Is fear of a ‘no fun’ future keeping you stuck overeating?
Whenever I try to make the smallest change to my eating long term my brain freaks out, telling me that deciding not to have a treat when I get home means I'm choosing a 'blah', 'boring' life with zero pleasure.
It's just the tendency of our brains to treat any change that involves short term discomfort and make it mean that discomfort will last far out into the future.
That's because our brains lie to us to keep things safe and familiar. Basically, they are hardwired to seek pleasure, avoid pain and do what we've always done. This is what psychologists call the Emotional Triad. And while it kept us alive when food was scarce, now food is plentiful it's what's keeping many of us trapped.
I see this a lot when clients think about removing processed foods like sugar and flour from their diets. They know they feel better when they stay off sugar and flour but they don't continue because of the fear they feel when they imagine years of deprivation.
“But I really love x,” they say, “I couldn’t imagine a future without it.”
The thing is, what I've found is, tastes change surprisingly quickly when you give them the chance. Quit sugary and fatty foods and you'll soon find them too sweet and too rich. And you can still enjoy them occasionally as a treat.
Our brains are surprisingly adaptive when we ask more of them. It's like we have the most powerful computer in the world and we never program it, instead, we just let default cultural programming run. And so we get the default results of our culture - over 60% of us are overweight /obese and eating emotionally.
-Happy? Celebrate with a treat or a drink
-Stressed? Take a break with a snack
-Need to wind down? Go see what's in the fridge.
I was a big sweet food fan, in particular, baked stuff. As the day at work rolled and the stress mounted I would be thinking of a trip to the bakery on the way home or during a break. But now it doesn’t even occur to me - I find that stuff too sweet. A bite or two, and I can almost feel my blood sugar spiking.
Advice to keep your brain from freaking out is to focus on the short term.
Literally, program your brain. Tell your brain reassuring things to keep it focused on the short term...' I’m just giving a different kind of eating a try'...' I'm doing this now, the future will take care of itself'.
Given time, it's possible to completely change your desire to overeat even if, like me, you have been an emotional over eater for decades.
Don't worry about the future and just think about what you can do now.
Have a great week!
Hi, I'm Lydia Pattison.