Foods To Survive Vs. Foods To Thrive, with Mareya Ibrahim

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Life is hard enough, so when you throw in the idea of changing your eating habits to be healthier, it can feel downright overwhelming. The good news is that nobody’s perfect, and the switch to healthier foods is rarely an overnight transformation. In this episode, Tana Amen is again joined by Mareya Ibrahim for a conversation on how the right foods (and mindset) can help shift you towards a healthier lifestyle.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Welcome back. I am back with Mareya Ibrahim, my dear friend. We're talking about your beautiful book-
Mareya Ibrahim: Thank you.
Tana Amen: ... Eat Like You Give a Fork. Where can I find this? I love that title. Wait. I got to get it.
Mareya Ibrahim: It is in bookstores across the country. You can get it on Amazon. You can get it on-
Tana Amen: So it's widely distributed?
Mareya Ibrahim: ..., yep, and also on our website at
Tana Amen: And we're doing a giveaway.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yes. So excited for that.
Tana Amen: We're going to do a book giveaway. Tell them how we're going to do the giveaway. You tell us what they can do to get this book. It's going to go through our podcast website, so
Mareya Ibrahim: I think we're just going to do it randomly. So just give us your email and your name and we'll pick a random winner.
Tana Amen: Okay. I'm sorry. It's So We'll pick one of you. Write in. Let us know that you want the book and we will do a giveaway for you.
Mareya Ibrahim: That's awesome. Love it.
Tana Amen: Excellent. We were talking about strategies and we sort of got off topic and started talking about culture and American culture. We eat on the run. Fast food, Super Size Me, fast food, eat in my car, let's go. I've been certainly guilty of it for much of my life, being a trauma nurse, being a single working mother at times. It's hard-
Mareya Ibrahim: It is.
Tana Amen: ... in our society because our society hasn't focused around family like other societies have, like other cultures have. Even though my family's Lebanese, I was raised here. You were talking about that with your family.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah. I mean Eat Like You Give a Fork really is about intentionality. It's about going back to what we were talking about before. There aren't a lot of things we need to survive, but there are many things that we need to thrive. This is the real dish on eating to thrive. I really want people to feel like the best that they possibly can. When you figure out your food foundation, it's amazing how many other things unravel, how they unravel in a good way, and then they come together for you.
I actually struggled with an eating disorder for a decade and it was because I had this warped idea of what food was. When I got my food house in order it's like everything came together.
Tana Amen: Okay. But you know I'm a nurse and we have to stop for a second because one thing that people don't understand about ... and this is one of the reasons we are, and it really bothers me when in some of these programs they're like, "No food is bad food." It's not about good and bad, but it is a fact that certain foods, they affect your hormones. They affect your mood. They affect your neurotransmitters.
Mareya Ibrahim: 100%.
Tana Amen: This is where as a nurse I get really involved. I love this combination of chef, nurse, and creating healthy foods because you know just as well. You said when you were in culinary school you were bloated. You didn't feel good, right?
Mareya Ibrahim: Yes.
Tana Amen: That doesn't help. What happens is when you eat certain foods, sugar namely, but the certain combination of sugar, fat, salt when it's processed, when it's fried, certain things like that, they trigger this blitz point in your brain. They also affect your hormones, things like leptin. They're affecting your blood sugar. They're affecting insulin. What that does is it's actually affecting your cravings. It's shutting down the signal that goes to your brain that tells you that you are hungry or full. In this case, it shuts down that signal that lets your body know you're satisfied.
These cravings go on and in our society it's not okay to look a certain way. Women have these control issues. We don't want to be fat. We don't want to be overweight. We want to be healthy. So we've got this massive amount of pressure. If you don't do drugs, if you're not a person who believes in doing drugs, you end up finding food. It's so complicated and people don't get that. It does matter. Everything you put on the end of your fork matters.
Mareya Ibrahim: It does. What I found is it's not about just eating because the truth is, you can eat and you can still be malnourished.
Tana Amen: Right.
Mareya Ibrahim: We have an-
Tana Amen: Absolutely. You can be overweight and you could be malnourished.
Mareya Ibrahim: You could be way malnourished, so-
Tana Amen: In fact, usually you are.
Mareya Ibrahim: I really did feel that way. I felt like what I was eating was not feeding me.
Tana Amen: If you're not feeling vibrant, if you're not feeling strong, if you're feeling depressed and lethargic, you're probably not getting the nutrients you need, things like omega-3 fatty acids, things like vitamin D. You're not getting what you need.
Mareya Ibrahim: That's really where I kind of shifted my perspective and rotated my own plate, so to speak. That's what I'm teaching in the book. Even though I come from a Mediterranean, Middle Eastern background where food was everything, I mean talk about intentional.
Tana Amen: Right.
Mareya Ibrahim: Breakfast we were planning lunch, lunch planning dinner and would shop for ingredients every single day. There was also a mindset of eat as much as you can.
Tana Amen: Trust me. Trust me.
Mareya Ibrahim: Don't leave the table unless you're like-
Tana Amen: All I ever heard was, "You're too skinny. You're too skinny."
Mareya Ibrahim: Always.
Tana Amen: People walking around trying to literally shove food in your mouth.
Mareya Ibrahim: So I think that combined with what I was experiencing physically is what contributed to that rabbit hole. So what I want people to feel is that food is a solid foundation for you and it doesn't have to be a place of guilt or shame. Deprivation is not the approach.
Tana Amen: Well, we are not creatures of deprivation.
Mareya Ibrahim: I get so upset when people tell me, "I'm trying to lose weight and I haven't eaten all day." I'm like-
Tana Amen: You're not going to lose weight.
Mareya Ibrahim: Do you know what you're doing to your metabolism?
Tana Amen: You're not going to lose weight.
Mareya Ibrahim: That's not going to work.
Tana Amen: But we are also not hardwired as human beings to deprive ourselves. We are hardwired for survival. So we're hardwired to not be deprived. The minute that it's in front of you and if you've been depriving yourself, you're hardwired to take it.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah. But I want people to really think about this for a second. When you eat a meal, and everybody is different, but when you eat a meal how do you feel afterwards? Are you feeling energetic? Do you feel like you want to go out and slay? Or are you feeling like you want to go take a nap? Are you feeling sad? Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling like you can't sleep? All of those are indicators. So when you really examine what's going on in you, you can usually pinpoint what the trigger is too.
Some people can't have gluten, but a lot of people-
Tana Amen: Right. I don't feel well when I do.
Mareya Ibrahim: A lot of people can. I think it's very personal. It's not like that isolated in and of itself-
Tana Amen: I agree.
Mareya Ibrahim: ... is a problem.
Tana Amen: One thing we do here at Amen Clinics, we are ... See, we are dealing with a different, our population's obviously different than the people you're coaching. We are dealing strictly with very sick people, I mean really sick people. So we put everyone on an elimination diet. But we're very clear that not everyone's the same. We take it all out. We introduce things one at a time back in and some people it's, like me, crystal clear. Gluten is the thing that affects me probably the worst. But my daughter it's dairy. It's not gluten. So it's I think everyone's different.
Mareya Ibrahim: Everybody's different. In the book, there are some things that I ask people to eliminate, because like you said, you can't add to a good wardrobe without taking some of the important things out. So in the beginning, there's no processed sugars throughout-
Tana Amen: You have to start. Right.
Mareya Ibrahim: There's no processed sugars. There's no refined, bleached flours.
Tana Amen: By the way, that's just not going to serve you.
Mareya Ibrahim: It's not going to serve you.
Tana Amen: I mean even if you have it once in a while. So I'm clear that on occasion, I always tell people, we were talking about this too. We have a 95/5 rule, 90/10 if you are a person who's got really good control. If you're not addicted any more, you've got good control, and you're not sick, 90/10's fine. But for our people when they're first starting out, they're so addicted. So we start them off with a 95/5. We know no one's going to do it perfectly. It's not about perfection. In fact, I practice karate. The thing I always tell people is if you go in thinking you're going to do it perfectly, you're going to lose.
The first thing they teach you is how to fall safely, get up quickly. Falling isn't failure. It's only failure if you stay down. So I love that philosophy. It's like get up fast. I always tell people, if you see me out eating something or having a glass of wine, don't come up and approach me. Trust me.
Mareya Ibrahim: I can't even imagine. That's hilarious.
Tana Amen: I'm doing it with intention. I'm okay with it. I know what I'm doing. I live my message. The fact that I'm having a glass of wine or I'm having a bite of something ... I have a three bite rule usually if I'm having dessert. Or I may just choose to have something once in a while.
Mareya Ibrahim: That's actually one of the strategies in the book is the 90/10 rule. It's the last one for a reason. It's the last strategy because I want people to get the first seven strategies down and incorporated into their regular eating plan-
Tana Amen: And kind of break that addiction probably.
Mareya Ibrahim: ... and break the addiction. And then you can introduce the 10%. Even with that, I still believe that when you retrain your taste buds and you get your-
Tana Amen: You won't want it as much.
Mareya Ibrahim: You won't want it as much.
Tana Amen: No.
Mareya Ibrahim: I double dog dare you to eat that tray of brownies.
Tana Amen: You will feel terrible.
Mareya Ibrahim: You won't be able to do it because you've reset something that is then changing your brain.
Tana Amen: And what we find is that when people do it, they're like, "All right. I'm going to do it just because." And then afterwards they're like, "Why did I do that? I don't even really want it."
Mareya Ibrahim: Or they'll want a better version, like we were talking-
Tana Amen: Exactly.
Mareya Ibrahim: ... about the rehabs. I actually have some recipes in here, like banana pancakes with macadamia syrup and you can still do that with better replacements.
Tana Amen: Exactly.
Mareya Ibrahim: But you might not want a full stack. You might want two.
Tana Amen: That's what I do. If I go out and I'll have a gluten-free pancake, I have one.
Mareya Ibrahim: Allow yourself because I think life is hard enough. For us to put these types of restrictions on ourselves, when you get to that point where you can handle it-
Tana Amen: Well, I think that does set you up for failure because then it is deprivation. But if you know that it's like, okay ... The other thing is is change the mindset. For me, I don't know if you talk about this at all. For me, when people start doing that, as a nurse and as someone who deals with psychology a lot, what is deprivation to you? You have to change what you think of as deprivation. For me, deprivation ... because I was sick. I had cancer. Okay. So for me, deprivation is being sick. For me, deprivation is not being able to be with my family. It's not being able to be here, actually being purposeful and helping people. That's deprivation.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah. I agree.
Tana Amen: A cupcake?
Mareya Ibrahim: Well, for some people thinking that eating vegetables is deprivation.
Tana Amen: But see, for me, that's abundance because it gives me what I want. It gives me a vibrant life.
Mareya Ibrahim: But that's changing a mindset. So when you can help people understand that that vegetable is feeding cellular regeneration, it's maybe preventing the risk of-
Tana Amen: Cancer.
Mareya Ibrahim: ... cancer. My dad's a cancer survivor. I have many people in my family that have reversed that because they adopted new habits in their lives. But what I'm saying is, don't get to that point. It's never too late, but it's never too early either. I think when you eat this way, you are then actually changing your DNA. Correct?
Tana Amen: Yes. You are actually changing-
Mareya Ibrahim: When people say, "This is in my DNA," I'm like-
Tana Amen: Well, they always tell us, "Well, it's my genetics." Your genetics load the gun. You decide, not always, there are some disorders, some diseases, where you don't get to decide. Down Syndrome, you don't get to decide. Okay, we know that. But there are in most, pretty much all the lifestyle diseases, obesity, diabetes-
Mareya Ibrahim: Diabetes.
Tana Amen: ... in most cases, heart disease, oftentimes cancer. There was an article that was so terrible. It came out. It said cancer, it's your fault. What it was, what they were trying to say is it's lifestyle. The genetics load the gun.
Mareya Ibrahim: The genetics load the gun.
Tana Amen: But it's your lifestyle. You decide whether you pull the trigger in most cases.
Mareya Ibrahim: 100%. I just recently lost my mom. She had a stroke that took her life. She was struggling with diabetes and so many things. I'm going to be honest. I tried everything to change her lifestyle.
Tana Amen: They've got to want to though.
Mareya Ibrahim: You have to want to. You have to want to.
Tana Amen: Sometimes the disease wins and we know that.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah.
Tana Amen: Sometimes the disease wins and we know that. Some people aren't ready to do it. They don't want to for whatever reason, their own demons or whatever it is.
Mareya Ibrahim: You have to want to and you have to allow yourself the grace and the time to also like something, because I feel like sometimes people eat something and they're like, "I don't really like broccoli." Well, have you tried it sauteed? Have you tried it steamed? Have you-
Tana Amen: Or have you tried the other 40 vegetables you could.
Mareya Ibrahim: 100%. So let's not get into this mindset of, "I don't like it, therefore I'm not going to try it any other way."
Tana Amen: How about what can you do instead of what can't you do.
Mareya Ibrahim: Yeah.
Tana Amen: But I want to touch on something because what you said is really important. Let's come back. I don't want to forget to talk about what you said about your mother because it's a really important point. I want to come back in the next episode. Let's discuss why people don't change.
Mareya Ibrahim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
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Mareya Ibrahim: If you're interested in coming to Amen Clinics, use the code podcast10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.