juice to the toner will help with extra oiliness. Spray skin during the day with Organic Rose Water. It’s best to avoid the moisturizer if you have really oily skin.

Tea Boil 3 cups of water with 1 tsp. of fennel seeds, 1 tsp. of Indian sarsaparilla, ½ tsp. coriander seeds, 1 tsp. of cumin seeds and a pinch of manjistha. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes, then strain into a thermos and sip all day.

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], May 17, 2012. Reprinted with permission.) 

lower cholesterol with ayurveda

photo by Linda Egenes

BY LINDA EGENES

Are you one of 98.6 million Americans today who has elevated total blood cholesterol levels? If high cholesterol is left unchecked, you may be at risk for heart disease, stroke, and hypertension.

Right, you may think. I’ve heard all this before—I should eat less fat. Yet according to Vaidya Manohar, a Maharishi AyurVeda health expert, a certain amount of fat is important for keeping the brain and body functioning properly. “Balancing cholesterol may be more a matter of eating the right kinds of fats in the right amounts for your body type,” he says.

Here are five ways to lower cholesterol with Ayurveda.

1. Reduce toxins by eating foods that lower cholesterol. The liver not only produces cholesterol, it’s also part of the digestive system. It’s the place where toxins are screened before they enter the bloodstream. If the liver becomes overloaded with toxins, its functioning can become impaired and toxins can enter the body.

When toxins mix with the fat tissue, it changes the quality of cholesterol. This mixing of toxins with fat tissue is the main cause of high cholesterol. There are two kinds of toxins: environmental and digestive. To avoid environmental toxins, drink pure water, avoid air pollution, and avoid exposure to harmful chemicals. Eat organic vegetables, as these are grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and thus protect the body from toxic overload.

The other kind of toxin is called ama, and is caused by weak or incomplete digestion. To strengthen your digestion, eat fresh whole foods and cooked foods and avoid leftover, processed, canned, or frozen foods. The way you eat also affects digestion—eat your main meal at noon, when digestion is at its peak. Eat lighter at breakfast and dinner. And try eating your meals at the same time every day—your digestion will thrive on a regular routine.

2. Avoid bad fats like the plague. Certain fats are impossible to digest and cause ama. Take the modern invention of trans fats (also known as hydrogenated vegetable oils). These have been formed by adding hydrogen to liquid fats to make them more solid, adding to shelf life and taste. Used in fast foods and most processed foods, they are blamed for rising cholesterol levels. Another kind of bad fat, saturated fats—found in butter, hard cheeses, coconut and palm oils, red meat, and chicken skin—should also be avoided. Difficult to digest, they cause imbalances in cholesterol production.

3. Eat good fats. The best good fats for nourishing the brain and body alike are olive oil and ghee. Ghee (clarified butter, made from simmering butter for an hour and separating out the milk solids) is by far the ayurvedic favorite, because it is medhya, or brain-enhancing, while also being more easy to digest. Ghee provides essential fatty acids, vitamin A, and vitamin C. It’s also practical—it can be heated at high temperatures without destroying its nutritional qualities. This makes it a good choice for baking and sautéing foods.

Olive oil is the other good fat recommended. It’s a mono-unsaturated fat that lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. But it’s important to choose cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil, which means that the oil is pressed from the olives without heat or unnatural processing. This ancient method of processing doesn’t destroy the nutritional quality of the oil. It’s also important not to heat olive oil at high temperatures for cooking. If you need to heat the oil at higher temperatures, it’s better to use ghee.

4. Eat for your body type. How much fat you need depends on your body type and health needs. For people with high cholesterol, it’s usually recommended to follow a Kapha-pacifying diet and daily routine. This means avoiding sweet, sour, and salty tastes. Stay away from heavy, fried, or fatty foods, and eat very small amounts of good fats. Eat more pungent, bitter and astringent foods, such as spiced, freshly cooked green vegetables, to tone the digestion and stoke the digestive fire.

Cholesterol Lowering Spice Mixture

3 parts ground turmeric 6 parts ground cumin 6 parts ground coriander 6 parts ground fennel 2 parts ground fenugreek 1 part dried powdered ginger 1 part ground black pepper

Combine and store in a sealed container. When preparing your meal, sauté a teaspoon of spices in a small amount of a   ghee or olive oil. Combine with vegetables or grains to give them a satisfying flavor and to enhance digestion.

5. Take herbal supplements. Specific formulas used to lower cholesterol naturally help improve bile production, strengthen liver function, improve fat metabolism, and flush cholesterol from the elimination system, thus helping produce lower cholesterol levels and preventing disease.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, September 2009. Reprinted with permission.)

How to Beat Fatigue
May 5, 2014

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_0020 Are you feeling mentally frazzled, emotionally stressed out, or just plain pooped? If so, you have company. Researchers report that the majority of adult Americans today suffer from stress and tiredness.

A stress-driven body and mind is the major cause of fatigue, and unfortunately, for many people this is a normal state of living in today’s hectic world. Most people have lost touch with the normal experience of “calm energy,” which is a state of low tension and high energy that allows for optimism, confidence, and the stamina necessary to enjoy success, love and happiness.

Happily, Maharishi Ayurveda is well-equipped to restore balance and combat the underlying causes of the general, stress-related tiredness that many Americans suffer from today. Here’s how to beat fatigue the natural way, with diet, exercise and herbal supplements.

Causes of Fatigue

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, fatigue is caused by overuse, misuse or no use of the mind, emotions or body. For instance, your job may be easy for you, but if you have to put in a lot of overtime, that can result in fatigue.

Misuse is doing something that is against your nature. If you are an honest person, and you find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured to lie or cheat, that misuse of your mental faculties could cause you to feel fatigued.

An example of physical misuse is knowing that a physical task is beyond your capability, but doing it anyway. Or perhaps your heart is very tender, and you are surrounded by people who are habitually angry—an example of emotional misuse.

Even lack of use can cause fatigue. “Use it or lose it” applies not only to the body, but to the brain and emotions as well.

The first step in correcting fatigue is to determine the cause. You can ask yourself if your fatigue is caused by physical, mental or emotional factors. And is it caused by overuse, misuse or lack of use?

Once you know which behavior is causing the fatigue, one should try to modify or stop the behavior. Become familiar with your stress-point and your own level of comfort. The solution to the problem of fatigue is found in one sentence: proper use of the mind, body and emotions.

Three Kinds of Fatigue

There is a relationship between the three doshas(mind-body operating principles) and the three main types of fatigue. Mental fatigue is associated with an imbalance in Vata dosha, emotional fatigue is caused by an imbalance in Pitta dosha, and physical fatigue is caused by an imbalance in Kapha dosha.

Ama, or impurities caused by undigested food, is a major cause of all three types of fatigue. To avoid all types of fatigue, avoid leftovers, fast foods, foods grown with chemical fertilizers or sprayed with pesticides, or packaged, canned, frozen or processed foods. And practice the Transcendental Meditation technique to gain deep rest, release mental and physical stress, and bring all three mind-body types into balance. TM is a holistic way to rejuvenate, re-energize and re-enliven your inner  intelligence, as shown by over 350 peer-reviewed research studies that report improved sleep, more energy, clearer thinking, less doctor visits, reduced blood pressure, enhanced well-being and improved mental health among people who practice the TM technique twice daily.

To burn away ama, boil two quarts of water and steep with the following herbs:

  • 3 leaves of holy basil
  • 3 leaves of mint
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin seed
  • 1 piece of clove
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander

Drink it throughout the day. Depending on your mind-body type and imbalances, you may be more susceptible to certain types of fatigue.

How to fight fatigue

For Mental Fatigue:

For Emotional Fatigue:

 

For Physical Fatigue:

By consulting a physician trained in Maharishi Ayurveda, you can learn specific recommendations for restoring your natural energy levels based on your body type and imbalances.

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], August 14,2012. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, is the New York Times bestselling author of Body-for-Life for WomenFight Fat after Forty, and Fit to Live. Dr. Peeke is a Pew Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, Fellow of the American College of Physicians, and a nationally recognized expert in nutrition, fitness, and public health. She is WebMD’s lifestyle expert, host of Discovery Health Channel’s Could You Survive series, and spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine’sExercise is Medicine global initiative.

Her latest book, The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction (Rodale), a New York Times bestseller launched on The Katie Couric show, explores the new brain science behind food addiction—offering a step-by-step detox and recovery plan to rewire the brain for healthy eating. Here she talks about the value of the Transcendental Meditation technique in strengthening the prefrontal cortex to overcome food addiction, a topic she also addresses in her book.

Enlightenment: What motivated you to write THE HUNGER FIX?

Dr. Peeke: For years I have listened to my patients referring to their eating problems using a drug vernacular. “I need another hit,” they would say, “Withdrawal is killing me,” or “I need to score some more.” In the back of my mind and that of my colleagues, I wondered if there was an addiction going on here.

Dr. Pam Peeke

“There’s not a single thing
we do that doesn’t involve reward… Reward drives behavior.”

At that time we had some compelling science that suggested a food and addiction link. But I needed more. I waited somewhat impatiently until there was a critical mass of data from neuroscientists and then wrote the book to translate this groundbreaking information for people in a way that can help them.

The first chunk of new science presented in the book—based on NIH research by Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and others—is a real game-changer: Food addiction is real. For that matter, at the Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, D.C., last May, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, stated in her keynote address, “Obesity can be caused by any combination of factors. For some it’s an addiction like smoking.” That was a first from such a high-ranking government official.

The Hunger Fix is a game-changer. No longer will people be foisted into a one-size-fits-all approach to weight management and wellbeing. Instead, we have now discovered a new category of folks, those with an issue with food and addiction, who need a more customized and individualized approach to their problem.

Enlightenment: How does something as natural and necessary as food become addicting?

Dr. Peeke: There’s not a single thing we do that doesn’t involve reward. Some rewards are obvious, like “Let’s go look at this beautiful sunset.” Another obvious reward is the bliss I feel when I do TM. Reward drives behavior. And if we didn’t have certain rewards, such as sex and food, we wouldn’t be here today. To survive, we have to procreate and we have to eat.

Food is meant to be palatable, rewarding, and pleasurable. We love the smoothness of fat, and consuming it helps us survive in times of famine. That primal reward and survival system has been working beautifully for thousands of years.

Then something happened: we changed up the food supply. Food companies wanted to provide products for a mass population, and in order to do that, they manufactured, refined, and processed foods—and in doing so got further and further away from whole foods. What then appeared on shelves were so many what I call “science fair projects,” foodlike products that contained chemicals and preservatives to keep food shelf-stable. Most importantly, these products were also loaded with added sugar, fat, and salt—the “hyperpalatables”—to increase the reward and pleasure derived from consuming them.

“Food is meant to be palatable, rewarding, and pleasurable. We love the smoothness of fat, and consuming it helps us survive in times of famine. That primal reward and survival system has been working beautifully for thousands of years.”

We all love treats—my grandmother made some killer oatmeal-raisin cookies that to this day I can still taste. It was a special occasion when she went to all the trouble to make them from scratch. I wasn’t drowning in these cookies 24/7. A treat is meant to be consumed occasionally and thoroughly savored and enjoyed. And they weren’t overly sweet or covered in glaze and goo. They were just plain old oatmeal cookies, but they were considered a treat.

In the reward center of the brain, the pleasure-reward neurotransmitter, dopamine, was secreted when I ate that first oatmeal cookie. And once you taste the waters, you never forget them. So when my grandmother would say she was coming over with oatmeal cookies, I didn’t even have to eat them. The cue alone—knowing that that oatmeal cookie was on its way over to me—was all I needed. My reward center lit up like Kyoto at night. Research now shows that it’s actually the cue, not the consumption, that produces the highest levels of dopamine. The very anticipation is what lights up our reward center.

Now what if I added more fat, more sugar, as in a Ho-Ho or a Hostess Cupcake? After I taste it, it is seen by my brain as hyperpalatable—that combination of super-sugary, super-starchy, or super-salty—way over my poor little grandmother’s oatmeal cookies. My reward center has been hijacked by these uber-palatable food products.

My brain can handle having a nice treat with controlled combinations of sugar and fat once a week. But what if these hyperpalatable treats are now available 24/7, and are so ubiquitous and cheap that they’re accessible to everyone at every economic level? In some people, repeated exposure to these foods results in a feeling of being out of control, often leading to overeating and sometimes binging. I refer everyone to the newly developed Yale Food Addiction Scale to examine their own relationship between food and addiction. I would wager that most people of all sizes have some issue due to the environment within which we live and work.

“The brain can’t handle the tsunami of dopamine. Over-stimulated and organically destabilized, it reacts by decreasing the total number of dopamine receptors.”

All right, so going back to my brain. What happens if I’m overexposed to these hyperpalatables?

The answer is that this overexposure results in organic changes in your brain—the exact changes that happen with any addiction. First of all, the brain can’t handle the tsunami of dopamine. Overstimulated and organically destabilized, the primal survival mechanism protecting you from this wave of dopamine results in a downregulation (decrease in the number of dopamine receptors) so that you cannot perceive the overstimulation. You’ll then feel some reward but not the over-the-top levels.

That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news. By reducing the total number of dopamine receptors, you experience much less pleasure and reward when you actually consume these hyperpalatables. This drives you to reach for more and more to quench that thirst for the “high” you normally got from that food. But it becomes the itch you just can’t scratch. You need more and cannot derive the level of reward you’re desperately seeking. Thus begins the classic vicious cycle of addiction to anything, whether it be food, drugs, or alcohol.

Enlightenment: What is the role of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in addiction?

Dr. Peeke: The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the chief executive officer (CEO) of the brain—the part of the brain that reins in addiction’s three I’s: impatience, irritability, and impulsivity. NIH’s Dr. Volkow also refers to the PFC as the “brain’s brake” because it helps us say “no” when we need to and maintains vigilance to keep us on track with healthy lifestyle choices. It helps us exert will power, as well as “won’t” power, as we strive to say “yes” or “no” to lifestyle choices.

In people with addictions, the PFC is damaged and impaired. This has been noted in fMRI and PET scan studies in which we can clearly see the deactivation of the PFC and orbitofrontal areas of the brain when someone is in a full-out active addictive state. The revolutionary studies performed by neuroscientists like Gene-Jack Wang at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have laid down the foundation for understanding how any addiction, including that to food, affects the PFC.

So when the CEO of the brain is impaired by addiction, moderation is a moot point. You cannot ask someone to implement moderation when they are in an active addictive state. With an impaired PFC, the correct decisions cannot be made. It’s important to note here that knowing you may have an issue with food and addiction is not an excuse not to do anything. On the contrary, enlightened with this new knowledge, you must take action to get off the bingeable hyperpalatables that lead to loss of control—and to learn how to live lifelong recovery without them.

If your reward center has been hijacked, the solution is to reclaim your brain by using your brain, specifically, the PFC. It’s imperative that through the detox and recovery program, you strengthen and actually grow a smarter brain to help guide you and maintain that all-important daily vigilance.

This is, as with all addictions, a challenge. Food addiction is more challenging than other addictions because we live in a virtual mine field of cues to eat the hyperpalatables. This is why it’s so important to power up your PFC.

Enlightenment: How do you do that?

Dr. Peeke: The main thing we do to augment PFC function is meditation. When I read about the TM technique in my friend Norman Rosenthal’s book, Transcendence, I was amazed by the research.

Dr. Pam Peeke

“In my study, the TM group found it much easier to say ‘no’ when confronted with cues. Indeed, what they found was that the bliss,
the calm, the peace becamethe reward. It became a healthy fix.”

Because no one had looked at food addiction before, I did a couple of pilot projects, using people with food addictions as subjects. I found that TM practice had a profound influence on the ability to maintain vigilance and calm. It also helped people do the one thing that is so difficult in addiction—to adapt to life’s stresses without resorting to self-destruction. People with addictive tendencies have trouble adapting to life’s stresses without defaulting to their addiction.

TM helps them stay on track by augmenting the PFC. People have to face food cues and temptation every single day, and with TM, we’re giving them a powerful mental tool. Unless you live a Thoreau-like existence, cues abound, and you have to have the most powerful brain possible to get through. Neuroscientists have noted activation of the PFC during TM practice and a dampening of the fight-and-flight response in the brain. This is solid science demonstrating the powerful effect of TM on PFC function.

You cannot do this without meditation. I’ve made that extremely clear in my book. In my study, the TM group found it much easier to say “no” when confronted with cues. Indeed, what they found was that the bliss, the calm, the peace becamethe reward. They were doing a switch-off from false fixes (the hyperpalatables) to healthy fixes.

They also came to realize that meditation had to become an integral piece of their life—not a little extra attraction when they thought it was a good idea. And when they did it regularly, when their PFC became more optimized, their ability to rein in impulsivity and to remain focused was greatly enhanced. It just made it easier for them all the way around.

Enlightenment: In your book you talk about the three pillars of the hunger fix: mind, mouth, and muscle. What about the other two—mouth and muscle?

Dr. Peeke: The book teaches you how to do direct battle with the hyperpalatables. You have to go through a little withdrawal, but we make it so easy to kill the carb cravings by eating protein-fiber combinations, by eating every three to four hours, and by using recipes that make whole foods taste as good as the hyperpalatables. In a way our nutritional program, which highlights dopamine-building foods, acts a bit like methadone—helping people gently detox off their false fixes and transition to the healthy fixes.

As for the “muscle” part, we present extraordinary data that when you are physically active—forget the Olympics here, I’m talking about assuming the vertical and walking every day—you actually induce neurogenesis (growing more brain cells and new pathways) while dampening down and sometimes shutting off high-risk genes. Regular activity, for example, deactivates the most powerful gene for obesity, the FTO gene, by 40 percent. So you’re not condemned to a life of obesity and the metabolic syndrome. You’re growing a bigger, smarter, more focused brain while improving body health and wellbeing.

That’s also why one of my book’s mottos is Big Brain, Small Waist. The sharper your PFC, the smarter your decision making.

Enlightenment: Is “dampening the FTO gene” epigenetics?

Dr. Peeke: Yes. My entire plan in The Hunger Fix is based upon epigenetics. To put it simply, epigenetics is a brand-new scientific field that’s probably going to be the biggest game-changer of the century. It game-changes because we thought DNA was our destiny—but we were dead wrong. Now we know that it doesn’t matter what DNA you were born with—you can dramatically alter it with your lifestyle choices. Whether you were born with a genetic tendency toward any addiction, or picked it up from your environment, you can alter your own destiny through healthy lifestyle choices. DNA is no longer destiny. Every lifestyle choice you make is. That’s the essence of epigenetics.

“Whether you were born with a genetic tendency toward any addiction, or picked it up from your environment, you can alter your own destiny through healthy lifestyle choices.”

Scientists have now identified how your genes can “talk” (that’s called genetic expression) to the rest of the body differently. To be able to give out directions to build a bigger brain. To be able to induce neurogenesis, which is the creation of more brain cells. To be able to create more neuropathways and circuitry. To be able to supervene over the old, addictive neurocircuitry.

By changing lifestyle habits—mind, mouth, and muscle—you’re able to imprint on your epigenome, which is then expressed to the rest of your body and results in these extraordinary changes, which are then passed to your children. That’s how powerful this is. Your children inherit your lifestyle.

I’m not saying you can wipe out the fact that you are genetically predisposed to heart disease, but what you can do is dampen that gene. It’s never gone, but following this plan will help you live longer.

Enlightenment: As a physician and leader in the field of healthy living, would you recommend the TM technique to everyone, even those without food disorders?

Dr. Peeke: Absolutely—you want to build a strong foundation for the most powerful brain possible. The smarter you are, the more vigilant you are, the better your decisions, and the better your body composition, and the more optimal your health and wellbeing.

I don’t care what your weight is, you’re going to be healthier and make better choices for yourself. I would recommend TM to anyone of any age so they can gift themselves with that transcendence, with that cerebral integration, with more optimal brain functioning. And with the ability to be rewarded with the bliss, the calm, the expansion of the mind that you experience when you do TM. That’s the healthiest fix of all because that will help direct you to the other healthy fixes.