What Goes In

>> Wednesday

Tryptophan is an amino acid (a kind of protein) your brain uses to make serotonin, and in experiments, more tryptophan in the blood causes more serotonin in the brain. What does it matter? Well, if you don't have enough serotonin, it can make you depressed and irritable. This is especially important for women ("Women have much less serotonin in their brains than men," says this article from MIT).

Almost all good sources of protein have many different amino acids, including tryptophan, so it shouldn't be a problem to get enough tryptophan, right? Unfortunately, the other amino acids compete with tryptophan to get into the brain.

But if you eat some carbohydrates with your protein, the insulin your body releases in response to carbohydrates takes the competing proteins out of your bloodstream, which allows more tryptophan to get into your brain.

If you eat meals containing nothing but protein, your serotonin level will be low (too much competition so not much tryptophan can get into your brain). If you eat nothing but carbs, you won't have any tryptophan (it's a protein), so your serotonin level will be low. If you drink a sugary beverage, you have put calories into your body and missed an opportunity to make serotonin. If you eat a fruit snack and nothing else, you missed another opportunity. But if you always mix protein and carbs together in every meal, you will get the maximum tryptophan into your brain, so you'll have enough serotonin, and that will help you feel good.

A nice side-effect is that a higher serotonin level suppresses your appetite. A low serotonin level makes people crave carbohydrates. Isn't that interesting? This means if you eat nothing but protein, you will crave carbs. But if you eat only carbs you will still crave carbs because you're actually craving the tryptophan you need to raise your serotonin. It's as if your body assumes the protein will be there, so it only craves carbs. But carbs won't do it. Mix some good quality protein in there (and good quality carbs too while you're at it) and you have the best chance of being slim and happy.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot

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End Worry With This Powerful Technique

>> Monday

Bertrand Russell, the mathematician and philosopher, used a technique on himself to prevent worry, and he recommended it to others in his book, The Conquest of Happiness. "When some misfortune threatens," he wrote, "consider seriously and deliberately what is the very worst that could possibly happen. Having looked this possible misfortune in the face, give yourself sound reasons for thinking that after all it would be no such very terrible disaster."

Of course, most of us would say, "But it would be a terrible disaster!"

Bertrand Russell anticipated this remark. He goes on to say that there are good reasons to honestly assert it might not be so bad: "Such reasons always exist, since at the worst nothing that happens to oneself has any cosmic importance. When you have looked for some time steadily at the worst possibility and have said to yourself with real conviction, 'Well, after all, that would not matter so very much,' you will find that your worry diminishes to a quite extraordinary extent."

I'd like to point out two things here. He said to look at the worst possibility "for some time." This is not a technique to do for ten seconds. Give it some time. If you really want to ease your worry, it will take a little time.

Also, he said when you can say to yourself it doesn't matter, and say it with real conviction, he does not mean pretending to say it with conviction. He means actually having looked at it enough to be able to legitimately say it really wouldn't matter that much.

He has a little more to say about the technique: "It may be necessary to repeat the process a few times, but in the end, if you have shirked nothing in facing the worst possible issue, you will find that your worry disappears altogether and is replaced by a kind of exhilaration."

This is an effective technique. It actually works, and surprisingly well. Dale Carnegie took the technique one step further and said, "Then try to improve on the worst," which I think most people would do anyway. But you can't skip ahead to improve-on-the-worst part and expect this technique to work. You have to go through a truly honest appraisal of what the worst would be and how bad that would actually be, until you realize with full conviction that even the worst wouldn't be that bad.

If you really do this exercise, you can really and truly cure yourself of a particular worry, and ease the strain on your system that the worry has been causing. To learn more about this technique and how to use it, read: The End of the World.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

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