You know those internet hacker people who break the computer codes of multimillion dollar corporations and get in to steal our passwords, credit card numbers, and grandpa’s preferred brand of chaw? Well, during my idle and introspective moments, I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if we could harness all that creativity and brilliance for the good of humankind. Instead of using their energy and technical know-how to wreak havoc on our personal and fiduciary lives, those black hats could work on the code for world peace or help solve the problems of starving children and global warming. Wouldn’t that be cool?
Now imagine a similar scenario with your brain. If you’re like most people lucky enough to live in an industrialized nation, your ancient brain works overtime to make sure you take full advantage of the unlimited availability of high-calorie, low-cost pabulum found on every street corner and between, from dawn to dusk and back, in spite of your best efforts to control what enters your pie hole.
Your brain is like those bad-guy hackers—only worse because those creeps just abscond with a few bits of financial minutiae, while your hungry brain perniciously and slowly deprives you of your long-term health and well-being. Your gray matter is pretty creative, too, in its techniques, disguising itself as helpful and with only your best interest at heart. Not unlike those antisocial hactivists when they plant a spurious message like, “Your computer is at risk. Click here quick!”, your brain works overtime to conjure up all kinds of innocent-sounding, compelling reasons for you to eat. Why, you probably succumbed to several of them over the holidays. For instance, Hey, it’s the holidays, time to celebrate [with food, drink, etc.]. Or, I’ll start taking more care with my diet after the holidays. Then I’ll quit eating [fried food, red meat, etc.] and start exercising. Or, the ultimate in sneaky, Hey, no body’s perfect. It’s all about moderation, right?
What rationales have you employed recently to justify eating something unhealthy or fattening? Try some more on for size:
It’s ok for me to have mac & cheese for supper because I had a salad for lunch.
I think I’ll treat myself to a piece of that delicious carrot cake from Taco Temple. I deserve it.
I just don’t care right now!
Luckily, you have more control over your mind than we do over those misguided cybercriminals. You can actually teach your brain to put its creativity and determination to work for the good—for the good of your long-term health and happiness. It’s not necessarily easy, and it requires lots of practice and persistence, but you can train your brain to resist impulses and make decisions that are more supportive of your health goals.
The first step in reconfiguring your thinking to work in your favor is becoming aware of the things you tell yourself before ingesting unauthorized nutriment. If you don’t recall any conscious thoughts, if maybe you just felt like eating, try to put words to the feeling. If you HAD to make up a justification for eating that triple-decker-double-the-meat-mega-hoagy, what would it be?
For the next few days, notice and put words to your eating rationalizations. Every time you’re about to eat something that’s not part of your food plan or diet, finish this sentence, “It’s ok for me to eat this _________ because _____________.” If you forget to do it at feeding time, do it later. We’ll explore strategies for dealing with these thoughts in an upcoming post.
1. You have to change your thinking in order to change eating behavior for the long term.
2. Start the change by paying attention to thoughts that lead you to eat badly.
Y’all, this really does work, but you have to use it over and over again in order to change your brain and how you respond to cravings. Keep doing it even if it doesn’t seem to be working, and over time your brain’s inhibitory centers will get strong enough to override the desire to eat unhealthy foods.
Good luck, and let me know what happens!