(original distribution in early April 2010)

Passover and Easter are upon us. New Year’s Day is a fading memory and so, probably, are those New Year’s resolutions for change and self-improvement. One of the most common resolutions is to achieve a healthier lifestyle—eating the right foods, getting more exercise, perhaps thinking more positively and overcoming procrastination. My patient whose request a few years ago for some way to stay motivated between visits led to these weekly messages and Brain Drain was not unique. Most of us lose momentum and motivation as time rolls on from our well-intentioned self-improvement vows.

Every month seems to offer some kind of excuse to get off the track. In the northern United States, winter provides a handy justification for piling on the pounds: After all, January is a long and cold month and to keep the body warm, we need plenty of foods that turn to insulating fat.

February brings Valentine’s Day. Although dark chocolate is arguably one of the best power foods, we tend to turn to the more sugary varieties and consume way more than is healthy. Then there is Presidents Day, which often turns into a long weekend vacation. Like any holiday, it’s also a time to throw caution to the wind, and to indulge our baser cravings.

In March, St. Patrick’s Day is a time for celebration and possible imbibing—and not just for the Irish. Passover and Easter are springtime reasons to put aside our resolutions, at least for a week or two. Maybe after these holidays, as warmer weather brings thoughts of outdoor activity, you say to yourself, “I better get back on track.” You may decide to pop in to see me around this time and tell me that you really want to get serious about your health.

But do you, really? It’s pretty tough to make it past the temptations of a special feast for Mother’s Day and Memorial Day barbecues in May. (Barbecues rarely include healthy menus.) Feeling guilty after the excesses of the long weekend, maybe you get on the treadmill or go for a walk or bike ride. But then comes Father’s Day, and on its heels July 4th—more celebration and barbecues. At least summer can be a time to get outdoors and eat healthy…but if you take in a ballgame, do you ask the vendor for an organic hot dog from grass-fed cattle, with no antibiotics or hormones and prepared without nitrites? When the temperature tops 90, does your resolve to exercise regularly succumb to the comforts of central air?

For those who manage to carry their healthy habits through the summer, the long Labor Day weekend threatens to get you off-track again. For some, the Jewish high holidays in September and October are a time for family, but, too often, not a time to practice a healthy lifestyle. The cooler weather may give you reason to tolerate exercising outdoors or a reason not to. Couple that with Halloween and its abundance of candy left over from trick-or-treaters who didn’t show up.
Do I even need to say anything about Thanksgiving?

And so we come to Hanukah and Christmas. To quote Grandpa Boris in Rugrats (the 1990’s kid’s cartoon), the biggest miracle of Hanukah is that latkes (potato pancakes) “have clogged the arteries of our people for 2,000 years, yet we survive!” Christmas has its own examples of dietary overload, and New Year’s starts it all over again.

And these are only the major disruptions. What about the weekend dinners out with friends, the weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, confirmations, graduations, and baptisms, and the weakening will-power when thoughts of a pizza delivered to your door arise? What does a person who wants to get and stay healthy do?

What you do is start taking control of yourself instead of allowing yourself to be drained by your automatic brain (AB). (You didn’t think I’d leave that pesky AB out of my weekly message, did you?) Your AB is always looking for ways to pull you back into a safe place. If you are unhealthy, health could represent danger to the AB. Maybe you grew up in a home where unhealthy living was the norm, so the opposite was unfamiliar—and thus dangerous. Your AB learned how to avoid danger (being healthy, in this example) by fighting or fleeing it.

A false danger is that of somehow facing famine or starvation—preparing for the worst-case scenario of joblessness or homelessness or ill health. I have had many patients who start losing weight, become fearful that something is wrong, and gain weight again to reassure themselves that they don’t have cancer. Some people are reluctant to ask about healthy choices (an AB trigger) for fear of being viewed as wimpy, pushy, or weird. “I don’t want everyone to think I am some kind of health nut,” they tell me.

The fact is, your AB always sets it up that way. But you can fight back: Just before a special event, try eating less than usual. During the event itself, add one or two healthy alternatives to what you are eating. Don’t subtract food during the event, but make any additions the healthy kind. On the day after the event, go back to eating less than usual. Repeat these affirmations in your mind: “I love myself, I am healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Repeat these words in your mind during an event until they permeate your automatic brain—in effect, brainwashing yourself.
When you truly do love yourself, you want to be healthy and you look for ways to achieve that. At that point, nothing that comes up can derail you. You will be in charge of your life, and all the events and holidays on your calendar will be even more special and memorable.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Glassman began distributing a weekly motivational email message to patients and friends in January 2007. By May 2008, his distribution list had grown so much—as people on the list told others about it—
and interest in his messages had become so high—Dr. Glassman decided to turn his philosophy and advice into a book. That’s how Brain Drain came about. Starting in May 2008, his weekly messages—now distributed to an even larger audience—formed the basis for chapters of this book.
To date, Brain Drain has won in the Spiritual category at the 2009 Los Angeles Book Festival and received honorable mention at the 2009 New England Book Festival.

Through his book, private practice, public appearances, continued weekly messages,and Coach MD (medical coaching practice) Dr. Glassman has helped thousands realize a healthier, successful, and more abundant life.

He lives in Rockland County, NY with his wife Melanie and their four children (and dog, Ginger).

www.CharlesGlassmanMD.com; www.CharlesGlassmanMDblog.com