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Posts from the ‘Mind and Body’ Category

Why We Shop: The Neuropsychology of Consumption

Why We Shop: The Neuropsychology of Consumption

Black Friday is such a strange name. It has been called that because the spike in sales puts retailers “in the black.”

And now, it starts on Thursday. For me, Thanksgiving is a day for family, neighbors, and friends. Our pets are happy because we get a bonus day and they may even get table treas! As a doctor, well, actually, as a human, I say stay in and socialize on Thanksgiving evening, rather than going off to a mall! One of the reasons the Mediterranean diet is probably so effective at preventing cardiovascular disease is because of its focus on sit-down meals with extended family.

But you may ask, what about the effects of “retail therapy”? They are real. Going shopping can be a break from your routine, filled with beautiful storefronts and music. It can make you feel really good to find just the right gift for someone. Getting shopping done early can help you feel more prepared for the impending holidays. Even catalog shopping can be a mini vacation in the mind.

Shopping can also be energizing. Ever feel that small adrenaline rush from getting that great bargain? The infectious energy of the crowds on Black Friday can also not be denied. However, there is a large emotional component to shopping. You can be really wired and make impulse purchases – or feel obligated to buy something if you’ve waited on line for hours. In a way, it’s very similar to how food can affect us.

Today’s article is an interview with consumer psychologist Dr. Yarrow. Here is an excerpt of that interview in which he speaks on the addictive nature of shopping:

Q – Is there an addictive component to shopping in some people?

A – Dr. Yarrow: I do think that there are a lot of people who rely on the dopamine rush that comes with finding a bargain or something special as a way to add a little bit of oomph to their life. I think that’s probably the most problematic aspect of shopping: that people become almost, I think, addicted to the bargain hunt.

Avoid being a victim of the adrenaline rush!

Try these hints that work for impulse shopping as well as when you are tempted to eat in an unhealthy way during the holidays:

1) Be mindful and enjoy where you are and what you are doing. Before you buy or eat, take in the colors, the sounds, the music, the vibes for 15 or 20 minutes.

2) Do some relaxation breathing. It really works!

The Calming Breath: This is good for emotional eaters who turn to food to pacify strong feelings. Use this technique when you feel short of breath, anxious, or out of control:

1) Start with relaxing your neck and shoulders muscles.

2.) Breath in slowly through your nose, and as you inhale count to three.

3) Pretend that you’re going to whistle

4) Breathe out through pursed lips, letting the air out naturally. You don’t have to change your breathing or force the air out of your lungs.

5) Bring to mind the image of blowing bubbles.

6) Repeat. Keep doing pursed-lip breathing until you feel calmer.

The Relaxing Breath: This is good for those emotional eaters who seek food when they are trying to relax and unwind.

1) Sit or stand, whichever is more comfortable for you.

2) Close your eyes if you want to.

3) Bend your arms at the elbows. Pull your elbows toward each other behind your back. Stretch your elbows back behind you as far as they will go.

4) Hold for a moment, then let your arms drop by your side.

5) Inhale deeply

6) Hold your breath as you count to three.

7) Exhale slowly.

8) Let all the air out.

9) Repeat steps 3-6 as many times as it takes to feel relaxed.

Most importantly: remember to do acts of kindness – these acts will warm you and make you feel good. Hold the door for someone. Give to a charity. Do an errand for an older neighbor. Bring someone’s paper or trash can in.

However you spend your time, enjoy this holiday season!

Dr. Nolfo

Forget Thigh Gaps: Healthy Is The New Beautiful!

Strong Is The New Skinny

Greetings from sunny California!

My husband and I take two trips out here per year to the Los Angeles area to be with friends and there is always something new to see. Today I spotted a billboard that I really liked. It showed athlete Marsha Tieken-Christen working out with the message “Strong is the new skinny.”

I’d like to go even further and say “Healthy Is The New Beautiful.”

I was horrified to discover that the concept of a “thigh gap” has somehow become a fitness goal that is furiously circulating in social media, particularly in the athletic community. I’m not sure where that idea came from, but from a doctor’s perspective, the idea of trying to achieve “thigh gap” is absurd. The distance between your upper legs is determined by the shape of your pelvis. The inner part of you leg is composed of muscles. In order to create space – those muscles would need to atrophe, which would also mean reducing your lean muscle mass.

A thigh gap or reduction in size of any body part is not a health or fitness goal.

Please direct your attention to the photo I have posted above. I love this portrait shown in the HuffPost this week because it displays an incredible diversity of female body and bone structure. It is crucial that both women AND men realize their full potential within their OWN bodies instead of trying to achieve the shape and size of others. It seems that most people inherently understand the concept “Every BODY is Different” but are continually blinded by the efforts of advertisers and media tycoons to paint us “the perfect body of society”. For those of us struggling to see through the difference, take a long hard look at that photo again. It is true that all those Olympic women are in the best shape of their lives – but their size, shape and structure are unique and cannot be copied.

Even before Scarlett O’Hara squeezed into a whalebone corset in “Gone with the Wind”, women ( and men too) have felt pressure to achieve certain specific body ideals. It’s well known that if Barbie was a real woman, she’d have measurements of 39-18-33. It’s important to jettison the arbitrary body ideals. As far as the “thigh gap,” for example, most young women need to strengthen their inner thighs to better protect their knees from ligament and cartilage damage. Older women with knee arthritis, every pound of extra weight puts 4 pounds of pressure on the knee joint, so staying at a healthy weight is crucial.  More importantly, strengthening, NOT WEAKENING the inner thigh muscles adds more protection for our bodies.

Evolve your personal fitness goals to be realistic and support your health as well as the activities you enjoy.

These portraits above show us a range of what is healthy and beautiful. These women are fit and powerful and at the peak of their sports. Try to imagine yourself at the peak of your health and fitness for your body type, your age, and your goals. Be realistic about ways you can work towards health and fitness goals for your body and your life. No matter what, a big part of this is maintaining lean muscle mass.

Never mind the gap or anyone else’s arbitrary rules.

Dr. Nolfo


It’s Never Too Late to Eat Right!


Photo is Courtesy of NPR News

I specialize (that is I am board certified) in Internal Medicine. Internal Medicine is a real specialty, though I am not usually referred to as a specialist. Sometimes as a primary care doctor I’m called a GP (General Practitioner), an old term that applies to doctors 1 year out of medical school with a state medical license and no board certification.

I’m also called an internist (though I take care of more than people’s insides!). I’ve also been referred to as an “adult medicine physician” and sometimes for a laugh, I call  myself an “Adult-atrician” – since everyone seems to know what a pedi-atrician is!

As a practicing internist, I have to know great deal about many aspects of our bodies and minds – and keeping current is hard work. One way I like to keep up with modern medicine is by reading journal articles. Every week I get several journals in the mail such as the New England Journal of Medicine, The American Journal of Medicine and my specialty journal, Annals of Internal Medicine – as well as several others on dermatology and more. I probably read dozens of these publications a week! So here’s a shout out to all the primary care doctors out there who are spending their precious free time striving to stay smart and informed for their patients!

Here’s some fun and interesting stuff I read this week on food and health:

As you know, my philosophy on food and wellness is that no matter what way you choose to eat, whether it be a plant-based diet, Mediterranean, Paleo or otherwise –  I believe firmly that your everyday diet should be composed of real food. This means no harmful chemicals, processed foods, dyes, flavor substitutes or fat-reducers – to name just a few of the culprits. I was amused and also a little shocked to read “The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads Chicken Little” in the American Journal of Medicine.

This particular study detailed an account of doctors from the University of Mississippi Medical Center (the state that tops the list at #1 in America’s obesity epidemic ) cutting open chicken nuggets from two national fast food chains and examining them as though they were pathology specimens to see what types of tissue they contained.

**** WARNING: THIS IS GROSS!!  Keep in mind that meat is muscle (a reason why some people are vegetarians). In these chicken nuggets, doctors from the University of Mississippi found only 40-50% muscle –  the rest was fat, skin, blood vessels, nerves, viscera – a.k.a. GUTS (sorry again) and BONES! Add to that the fat and carb crust found on a chicken nugget and you have a pretty useless non-food “chicken product” not too much different from the nefarious pig-snout-containing hot dog. It is extremely important that over time consumers around the world become increasingly aware and weary of these kinds of processed foods – becoming informed and educated is the very first step to living a clean, happy and healthy lifestyle! And certainly, this is not the sort of “food” we want to be putting into our bodies.

OK, on to a less gross article.

In the Annals of Internal Medicine there was an article that noted that people with an exceptional diet in their midlife (defined as late 50s early and 60s!) significantly decreased their risk of encountering major physical or mental limitations in later life.

What does this mean?

1) It’s never too late to eat better!

2) If you don’t want to just live longer but live longer and better, drop the nugget and pick up a real food. Eat more things with fewer than 6 ingredients on the label! Eat more fruits, veggies and fiber.

From time to time as I read up in these journals, I will pass along more interesting tidbits. Hopefully you found this stuff as interesting as I did!

Have a great weekend as always,

Emily A. Nolfo……..Doctor of Internal Medicine

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