Early Stress Responses
When you think back on your childhood what memories do you have? The truth is some people have fantastic memories of their childhood and some can’t retrieve hardly any memories whatsoever. We all only remember some aspects of our childhood experiences. You do not actually have to be able to retrieve the memories but your body remembers the felt sense of your experiences.
So when you get in touch with your bodies felt sense what do you recall? Our behaviours also represent an exceedingly accurate memory system, behaviours that have been imprinted on us from our earliest stages of our development. This body memory system guides our behaviour all throughout our life and prepares our bodies for what shape we are going to be, how we look, as well as how well we are. Our brains stress response mechanisms have been programmed into us by these early experiences, these are unconscious memories that govern our attitudes, our behaviours, as well as our attitudes and behaviours towards ourself, others and the world.
There is a tendency of a common thread in the stories of people who are emotional eaters and these stories seem to congregate around loss or early relationships that were profoundly unfulfilling emotionally. These stories are of early childhood emotional deprivation whether they are to do with what might have happened at home between parent and child or siblings or on the school yard. Ratings of feelings of being loved have been found to be statistically significantly related to your resulting health later in life. These interactions with our environment program into us our physiological, social and psychological development. Emotional contact is as important as physical contact and the quality of our relationships shape our evolution and our relationship with food.
We are not just talking about abuse or trauma or extreme neglect. We are talking about those that suffer because something positive was withheld. What has been withheld causes extreme stress on the system and this has been termed ‘the biology of loss’. Stress on the system indicates that something is missing or about to disappear and if food equals love and love is highly relevant and desirable, then food takes its place as a survival skill.
Your brain develops in response to the input you have received from your environment and the goal of human development is for us to be self-sustaining, self-regulated, and social.
We learn these things in relationship with others and our emotions give us either positive feelings that say to us ‘I want more of this!’ or negative feelings that say ‘I want less of this.’. If food makes you happy then when food is experienced endorphins are released from the reward centre of the brain and conversely stress hormones such as cortisol have been shown to cause important brain centres to shrink. It is the prefrontal cortex that modulates our responses to the world, it’s functions include; learned information about what is good and not good, what is socially acceptable and what is not, including impulse control, social-emotional intelligence, and motivation.
This is the area of the brain that initiates action into following a plan, doing new things, changing behaviours like eating differently as well as the maintenance of eating differently. It also inhibits impulses such as the impulse to eat. If you have been spending your time building up the muscles of the reward centre in your emotional development, then the stresses of life have shrunken your regulatory and thinking capacities. Leaving you in a place of desperation for food and reward, and little to no ability to have self-control.
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