Why do you want to get control of your eating and stop the desire to overeat? Of course there is the whole body image thing, but there is also an element of feeling out of control. You do not like the feeling that you cannot stop myself – the DESIRE to go eat something is so strong that you have to respond and feel like you cannot control it. Where does that come from? It comes from the programmed part of our brain that is the “animal brain.” We have that basic animal brain that is all natural instincts and programming. Like the Zombies on “The Walking Dead” who have died, but their animal brain in their brain stem resurrects and drives them to wander around, bodies decomposing, but being propelled by the animal instinct to eat living prey. Okay, a sick and twisted analogy for sure. But you get the picture.
We also have our human brain – the big brain that makes decisions and can weigh things out. It thinks long term. It is the part of our brain that can know what we value more than anything is to get our body healthier and drop some pounds. It would make a very noncomittal decision about what we eat, except for that little animal brain that we’ve trained, oh so well, to instinctively desire more of what tastes good. When it prompts us to eat a cookie, we get a nice little “hit” of dopamine in our brain in the reward center. Whoa – exciting! Animal brain is happy and reinforces this desire so we do it again and again, getting that nice little reward again and again. We train it so very well that it begins to override our humane brain and cut it right out of the decision making process.
This is where that “out of control” feeling comes from – like you are not able to control yourself at all. It is because you are completely succumbing to the programming in your lower brain. Your human brain, not in the loop of the decision process at all at this point, begins to make all those self-judgments. You’re a “bad girl” for giving in and eating, when in reality, it is all a matter of your animal brain programming. So you need to not only find your Meta Skill for tapping into being neutral about the decision, you need to re-program your animal brain.
How to do that and retrain that lower “immediate” brain? If you resist that immediate gratification brain, you start to feel really anxious about it because the animal brain/immediate gratification brain is powerful and can win out over your humane, long-term thinking. So you wind up caving in anyway, making all the self judgments along the way and creating an even STRONGER neural pathway in your animal brain that says, yep – eat the sugar and get the reward. The food creates the desire and the food gratifies the desire, and the entire action intensifies the desire. The food makes us want to overeat and the only thing that seems to gratify that desire to overeat is more of the food. Then we want more food and more food.
If you fight against the desire with willpower, it only works for just so long. Willpower depletes – it is not an unlimited resource. You are trying to resist the desire to overeat and when you finally cave in, you again make a stronger urge in the animal brain. This is how you’ve trained your lower brain to desire to keep eating when you are no longer hungry. The fact that you’ve trained your lower brain means that you can re-train it. The feeling of desire itself is not going to hurt you in any way. It is just a feeling. It is okay to desire things! The problem is when we cave into desires that are counter to what we really want.
So the way to break out of this disagreement between your lower animal brain and your human brain that would like to go for a higher goal, is to create small food temptations and be able to walk away without judgment. Doing this over and over will begin to diffuse the anxiety you’ve associated with going against your lower brain and it will retrain it to unlearn that overwhelming desire to keep eating even when you are no longer hungry.
Check out Weight Coach podcast episode 17: The Desire to Overeat – Retrain Your Brain