You know who you are. You know the struggle is real. You know how many times you have told yourself today I am going to give up _____ ( cookies, candy, donuts, ice cream…) and eat something healthy instead.
Or perhaps you are a pretty healthy eater throughout the day until the dreaded evening hours when the curse of the sweet cravings overpowers your brain and begs to be indulged.
Or, you might be that person that is so overwhelmed with so many different “health options” that you don’t know where to begin or which one is right for you.
If any of this describes you, then read on so you can stop the daily struggle of what to eat, or keep yourself from eating the bad stuff, or being on overload and experiencing paralysis by analysis regarding all the choices out there.
First off, it’s not just about the food. So whether you are trying to eat healthier so you can feel better, boost your immune system, increase longevity, lose or maintain weight, we are here to tell you, it’s not just about the food which is often the story that many people tell themselves.
The other common story I often hear as a coach is “if I just had more willpower… I would not eat the sweets, or I would be in control of what I eat.” News flash. It’s not about willpower either.
You might be wondering what is left.
Let’s look at what is really happening, and what may be occurring for you that occurs for me at times too.
First off, it is and isn’t about the food. Certainly, some foods are better than others for sure. If you are someone that can’t seem to say no to the sugary high calorie food that
has made its way into your grocery cart, pantry or freezer for quite some time, you may have a hard time letting go of eating those kinds of foods. But it’s not due to a lack of willpower.
It is important to understand how you are “hardwired”. We all are wired to love fat, salt and sugar. These elements ensured our survival. While we need these elements to survive, we truly need far less sugar than most people realize, and certainly not the 150 pounds or so that the average American consumes in a year.
An additional factor that works against us is that we live in an obesogenic environment which makes it more difficult to eat healthy consistently. The food manufacturers know that we humans love sugar, fat and salt so they load up processed foods with plenty of it. Restaurants know this too, so in addition to big portions, they also load up on sugar, fat and salt.
Think of some of your favorite foods… potato chips, donuts, crackers, ice cream… often these foods are super high in sugar, fat and /or salt.
Every time you indulge in these types of foods, your brain gets a hit of feel good Seratonin- a happy neurochemical that makes your brain say, thank you may I have another. You are not imagining that you feel good after eating these foods. You really do, until you don’t. Your brain goes from having your pleasure center bathed in neurochemicals and then later, the rational reasoning part of your brain ( your prefrontal cortex) says, whoa, what did you do that for… which kick starts the feel good, feel bad cycle that many experience.
So on one hand, it’s about the food because we now have SO very many processed, high salt, fat and sugar laden food that hook us and makes us want more. Every time we eat these foods, we train our brain to want more and more.
On the other hand, many people have simply trained their brain that when they feel tired, bored, lonely, angry, inadequate, depressed, they can feel better by eating these foods.
In other words, they have paired a negative or difficult emotion with an action, and through repetition have trained their brain to eat junk when they are feeling this way therefore forming a strong neural connection. Think of your neuronal pathways like a triple braided rope- the thoughts or behaviors that get repeated strengthen those neural pathways whether or NOT the behaviors are beneficial for us in the end. If you know someone that struggles with drug, alcohol or other addictions, the same dynamic is playing out.
So it’s not so simple to say, “if I just had more willpower…”.
The good news is… drumroll please… neuroplasticity -which says you are not stuck with the brain you have!
If you don’t like your habit of eating junk, feeling both physically and emotionally sluggish, if you don’t like your weight or the condition of your health or immune system, there are plenty of options for you.
The ones that stick all involve retraining your brain. (That is why it is never just about the food).
Here are some tips to get you started down a different path:
Increase Awareness of how you are Feeling: When you can identify that you are feeling; bored, tired, stressed, depressed, etc. then other options can open up for you. Instead of eating junk, find something healthy to eat or do a different activity that feels soothing for you. Take a walk, call a friend, write in a journal, give someone a hug, engage in prayer or meditation. You can retrain your brain that there are many other ways to feel better.
Create a Vision Board- Use pictures, quotes, or add anything that symbolizes what you want for your life. Do you want to be able to hike 6 miles without feeling winded? Do you want to live longer? Minimize health issues? Make sure your board reflects what you want more of and hang it in a place you’ll see it daily.
Leave the junk at the grocery store. If it’s made in the factory, and not packaged by nature, then pass it by. While there are some healthier packaged snacks available, generally speaking, load up on some new fruits or veggies and consider what kind of snacks you can create such as yogurt, trail mix, almond butter and apples that satisfy when the cravings come.
Start Reading Labels. You might be amazed to find how sugar and salt find their way into every day products like peanut butter and ketchup. Read labels so you can start avoiding sugary cereals, crackers high in salt and fat, and other packaged foods. Avoid the labels listing corn syrup or corn syrup solids, sugar, fructose, and while you are at it, nix the artificial flavorings and colorings too.
Don’t tell yourself you can’t have a certain food. Rather, remind yourself that you are choosing a different food so you can break the old neural pathways that don’t serve you well and build and strengthen new ones.
Notice how you feel when you eat the good stuff! When you eat some good protein, a great salad, some fruit, or a fish dinner with lots of veggies, notice your mood and energy levels and record in a tracker. Your brain will start to make the connection that when you eat well, you feel well.
Get a buddy on board. When we have someone else to be on a journey with, someone who can encourage and support the shifts in our thinking and choices, we are more likely to succeed.
Every time you tell yourself (and therefore your brain) the truth, the better this goes. The truth sounds something like this- “It’s true I have a craving for ice cream, and because I want to fit into my jeans, today I will choose a yogurt and blueberries.”
And every time you don’t succumb to the ice cream when you feel bad, you start to disrupt that neural pathway, and every time you choose something healthier, you strengthen a new connection.
You have the power by your thoughts and choices to rewire your brain. How amazing is that?
Remember, enlist the help of a trusted and safe friend or partner to journey with you as you begin to approach eating and your relationship with food in a brand new way.
We are here to provide connection, knowledge and support as you choose to engage in this journey to health and wellbeing by changing your thinking. Let us know how we can support you at email@example.com
Join us on the FB Live Well Kitsap Page, or join us in the community group.