Remember when you learned about overeating and how it’s an action that is driven by how we’re feeling? You can revisit that topic here. And when it comes to losing weight and keeping the weight off, we need to know what we’re feeling so that we can change the action of overeating. And with overeating, we feel either one or both of these things: over-hunger and urges.
We learned how closely tied to each other these two sensations are. We learned that calorically-dense, ultra-processed foods elevate dopamine in your brain to such high levels and so rapidly that your brain learns that these foods are necessary for your survival. And anything that is necessary for survival is desirable. That’s where intense desire, or urges, comes into the equation. And then, when the reward of food—no matter if they’re calorically-dense or nutritionally-dense—if food is the object of your desire, then your brain will commit to memory the need for the reward. It will urge you to the reward because it perceives it as necessary.
So, I know it feels like the chips are stacked against you. Trust me, they are not. You are infinitely more powerful than your brain. This is what I mean.
Your brain is a learning, perceptive machine. The most powerful in the world, in fact. It is designed to keep you alive and it will use its programming to find patterns that will ensure your survival. The thing is, it’s been misdirected and told to focus on some wrong things.
Your brain is so efficient, and it focuses on these two questions: will this be pleasurable, or will this be painful?
Everything in your life, everything you’re motivated by, is based on these two questions that your brain is naturally geared toward thinking all the time. Because if it determines that something is pleasurable, it will go towards it. If it determines that something will bring pain, then it will avoid it.
Remember, your brain, which is part of your nervous system in your body, is trying to keep you alive for as long as possible because it knows you are the only one of your kind that there will ever be on this planet, that there ever was in the history of our species.
You are truly the only one.
And once your brain is certain, it will become extremely efficient at solidifying that pattern… all for your survival.
This is what is commonly known as the motivational triad: your brain seeks pleasure and reward, it avoids pain and threat, and it does both of these extremely efficiently.
So, now you can see how dopamine helps your brain determine what is pleasurable. And the more that belief is reinforced, the more of a habit it becomes.
This is what today is going to be about. We’re going to learn about habits, where they come from and how to break a habit without resistance.
If you think about it, you may realize by now that overeating is a habit for you, as it is for many, many people. If you’re not overeating, then you’re either losing weight or maintaining your weight. But overeating is a desirable habit, that’s why it feels so confusing when you want to break away from it—as you do every time you start a diet—but you still want to keep eating the way you do. It’s because it’s a habit.
What is a habit, exactly? A habit is an action you’ve kept on taking.
Habits are GREAT and we want habits that help us live a lifestyle that we enjoy.
Brushing your teeth twice a day is a habit.
Pouring yourself a cup of coffee in the morning is a habit.
Putting on underwear is a habit.
We have some great habits that ensure we don’t get rotten teeth, that we start our day off with some energy, and that we’re well-dressed and have good hygiene. They’re not only good habits that ensure we have a great day and a great life, but they’re habits because they’re effortless.
If you think about it, we weren’t born with our current habits. So many habits we created unknowingly and even accidentally.
Think about brushing your teeth. When you were little and were learning how to brush your teeth, it was hard and awkward at first. You resisted when your parents told you to brush your teeth at night. Then, when you got yourself to the sink, you either forgot to put toothpaste on the toothbrush. Other times, you maybe forgot to brush your top jaw, or one half of your mouth. It wasn’t a very graceful learning process.
Now, however, you’re so efficient at brushing your teeth that you can brush your teeth and check your phone at the same time. It’s effortless. And better yet, you want to want to brush your teeth because you learned to like how a clean mouth feels. You learned to like not having cavities.
Believe it or not, it is the exact same process that happened with your over-desire for food, or what made your urges get so intense and strong.
The thing is, and you may not be surprised to learn this, but actions that deliver big rewards, like eating calorically-dense foods or eating large portions of food, will flood your brain with dopamine and will be memorized by your brain faster. The bigger the reward, the more quickly the action becomes a habit.
A habit is created when there’s a reward involved—and avoiding something that you perceive might be painful is also a compelling reward because of the certainty you feel knowing you avoided pain. It’s why diets are hard to adhere to if you think there will be any level of pain involved in the adherence of it.
So, when there is a reward, a habit will start to be developed. But your brain also needs repetition. The action of overeating has been repeated over and over again and so often for many years, that it just feels like a part of who you are. Like, not overeating feels like you would be an impostor of some sort. And in a way, you’re right, but you weren’t born with urges (intense desire) to overeat. It was learned, which means it can be unlearned and maybe you’ll actually be living the way you were always meant to be. It’s REALLY interesting to think about that.
Now, I want to calm your fears about the habit of overeating if you’re thinking right now that you’ve been overeating for years and years and years. I don’t want you to think that it’s going to take just as many years to undo the habit of overeating. This is why: you weren’t consciously aware of the habit you were creating every time you overate.
So, what will happen if you develop a new habit but knowingly?
Your brain is ridiculously efficient and is always looking for a rewarding pattern to follow or a painful pattern to avoid. You can create a habit much more quickly when you do it knowingly and are deliberate with your focus and willingness. So, you can really undo a habit that you developed over years and years, even decades for some of us, all in a matter of months.
So, a habit is created when there is a reward, when there is repetition, and finally, when it’s got a trigger.
You know what I mean when I say trigger, or a hint. Many people think that urges come up when they see food, or when they smell or see something appetizing. So many things can trigger the urge to eat something, and therefore, reinforce the habit to overeat.
But have you noticed that the same urges come up even when you’re just sitting at home, or when you’re at work and you notice you have an urge for something in particular?
That’s because it’s not the thing itself, like the food, it’s your thoughts about the food that are bringing up the desire for food.
We think thousands upon thousands of thoughts each day, and it’s hard to keep track of them, especially if we try to sort them out in our head without writing them down. That’s why I think the BEST thing that tells you what your trigger is will be your emotions. Because your emotions are with you everywhere.
How you are feeling is the trigger to want to seek food.
You can be feeling either anxious, bored, lonely, or frustrated, and if you repeatedly eat when you’re feeling these emotions, then your brain will start to recognize that anxiousness, boredom, loneliness, and frustration are cues to begin the habit of overeating.
Eating is a really quick and easy way to change how you feel, and that’s why you really want to pay attention to the emotional state you’re in before you start eating.
You might be thinking, “That doesn’t make sense, I don’t eat to avoid feeling anything. I eat when I’m happy, like when I’m with family or friends, and I’m not trying to avoid being happy.”
I get it, it was confusing for me at first, also. But let me ask you this: what would happen if you went out to a party, a football game, a restaurant, and you ate only until you were physically satiated, which meant some food would be left on the plate or you didn’t even get to try all the food, like dessert, which is what you normally do… How would you be feeling?
That emotion, whatever it is for you in the situation you find yourself in—maybe judged, doubtful, weird, insecure, or uncertain—that emotion has become a trigger for you.
Whatever you are trying to avoid feeling, which is an emotion, is very often your trigger.
Here’s the most important thing to know. Your triggers do not cause your urges. So, you see the trigger, you may even feel the trigger in your body, like boredom, and you have a thought about it, about whether that is something pleasurable or painful. THAT thought is what then brings up the urge, or your heightened desire, and answering it with food solidifies the habit again.
Head on over to An Urge Undone to know how to do the one thing you need to do to finally break the habit of overeating.