The Physical Benefits of Positive Emotions

Last week’s post on negative emotions got people talking about the intersection of mental and physical wellbeing. It also filled my inbox (a very good thing, in my opinion). True, it’s not usual subject matter for MDA. Living Primally, however, is about taking a full and nuanced view on enhancing our health. That’s what we’re all after, isn’t it? So, if we recognize how negative emotions – when they’re allowed to linger beyond their natural, short-term function – can undermine our physiological wellbeing, why not take a look at the flip-side? Is positive thinking mere psychobabble fluff as some would argue? Does it attract love, opportunity, and other good energies the universe has to offer? I’ll leave these angles for others to explore (although feel free to argue your own perspective on the board). For my part, I’m all about the brass tacks basics. I’m sure you can guess: the physiological impact of positive feelings and their potential evolutionary roots. Call me a simple guy.

Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has spent years researching the role of positive emotions in human health and cognition – and assembling a theoretical picture of their evolutionary value. According to her “Broaden and Build Theory,” positive emotions were selected for over the long-term because they allowed for a “cognitive flexibility” that allowed for the development of a broader “repertoire” of behavioral choices. In other words, positive feelings encouraged our ancestors to consider situations differently and make new and novel choices that ended up enhancing their survival. More open thinking led them to smarter decisions or more effective solutions to problems they and their kin faced.

Mull for a minute your thinking when angry versus happy, dejected versus hopeful. When do you feel more productive and creative? While negative emotions often push us toward knee jerk or at least simplified reactions (which had their immediate adaptive value at some point), positive emotions “broaden” or open our field of vision. They invite musing, play, and invention. Fredrickson and her team have even studied the literal connections among positive emotion, expansive thought, and physical attention. Good feelings, they’ve found, enhance our “global” (i.e. big picture) thinking, and even expands our perception of what’s in our peripheral vision. As subtle as these cognitive benefits can seem, they could mean the difference between life and death in the hard scrabble, unpredictable world of our forebears.

From a physiological standpoint, research has shown that positive emotions as varied as love, compassion, and gratitude encourage “harmonious” heart rhythms. In other words, emotional equanimity fosters synchronized, balanced, and efficient physiological patterns in the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Other research suggests that even more abstract positive emotions like hope and curiosity offer protective benefits from diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. Are correlations like this hard to confirm in the messy, nuanced picture of individual lives? Sure. Nonetheless, there’s clear logic behind the premise. The more time we spend in emotional states that put our body in physiological balance, the better our health will be. Fredrickson highlights the physical power of positive emotions in a theory she calls “undoing.” Aside from the cognitive advantages, the primary physiological benefit of positive emotions is the “undoing” of negative stress induced responses. Good feelings calm our cardiovascular reactivity and sympathetic nervous systems. Positivity, in other words, returns us to physical homeostasis. Hmmm…positivity as a default setting? There’s an intriguing thought.

All this begs the question, what emotions fuel our lives? How much positivity do we experience in a day – and how much negativity do we need to recover from? Fredrickson’s research suggests we need at least three positive emotions to one negative in order to “flourish” within our individual lives and relationships. How do we stack up?

I’d suggest the real point isn’t bean counting our way through emotional interactions each day. Nor is it about forcing a shiny, happy attitude on your life. Living deeply and authentically involves experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion, about discovering the depths of human feeling. There’s a unique magnitude to be found in the more solemn dimensions of our lives. Ultimately, however, it isn’t about the sum of happy, carefree circumstances but the rich as well as positive feelings we cultivate in response to life. Do we find meaning in the overall endeavor? Do we allow ourselves to see beauty in a day? Do we choose experiences and entertainment that move us emotionally? Do we ultimately drink up the positivity of our lives – the possible love, gratitude, inspiration, humor, and contentment?

Allowing ourselves to recognize and relish the positive in life doesn’t diminish the suffering some people endure or justify the injustices of the world. Nor does it undo the heavier burdens we may carry. Nonetheless, when we recognize the power of positive emotion on our wellbeing – indeed, the critical role of positivity in our basic health, it’s a downright shame to deny ourselves the full portion of its benefits.

Thanks for reading today, everybody. Let me know your thoughts on positivity and the role it has in your life.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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89 thoughts on “The Physical Benefits of Positive Emotions”

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  1. Actually the glass is always full. What the liquid does not fill, air does.

    1. From the engineering standpoint, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be!

      1. From a medical standpoint, what can we do to make the glass as close to 1/1 full as possible?

        1. From the nihilist standpoint, it doesn’t matter whether the glass is half full because it will be empty soon.

          “Are these the Nazis, Walter?”
          “No, Donny, these men are nihilists, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

  2. I believe that there are real tangible benefits to having a positive outlook. In general you feel better and have less stress when you are in a good mood. This will lower your cortisol and make you healthier. The people I know who always focus on the negative in a situation and are super critical seem to give off a sort of sickly vibe. It makes me want to stay away from them.

    1. Life isn’t always going to be peachy – there will be bumps along the way, no question there. But finding a glimpse of positivity, even in the midst of turmoil or otherwise grim situations, will make the it infinitely more tolerable.

      Keep your thoughts about the future positive, and find the good in every situation… things will turn out alright!

    2. I have a few members of my family and neighbors like that. I really go out of my way to avoid people who are incessantly negative, because they tend towards the desire for making other people miserable too.

    3. While my sister was grappling with years of chronic fatigue syndrome, she went to some group coping workshops. One piece of advice that came up again and again:
      Avoid toxic people!

      Critical, negative, wise-ass types will drain your energy and poison your mind (and thus your body) as surely as any potent toxin.

  3. It may be impossible to break it all down and turn it into science. We have a 15-year-old who was so sick for 8 years, he was ready to end his life. During that time we couldn’t motivate him to do homework or anything else that was very productive. Thanks to being primal he is now healthy. He’s experiencing tremendous success at sports and he’s dialed in and self motivated with his school work. The more healthy he is, the more positive he feels. The more positive he feels, the more productive he becomes.

    1. This makes my heart happy 🙂 I’m glad your son is doing so well on Primal!

      1. We feel the change in his diet made all the difference in the world. I will never know for sure, but we think he had issues with grains and sugar from birth. Then, he got Lyme Disease at age 5 and his system became overwhelmed. He missed many years of school and would vomit 40 – 50 times a day for months on end. He was in the hospital and had every kind of medication you could have thrown at him. Also had all the tests you could name. We are 8 months in to our primal journey and he has a quality of life he has never known. He’s doing some pretty incredible things on the wrestling mat for a freshman (undefeated) and everyone is marveling at the transformation. If he were a normal kid, I wouldn’t brag about his record (has nothing to do with me anyway). It’s just this thing has been a miracle in our lives, and I’m trying to express how much. So the answer is, yes, this diet change has transformed his physical and mental state. I thank God for this information daily.

        1. Wow Miki. I’m so happy to hear your son is now thriving after such a battle with illness.

        2. Thanks for sharing Miki – it is a joy to hear that your son is doing so well after all that time.

        3. Speaking of positive, I love reading stuff like this. I can only imagine the relief and joy you must feel to see your son’s life change in such dramatic way.

        4. I believe every word you say! I have lots of food intolerances and am allergic to corn and probably dairy. All grains bother my joints. I feel 100% better when I follow the plan. I have been slipping up lately and once I have chocolate or Ice Cream, every night I crave it. I know after about 5 days that stops, it is just getting to day 2! The reason I asked is I know my Son is Gluten Intolerant and I think dairy and corn also bother him but he is 19 and away at College. He lives in a Fraternity and it is tough to eat Paleo. I personally see a difference in myself in my emotions and my mental outlook on things.

        5. Miki,
          With all the positives surrounding your son’s improved health, your health must also be better. I am glad to hear about positive changes like these.

  4. If you don’t believe in the power of a positive outlook try a negative one for a few weeks and you’ll be convinced. 🙂

    1. John, I very much agree. Negativity is a learned response, not a natural one, and often it’s a shotgun approach to the way life is treating us. Such as, “My ex was a real witch; therefore all women are witches.” Obviously this is like saying “Today is cloudy; therefore the sun will never shine again.” It’s faulty reasoning, yet people do this sort of thing all the time without ever examining the holes in their theories.

      Sometimes we really have to pay attention to what we’re thinking in order to see how irrational our thoughts can become. Negativity also rubs off. It pays to limit exposure to negative people. They will drag you down with them if you aren’t careful.

      1. Playing devil’s advocate here…Some of the most creative and intelligent people in history went through life experiencing frequent, often debilitating, episodes of depression and negativity: Winston Churchill, Sir Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther, Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell…the list goes on.

        Aristotle even posed the question: “Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry or the arts are melancholic?”

        There is a place for negativity, and some people are naturally more negative than others. Perhaps for some, it’s even possible to be happy -or at least content- in their unhappiness?

        1. I have a very positive attitude – I am fairly positive that in the remaining 20 or so years of my life (I’m 70), I will see catastrophic weather that will overwhelm our ability to respond, global pandemic, virtual elimination of civil liberties in those countries that currently have some, vastly increased terrorist violence, horrible senseless wars, dramatically more homeless people than the huge number we have now, most people continuing to slide into diabetes, cancer and other preventable diseases, the great majority of Americans clinically obese, the list goes on and on.

          I don’t do depression any more. Primal has cured me of bipolar problems. Thanks to primal, I personally should do ok. But, realistically, I see the world hurtling faster and faster into a hellish nightmare.

          No, I’m not in a bad mood. I am feeling quite mellow. I have more friends than ever, I am doing rewarding crafts, my finances are good, and I’m enjoying the holiday season.

        2. It’s pretty well known that there’s a connection between intelligence and depression. I’ve read research that suggests that we learn better and are more open to negative feedback when we’re down.

          Having struggled with a naturally depressed mind myself, I can tell you that most probably those highly productive people, in their own ways, trained their minds into happiness (or at least contentment) during productive periods. You can’t live in a world of extreme unhappiness and produce anything real. You have to learn to climb out of it and refocus. I suspect Winston Churchill, especially, knew how to lead England during WWIIs darkest hours because he’d fought his own personal demons and lived to tell the tale.

        3. “I don’t do depression any more. Primal has cured me of bipolar problems. Thanks to primal, I personally should do ok. But, realistically, I see the world hurtling faster and faster into a hellish nightmare.”

          Well, Merry Christmas to you, too – LOL.

          I hate to break it to you, but there’s always been someone predicting the end of the world is nigh since we invented calendars. If you’ve got some really hard evidence, I’d like to know because I’ll splurge and put that all inclusive Disney trip on our credit cards.

        4. “It’s pretty well known that there’s a connection between intelligence and depression. I’ve read research that suggests that we learn better and are more open to negative feedback when we’re down.”

          Good point, Amy. According to Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, Churchill’s negative mindset helped him assess the Nazi (and later the Soviet) threat more realistically and accurately than most of his peers.

          I wonder, did paleo people go through life with a positive attitude or an “I hope I don’t get eaten today” attitude? It seems to me they would have been cautious at best, and paranoid at worst, always on the lookout for the next threat to their existence. Worth thinking about, no?

        5. @ Amy: I said nothing about the world ending. I don’t expect it to.

          The dire predictions I mentioned are all pretty well documented. Why should I be optimistic about the world?

          I am optimistic that primal/paleo will eventually become CW. But that won’t be enough to save most people from obesity and preventable illness. Current cw hasn’t had much impact on most people. (Fortunately)

        6. “The dire predictions I mentioned are all pretty well documented. Why should I be optimistic about the world?”

          Because you’ve made it to 70 and typing on this Internet thingy in a warm, safe house. You’re living in the age of miracles if you simply change your mind about it. There’s no reason the human species should even exist, let alone evolved to the point of filing tax returns every year.

          And everything you mention has been written about, yes. There’s not a whole lot of evidence that human nature or the changes in the weather are significantly different then at time previous though. The Book of Revelations is also well documented and studied. We’re still waiting on that one to come true, too.

        7. “I wonder, did paleo people go through life with a positive attitude or an “I hope I don’t get eaten today” attitude? It seems to me they would have been cautious at best, and paranoid at worst, always on the lookout for the next threat to their existence. Worth thinking about, no?”

          Hmm.. I doubt Paleo woman spent that much time in fear and doubt. Depression unchecked leads to all sorts of self destructive behaviors, including suicide.

          It seems to me that the fits of depression are just that, fits. I personally rarely want to stay there because it’s painful, almost like physical pain. But they do pass, just like the rain and are far rarer when I’m eating better.

          I would lean towards the idea that a well nourished human making to about 20ish or so in Paleo times spent a significant amount of time in the moment, reasonably calm and cheerful about life. Not 100% happy (as today), but not spending their life curled up in cave blathering on about what it all meant.

        8. RE Amy’s response: “I doubt Paleo woman spent that much time in fear and doubt. Depression unchecked leads to all sorts of self destructive behaviors, including suicide.”

          I would suggest that both paleo women and paleo men lived in a constant state of awareness, readiness and, at times, intense fear. Watch a cat sometime. Even when it’s sleeping, it’s aware of what’s going on in it’s environment. Relaxation as we know it probably didn’t exist in paleo times. Doubt, as in self-doubt, however, is another thing entirely, and anyone given to indulging in self-destructive behaviour would have been culled very early on from the gene pool.

          “…not spending their life curled up in cave blathering on about what it all meant.”

          I doubt paleo people were into navel-gazing, but they probably did enjoy kicking up their heels at the end of a long day of hunting and gathering and dodging maws and paws.

        9. I have to say your reasoning is fallacious. Brilliant people are brilliant. But anyone who struggles with depression can tell you how debilitating it can be. And I would add, that it is hard to be brilliant or productive when these “episodes” occur. It’s like saying mental torture or physical illness makes you a better person.

        1. My reply was a tongue and cheek comment to JohnC (follow the indentation).

          My new point is if you don’t get the it then you just don’t get it. Que sera sera.

      1. Harry Mossman, I would like to throw an idea out there because you seem like a pretty sharp guy with at least a few toes in reality.
        I thought the same thing. We’re sliding in to an abyss etc., doom and darkness descend etc. My response now is to stop thinking this, because every open physics system will acknowledge this dark thought which helps to bring this reality in to our current one. I personally don’t want it, nor do you?
        Joseph P. Farrell has all the details, the man is outstanding and is joining all the dots. Keep an open mind and be blown away. Reality is fascinating and the more people who foresee the bad guys disappearing, the more likely this will happen, and sooner rather than later.

        1. There is no proof that thinking positive thoughts brings you positive things. What happens is you feel better and more able to manage life, but it doesn’t change reality.
          There are problems with reality at the moment, ignoring them doesn’t change them and it just makes you unaware. Trust but verify, be positive but plan for the worst. These make sense and make you well prepared, no matter what actually happens.
          Americans are a little over-obssessed with positive thinking. This is not the norm in the rest of the world.

        2. RE River Song:
          “Americans are a little over-obssessed with positive thinking. This is not the norm in the rest of the world.”

          Yes, Europeans, and the Irish in particular, tend to be far more skeptical and cynical than Americans. “Why are you so happy? You must be up to something!”

      2. “Detto fatto” (no sooner said than done).

        Thanks for that pointer. I’ll follow the indentation in future, although the faint background colour is a bit hard to see on my screen.

  5. This is such an incredibly timely post. I’ve been dealing with health issues for over 9 months now, and still no answers from the medical community. It’s impacted every aspect of my life: my job, my bank account, my relationships… it’s been a nightmare. There are days when it is extremely hard to see the light in anything, much less smile or think positively. So last week’s post on the toll negative emotions take on our bodies and mental health was just as timely. However, with the holidays coming (and the whole Armageddon-threat thing, bogus though it may be), I’ve been taking more and more time to really think about what IS good in my life, what I DO have, and mostly that for which I am GRATEFUL. ‘Positivity’ may seem to be little more than a corporate seminar tagline, but in practice it truly is helpful, and is a very real feeling. It is also an entirely internal process, but having a lot of support from strong familial and social networks helps immensely. I don’t ever fake being happy, but I find that when I believe there is more in life about which to BE happy, a smile is not far behind. =)

    1. Good for you! I know exactly what you mean about positivity in practice. Totally agreed. Best wishes to you, and hang in there!

  6. I honestly feel that what you put in/do to your body has a huge impact on your level of happiness and your ability to see beauty and joy in really simple things. It always boggles my mind when people hurt themselves on many levels, then resort to supplements or medications to ‘make them better’. i think many things start with food. food=medicine. and exercise = medicine. I even think that cooking/eating whole foods, the fact that you are seeing yourself treating yourself well, makes a HUGE difference in life. WHen you put food in your mouth that you know isn’t good for you, it affects you. Of course, sometimes that scoop of ice cream is GOOOOOOD! and makes you feel good. but if you kept doing it, you would feel guilt, bloated blah blah all associated with feeling badly. It’s all connected!

    1. Nothing wrong with good quality gum free ice cream. I would go so far as to say some is good for you. Bloating on it would bd an issue with yhe person, not the ice cream.

  7. Yesterday I left a work situation because it was so stressful and negative. I felt really empowered by this change. In the past, I’ve put up with mean people way longer than I should have, trying to be “tolerant” and forgiving. But it was clear that this situation was probably not going to get permanently better, so I just left. As soon as I did, I realized I could restructure the work in a different place, with different, nicer people. It’s amazing how long we stay in bad situations that we don’t need to tolerate. One reason I’ve quit tolerating bad situations is b/c they make my body hurt, literally. It’s as if physical pain has become a barometer of mental pain. How handy!

  8. Mel, I am living that guilted, bloated blah feeling right now. And I would love to throw this out to the masses. I keep falling off the primal wagon… HARD! Several days I have gotten up had a great primal breakfast only to fall face first into candy by midday at work. I feel like a true addict. I have consumed 1000s of calories (i know, who cares about calories) in pure sugar in an hours time. Then I spend time trying STOP feeling horrible and getting in a good place.

    Can anyone suggest help for this? I have a small daughter and I am trying to right my ship so that I can serve as a role model.

    1. You sound very much like a sugar and sweets addict. Try eliminating ALL sweets–natural, artificial, sugar-free, whatever. If you’re drinking diet beverages, that could be triggering a craving for other sweets. You might do well to eliminate all fruit for a few weeks. In other words, eat nothing that tastes remotely sweet. It will be tough sledding for a week or so, but the desire to gorge on sugar/sweets will disappear fairly rapidly.

      The next thing to do is to put a gold star on your calendar for each day that you did not eat anything sweet. Yeah, I know, it’s a bit childish, but it’s a great morale booster and visible testimony to your will power. You’ll find that it becomes more important to keep that string of gold stars going than to give in to your desire for junk. This is how I quit smoking many years ago. I had many calendar pages filled with gold stars. I kept it up until I knew without any doubt that my addiction was history.

      1. I too have quit smoking and I think I’m going to have to look at this the same way.

        I will try the gold star trick too. Years ago I went to weight watchers and I remember the leader giving a cheer, “Hips, Hips, Away!” when someone had a good week. Talking about putting your face in your hands and knowing that you’ve hit bottom. But I was always a junkie for those weight loss stars! 🙂

      2. Gold star post Shary! I beat cigarette addiction, and then 20 years later, an alcohol addiction using a similar approach. Years ago I realized my weight problem was an addiction to food but couldn’t just quit eating cold turkey like I had with the cigs and alcohol, so I tried to reduce the weight through the conventional methods of eating the recommended “healthy whole grains” etc etc and plenty of exercise. I struggled for years and couldn’t “get healthy”. Finally discovered all about the primal and realized the addiction was solely to sugar and carbs. Once I totally eliminated those, the cravings went away and the weight dropped, The best part is I do not feel deprived and feel like I have finally conquered all worst demons!

    2. I have struggled with the same problem. I came to the conclusion that I’m a compulsive eater. It took a lot of trial and error (in other words, a lot of pain) for me to finally concede to my innermost self that that was the case. I fully embraced the primal way of life about a year ago, yet I kept falling off HARD as well. Right now I’m taking a spiritual approach to this and addressing what it is that is making me eat improperly It’s not physical hunger. Instead, I’ve improperly habituated my mind to use food in order to handle emotions. Food cannot succeed at that, and therefore, I end up with a “hunger” that can never be satisfied. Not even by 1000s of calories an hour in sugar (believe me, I know!). It’s very hard for someone who hasn’t experienced the loss of the power of choice (i.e., compulsion) to understand what it feels like to be doing something you really don’t want to be doing. In recent weeks, I implemented what I consider to be a stop-gap measure (rather than a permanent solution). Every night at 8p.m., I email a person that I respect greatly who agreed to help me with this. There is no text in the email. The subject simply says “perfect” or “fail”. Perfect means I ate primal and exercised. Fail means I didn’t. What this has let me do is substitute something truly pleasurable (sending that “perfect” email really feels great, and I look forward to it all day) for something that feels pleasurable in the moment (eating crappy food), but really isn’t. This is not my solution forever, but boy is it working right now. And, as I said, I’m also pursuing a long-term spiritual solution. I hope this helps. If for no other reason than at least you know you’re not alone.

      1. Thanks Bob. It absolutely helps to know I’m not alone. I hate the feeling of being a prisoner to food. I think I need to put more bacon candy back into my day.

        I started in July, lost 9lbs in a month doing 90/10 Primal. Then suddenly I question the primal life and I find myself in free fall. It has been the only way of eating that didn’t feel like a diet. I just have to slay this sugar dragon, so I can move on. I dream to have my success published some friday in the future. 🙂

        1. Consider going 100% paleo for a while as suggested before. The first week is the absolute hardest and honestly, you may not want to start this close to holidays. (Or you just may…I started low carb on Mother’s Day.)

          Whatever you do, don’t give up Addictions are hard to shake. Be prepared to keep getting back on the wagon, as many times as it takes. It will succumb to persistence.

    3. I have a suggestion.

      It just might help if you’d set a 7 day goal of being sugar free (and alcohol free, if applicable, because alcohol can make you crave sugar).

      By day 3 or 4, you’ll probably start feeling really good (physically and emotionally), so you’ll WANT to continue to the 7th day and beyond it.

      How to actually do this? Do what the kids did in the famous marshmallow experiment. David Brooks writes brilliantly about it in his book The Social Animal ….

      Most people think the kids in that experiment were able to keep from eating the marshmallow because they had great willpower. It’s not true. What they did was employ clever mental strategies, like telling themselves that the marshmallow wasn’t real, etc.

      What mental strategy could you use? Here’s one I’ve found effective. Tell yourself this: Sugar = Heroin.

      Take a look at what Google Images brings up for the simple search “heroin.” Horrific images of people shooting up, etc. Draw an analogy in your mind between those images and you eating sugar. A bite of sugar = a needle in your arm. So gross.

      Keep this in mind: You can’t win against sugar. It releases dopamine in your brain, and once you feel that release, you’re going to want to feel it again and keep the feeling going. You essentially get addicted to your own dopamine. It’s an unwinable situation. Just like people shooting heroin. It’s a very tight analogy.

      This is key. Every single time you manage to NOT eat something sugary, take a moment to feel REALLY GOOD about yourself. Picture yourself running a race and crossing the finish line, arms in the air, people cheering, etc. – or conjure up some other mental image of you being awesome.

      Hope this helps.


      P.S. Keep telling yourself these two things:

      “The way I am now is not the way I always have to be.”

      “I can get substantially better at anything I try, through my own efforts and practice.”

      1. Susan: I very much appreciate your analogy to heroin. Someone who never experienced sugar addiction would probably laugh and say it was ridiculously extreme. But it’s not. It is, as you say, very tight. My only hesitation at what you wrote is with the speed at which the person will start to feel better. My experience was that I had significant withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, lethargy, and sore throat, for a week. But I realize that this will differ from person to person.

        1. Hey: Thank you for writing.

          The sugar = heroin analogy is one I’ve been making for a long time.

          I’ve seen grown ups (especially at book signings, for some reason), standing around a plate of sweets (usually cupcakes, for some reason), utterly engrossed in the experience of devouring them. All this, right around dinner time, when you might think they’d be more in the mood for sensible food. And you might think they’d be interested in the book that gave rise to the event. But they’re not. It’s all about the cupcakes.

          What’s with that? It’s the sugar. They’re addicted to sugar and the short-term dopamine release they get when they eat it.

          The same is true for many Starbucks enthusiasts. They’re there as much for the caffeine as they are for the sugar.

          A great read is The End Of Overeating by David A. Kessler, MD. It explains very specifically what happens to us, physiologically, when we eat what the author calls “highly palatable food.”

          As for withdrawal, You’re right, it’s an individual thing.

          I think it’s a good strategy to tell ourselves, whenever we do something new (including giving up food or drink or whatever) to tell ourselves that it may not feel good at first, and we may be pretty uncomfortable, but the feeling will go away and be replaced by a much better feeling than we had before we started.

          I have heard a number of people say that they felt utterly zen-like by the 7th day of going 100% paleo with no sugar, alcohol, or caffeine. They were tired and draggy at first (i.e. withdrawal), but many got beyond it about 3 to 4 days in, and by the 7th day they were feeling really great. When I did it, that’s exactly what happened. You’re right, results vary. In any event, it’s a worthwhile experiment. It’s a very powerful way to hit the reset button.

          Nice chatting here 🙂

      2. Thanks Susan, that is a great strategy and not at all far fetched. When I binge on sugar I am no different than a heroin addict shooting up.

        1. All the best to you!

          I see people make dramatic changes in their lives all the time. It’s not just possible, it’s highly likely, if you’re in the right mindset, and it sounds to me like you are.

          From your words, it seems like: (1) you really want the change; (2) you’re really open to ways to make it happen; and (3) you’re willing to put forth the effort.

          SoI’m thinking you’re going fix this problem and get to a place in your life you like a lot better.

          Way to be!! I’d love to know how things work out for you.


    4. This is from my personal experience, self sabotage, deep down I had not dealt with powerless feelings I had from growing up. I also come from a line of beer drinkers who all suffer depression. I think sugar and alcohol stimulate a bit of euphoria. I’ve been an over eater, under eater, coffee abuser, over exerciser you name it. All because I think I didn’t know how to just be ok with the past, so I let it go, and decided to have love and compassion for myself and the family I felt for some reason just could not show me the same. I let that be there problem. As far as the sugar…when you start eating it’s kinda like you tune out so, don’t let yourself off the hook, if you want ten pieces, check in with the feelings you have at that moment. Be nice to yourself, quit feeling bad, change your mind. It is working for me…I also get good chocolate then melt it with equal parts coconut oil, pour onto some parchment paper and sprinkle some nuts or what ever, pop into freezer to set. Break it up like brittle and eat it when you need to, share with friends. Slow down.. Take care!

    5. Have you considered that your body is craving certain things because it is actually doing what it is supposed to, tellubg you what it needs? Why is everyone so afraid of sugar? Its needed by every cell in our body and you are trying to cut it out, why? When you do that you body will just get it by breaking down muscle with a large release of cortisol leading to a cascade of other strss hormines

      1. Cells do not need sugar. They burn glucose, which can be metabolized from any kind of calories, be it protein, fat or carbohydrates. Eating sugar is like putting gasoline on a fire, it burns great but really quickly and dies out quickly too. That’s why you should mainly eat complex carbs, proteins and fat.

  9. I can’t get over some “discussion” in the local paper where overfed, overprivileged and overprimitive corporate types posture as “compassionate,” positively thinking, hugging and embracing individuals who love the world, love peace and love animals. Stalinist/Orwellian “Miru mir” and “Druzhba narodov” is interspersed with clearly fascist bigotry.
    And … in the same local paper there is … just mentioning of Walmart, factory and deaths (many of them) and NO sight of positive, compassionate, hugging and embracing individuals. This is understandable. You can’t have the same people in two places.

      1. As the National Lampoon byline says: “All the News that Fits”

  10. Simply speaking, imagine a teacher telling student that this is a tough class and few people pass and if you fail it is your fault. Contrast this to the teacher telling students that this class will challenge you, bring the best out of you and I will do all that I can to help you. The students in the second scenerio will have positive emotions and will be encouraged. The first group will not. Our own thoughts and words have the same affect on our emotions. Keep things positive and encouraging is health for us. A positive life does not mean ignore or reject negativity. That is denial. Positive thinking is looking for the good in life, even then bad things happen. Zig Ziglar said many times that positive motivation is like bathing. It is good to do everyday.

  11. Has there been a post on the effect of what you eat on how you feel? I remember reading on a Paleo forum that depression and other mental illnesses (including ADHD for example) can largely be caused by sensitivity to certain foods and additives. I think the article was written by Gabor Szendi, a Hungarian clinical psychologist who has now devoted his life to introducing paleo living to Hungary. I remember how it had suddenly all clicked into place when after living mostly primal for about 2 months I slipped back into my old habits, and caught myself being grumpy, snappy, unmotivated and just generally in a really bad mood all the time. For me it wasn’t that serious as to call it depression, but I think it would be very beneficial for a lot of people to touch on the subject from this point of view as well. Sometimes negative thinking is not just a habit but a symptom.

  12. Great post! The mind-body connection is so important. A good book to read is “When the Body Says No”..its fascinating and shows just how important this connection is.

  13. A study came out recently that looked at the smiles of baseball players on their baseball cards. The ones with big genuine smiles lived longer than the non-smilers or the fake smilers. Interesting.

  14. I needed to hear this today. I live with a negative person and sometimes I need to step away and breathe in some balance in life. Thanks!

  15. What is, is. Neither positive nor negative thoughts will change it. However, you might as well choose to be happy because being unhappy for 70-100 years would pretty much suck. Dance as if no one is watching.

  16. On the subject of negative and positive emotioins, this article describing self-deprecation as a character flaw changed me:

    At a fairly young age I started using self-deprecating humor in various situations to deal with the anxiety when attention turned to me. Over the years I’ve heard descriptions of other people as being self-deprecating in a way that made it out to be a noble or positive trait. It isn’t. Please do not confuse self-deprecation with humility. They are two very different things.

    Like the link above describes, I began to believe many of the negative and disparaging things I said about myself. It was no longer humorous, While I have never been diagnosed by a doctor, I believe I had talked myself into depression. You wouldn’t believe some of the awful things I would say to the person in the mirror. Thoughts of self destruction became frequent, particularly while driving for some reason.

    Somehow I happened upon the link above, and reading it helped me realize what had happened over the years. Once I had a grasp of what I had done to myself through belittling myself, I was able to start turning it around. Not long after a coworker introduced me to MDA. I haven’t felt this good both physically and mentally in many years, maybe since grade school.

  17. Don’t forget there is a feedback-loop between the physiological and psychological well-being; poor nutrition, gut-health and exercise will bring you down (might even develop a mental disorder). In return, psychological problems can create physical stress.
    This is why a holistic approach to any kind of treatment is necessary; physicians should never ignore the psychological aspect, and shrinks should never ignore the physiological well-being of a client.

  18. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety my whole life and now, at almost 55 years of age, I feel I’m finally coming to grips not only with the causes of my issues but also how to heal them. Eating primally has helped me tremendously but what has done the most good was therapy- first talk therapy and, since about 2005, therapy using Emotional Freeing Technique (EFT or “that tapping thing”) and Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT). I Getting attuned to Reiki didn’t hurt, either, nor did removing some toxic people from my life.

    I have never used Western meds to “treat” (cover up) my problems but I have used supplements to get through the day, specifically GABA and Theanine with GABA and Relora. Getting diagnosed with a low thyroid and tapped out adrenal glands was another part of the picture. Getting the right medicine (Armour Thyroid) and enough sleep have made another huge difference in my life.

    But a genetic-deep helping of stubbornness, EFT, TAT and two dedicated therapists are the main reasons I’m still alive after this last year. Oh, and the Best Husband Ever! I never could have gotten this far without my beloved husband. There’s nothing better for one’s mood than a delicious paleo meal cooked up by a loving, supportive and sympathetic spouse. 🙂