Are you really hungry, or do you eat because of habit? I’ve been doing some research on habits and addictions — and have come to conclusion that many of our problems with staying on a healthy eating and exercise plan have more to do with our automatic responses rather than conscious decisions. That might be why you have a tough time sticking to your plan, no matter how much you want to be healthy and strong. It also might explain why so many of us slip back into old patterns after we have reached our goal.
The book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg tells of experiments done with animals such as rats and chimps which show that the brain registers lots of activity in the pleasure centers when a food reward is given. (They used chocolate and blackberry juice.) Further experiments showed that just seeing the cues, such as a picture on the computer for the chimp and the open door of the maze for the rats, made the pleasure centers go into overdrive. What does that mean for us?
It means that there are cues which we associate with food, which we associate with pleasure. Just seeing those cues set the desire drive in gear. Your brain is working against the conscious “you” to push you toward the food you know brings pleasure. It doesn’t matter that you have decided NOT to eat that doughnut because it will shoot your blood sugar through the roof and cause a massive insulin dump that will make you feel rotten. You see the cue and the pleasure center of your brain says, “Oh, YES! Eat it.”
A cycle has formed that looks like this: cue —- activity —– reward. How do you defeat your own brain and break this cycle? Yes, it can be done! The first step is to identify the cues. They could be sight cues — the vending machine with its candy bars, for example. They could be activity cues — like watching television or reading a book. (Ouch — I see mine. I love nothing better than to read and munch.) They could be time cues — late at night or middle of the afternoon, for example. Even smells become cues. Have you ever felt an overwhelming desire for popcorn just because of that fragrant aroma?
Sometimes feeling become cues. Lonely? Angry? Bored? Those feelings could turn into signals to reach for the chocolate.
So be aware of the cues. When you start to eat, note what you are doing and how you feel, as well as what food you are eating. Look for the cues, and you will be on the road to breaking the habit cycle.
Eating to live and living for Christ,
Susan Jordan Brown