We have been hearing a lot about the benefits of intermittent fasting as decreased inflammation and weight loss often accompany eating less or eating in less hours of the day. The main reason this works is because of autophagy (“aa-TAA-fuh-jee”), which is the self-cleaning our body does when we have fasted more than 10 hours. The word literally means “consumption of the body’s own tissue.”

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Autophagy helps us lower inflammation and live longer because it allows the body to focus on cleaning up waste products like older, broken or mutated cells, and any toxins we have ingested. By doing daily clearing of the damaged tissue, the body remodels and builds new cells for each of our systems. 

What if we transferred this concept to our mental well-being? We tend to expect that our minds can be constantly “on,” handling input every waking hour. Not only that, but most of us do not actively monitor or control what comes into our head-space. Digital and media outlets have content galore to fill our brains. Friends and family influence what we think about and the brain-state we allow. 

But perhaps the greatest influence on what occupies our thoughts is US! We have choice in this matter; the thought patterns and focus of our brain activity are in our control. So, why not practice a bit of mental fasting? 

Shutting down the chatter in our brains is not easy and does not come naturally. Many of us were raised by parents who had their own issues with self-worth or emotional intelligence and we may have heard words that created tapes that replay in our heads as our own inner critic. But if we have adopted those words into our own thinking, it means we can kick them out. 

Stop and think

The first step is to notice. Notice what thoughts occur when we fail or don’t live up to our own expectations. Are the thoughts critical or kind? Are the thoughts accompanied with body sensations like a twist in the gut or a headache? If so, we can use the body feelings to remind us that judgmental thoughts are occurring. When we are able to notice these thoughts, we are at a point of choice…what could we choose instead? What if instead of criticism we chose compassion? 

I have worked on this and found it helpful to shift to thoughts such as, “I didn’t do a good job at that, I’ll do it differently next time,” or “Failing means I tried. What did I learn that would help me succeed?” Some of my hardest shifts have been around productivity and expecting myself to be in constant action. These scripts have been ingrained since childhood, and I’ve started choosing to remind myself daily that “rest is necessary for creativity.”

Consider your social influences

We can also choose the people we hang out with, the news we watch or the content we consume. Maybe you’ve heard that “we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with.” That is huge! Over these past two years, many of us have kept our social circle much smaller and perhaps this has impacted us even more than previous years. However, this is changing as we slowly feel safer with larger groups of people, so this may be a great time to take the opportunity to change your social influences.

The bottom line is that whatever is occupying your thoughts is your choice. You get to be the landlord and decide who lives there. 

Back to the concept of autophagy, I’ve decided to create quiet brain time daily. I can allow time for peaceful space in my thoughts, and I can choose my focus and the thoughts that fill my mind. I invite you to join me – it’s a mission for inner peace and when we are individually at peace, we can start to change the world. 

Dr. Brossfield is the founding physician of XO Health and medical director of Brain Performance Center, both in Rancho Mirage. She can be reached at (760) 573.2761 or www.BrainCareRanchoMirage.com and on Facebook @XOHealth.

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