Most of us have grown up with the habit of soothing our emotional pain by eating. Refined sugar and flour are powerful drugs that have opiate qualities. No wonder they do such a great job of making us feel better! Feeling better, however, comes with a heavy price tag, whether it’s food addiction, poor health, obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, or simply not being the best version of ourselves. Even though medicating ourselves with sugar and baked goods is rampant in our society, we do not have to participate. We can make healthier choices.
Scientists have discovered that the brain has plasticity, meaning we can change our brains. Even adults brains can be changed! This is very good news! It means that life choices matter. By simple brain retraining we can lay down new neural pathways. We do this through changing habits.
Charles Duhigg wrote a fabulous book called The Power of Habit. He states that in order to change habits, we have to change the routine. There are cues that make us want to eat to numb the emotional pain. Eating is the routine. The reward can be a sense of numbing of the pain, the distraction of the sugar high, the escape. By changing the routine, we change the habit. Therefore we need to find different routines, different things we do when we get the cue to eat.
Having these things lined up and ready to go increases our success with changing habits. Here are my 5 favorite things I do when I really want to eat between meals:
Take a hot bath preferably with a great smelling bath salt or bath oil.
Play the piano or the guitar.
Listen to one of my favorite songs and dance about the room.
Escape into a good fiction book.
As you can see these involve physical comfort, physical stimulation or escape. Exactly what we were trying to get from eating.
Now come up with your favorite 5 and post the list where you can see it when you need it. The next time you really feel like snacking, try out the things on your list instead.
Now, in case some of you don’t think these things sound very exciting, it’s because your dopamine receptors are down-regulated. I’ll explain. When we eat sugar and baked goods we get such a rush of pleasure that our brains get overwhelmed and thin out our dopamine receptors. That makes it hard to experience pleasure from the simple things in life. Once you stop eating sugar, flour and sugar substitutes, your dopamine receptors will up regulate again and you will indeed be able to get pleasure out of the kinds of things I listed above. It may take a few weeks. Hang in there!
You can do this!