Let me give you a warning: you might not like my answer (and I’m 100% OK with that). But part of reaching my goal weight after going up and down so many times was keeping an open mind and accepting that I might be wrong sometimes.
1. The animal brain
I know we all think that we’re a highly evolved species. We’re capable of planning ahead, do math (well, some of us), work a computer, invent new things, lie, and many others that no other living being can do.
But when it comes to chemicals in the body, we’re still animals. And the easiest example to give is women during their fertile window of the month. We don’t even notice we act differently. It’s automatic. The hormones turn us into different people. I sometimes put make up on, for heaven’s sake!
For our love for food, the chemical to blame is Dopamine. You might have heard about it as the chemical of pleasure, because the brain releases it whenever we expect or get a reward. So it goes like this:
- Human sees chocolate
- Brain says: “We had that before and it was amazing, this time we need to get MORE of it”
- Brain releases Dopamine
- Dopamine pushes us to get the reward
- Human eats more chocolate than last time
- Brain releases MORE dopamine (and endorphins, another pleasure chemical)
- Brain records the fact that this brought pleasure and how much
And the circle goes on and on.
Hm, action and reward. This sounds familiar. Oh yeah, this is how we train dogs!
When we used to live in caves, this helped us stay alive by associating some foods with pleasure and some foods with… death. The brain knew precisely when to release dopamine. And dopamine makes us act – it increases blood pressure and heart rate to get us going. And the foods we used to eat had just enough effect on the brain to keep us from dying.
Natural foods? Boring. Bring on the cheese, the bread, chocolate, doughnuts, cupcakes, juices, shakes, energy bars. What do all these have in common? They’re concentrated. The dopamine goes through the roof. And the brain wants more and more. Food producers know this, but it was about time for you to know it too.
Yes, it’s pleasure, but it’s unnatural, it’s more than we should be experiencing. Good news is, it’s fixable by adjusting what you eat.
You might be thinking: “but there’s nothing wrong with that”. All I’m going to tell you is that people who use drugs experience dopamine release too, albeit on a much larger scale. Food addiction is real and if you don’t believe that, quit sugar, the withdrawal will be real.
Food is the absolute cheapest way to get high.
I sent a survey to my email list a week ago, asking what are their reasons for overeating. 100% of the people who responded to it selected “Emotions”, amongst other things.
When humans feel any negative emotion, the first instinct is to bury it down. And we know the perfect tool, something that gives pleasure in the moment so that whatever we’re dealing with is put in the background.
But ask yourself the following questions.
- What if you knew how to cope with emotions?
- And what if feeling your feelings wasn’t that bad?
- What if you fixed the problem instead of putting it aside temporarily? I think we can agree that once the feeling comes back, it comes back with a vengeance.
- If you eat because you’re stressed, why not fix the stress first?
- And why run away from feeling sad?
- And my favourite: If you eat because life sucks, make life suck less. Do you want the false pleasure of food cover the fact that your life needs an upgrade? Or would you prefer a life that’s so good, that no food can compare?
I’ll have the latter, please!
When Alin and I joined the Self Coaching Scholars programme and started working with thoughts and feelings (you can get an introduction in this post), each of us found a thought that would help us navigate the sea of cravings while we figure things out.
Alin’s brilliant thought is: “Do you really want food to be the best part of your day?” We both downgraded food to just fuel, rather than emotional support and worked on improving our lives.
I used to eat out of boredom or after a hard day because “I deserved it”. Now I allow myself to feel bored. After all, we all complain about not having enough time, right? Well, I give myself time to sit and do nothing :).
As for the other feelings, it’s all about learning to manage them. Again, check out this post for an introduction to the self-coaching model.
I told you, you’re not going to like my answer! But you know me, I’m a tough love kind of coach. Cause sometimes you need someone to tell it to you straight!
As always, let me know your thoughts.