Don’t Make the Same Mistake All Other Americans Make
You are well aware that a huge percentage of Americans have attempted to diminish their girth by diet, exercise, surgery. Unfortunately, even as medical research uncovers more and more of the deleterious effects of overweight and obesity, we Yankees continue to grow heavier. Why is that? Why is it that despite their best efforts and intentions, most people can’t lose weight and keep it off?
In this post, I will propound the position that folks are unable to permanently change their eating habits because they put all their attention on the diet itself—what they can and can’t eat. Meanwhile, a fundamental question is being ignored—how am I gonna get myself to stick to this diet when I haven’t been able to stick to one before? That’s where the psychology of permanent weight loss comes in. After all, you may have stumbled upon the greatest diet on earth (in fact, you have!), but that won’t do you much good if you can’t stick to it.
Your Reptilian Brain
If being overweight is so unhealthy, why are people so driven to over eat? Why do we routinely make bad food choices, even when faced with the awful long-term health consequences? If being slim is so salubrious, why is it so hard to lose weight and keep it off?
You probably know many people whose lives have been affected by the devastating effects of simply being overweight. How is it that the threat of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, amputations, and blindness are not sufficient weight-loss motivators?
There are many factors that determine our desire to eat, but underneath all the sadness of loss, anger about your childhood, and midlife crises lies this simple fact: you are driven to eat because you’re an animal. Our brains evolved during times of scarcity, and they haven’t had time to readjust to the current era (in the USA, at least) of super overabundance, in which high-calorie food is accessible on every corner and in between, continually. Our previously deprived brains were never meant to cope with this amount and availability of calorically-dense food. Your brain still thinks you’re on the African savanna, scavenging for your next meal fibrous, tough, low-calorie meal!
Craving is In Your Genes
We crave high-calorie food because eons of evolution tell us to eat it—eat it now while it’s available! To insure that we comply, our brains are very crafty at sneaking around any efforts to tame their out-of-control urges. For instance, have you ever told yourself, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow,” when faced with an overwhelming stimulus in the form of say, triple layer mud fudge cake? That’s your brain covertly saying, “Eat it now, while it’s available!” Or maybe you come home from a long day at work, and Ben & Jerry’s starts calling you from the freezer. You had planned a spinach salad for supper, but you’ve followed your diet to a T all week, and it’s ok to have a little something now and again, isn’t it? I mean, this is not about perfection, right?
That’s your undercover brain again–which has kept you alive and somewhat well up ‘til now—urging you to eat now, while you can!
Instant Versus Far-off Danger
But if SAD foods are so bad, why is everybody doing it? After all, most people don’t put themselves in grave danger on purpose, but we are clearly treading dangerous territory when we consume disease-causing foods daily. One problem is this: our brains were designed to respond to instant threat, like that saber-toothed tiger crouching behind the couch. We are very good at reacting to problems in the moment, but we are not adapted to take action in relation to future threats—like heart disease, etc. An 18-wheeler racing towards you at an intersection certainly has the potential to do a lot more immediate damage than the eggs, toast, and bacon you had for breakfast–which makes it easy for the reptilian brain to justify, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow.” Yes, diseases of affluence usually take a while to manifest—years or even decades, in fact.
To lose weight and keep it off will require life-long effort. We can’t go in and disable that part of the brain’s instinctual drive, but we can learn to implement some skills to help mitigate the unintended effects of its insatiable hunger.
Alas, I have used up all my words, so I will refer you to previous posts delineating strategies to help you lose weight and keep it off, which, when used in unison and over time, will help you start taming your inner lizard. Start with Overcome Overeating. Then check out Just Say No to Portion Control (and lose weight) After a short break, peruse The Psychology of Eating.
As usual, these strategies only work if your put them to regular use. Remember, you’re fighting against millions of years of evolution, so it’s gonna take some conscious effort to change your brain in a way that will make choosing nutrient-rich goodness much easier.
Check out Caroline’s 4-part compulsive eating program and new pricing structure here.