How can you use your amazing brain to help you lose weight?
Earlier this month, I posted about the evolution of the human brain, how our brain has changed since the days of our foraging ancestors and why that matters now.
The part of your brain that has developed considerably since then is the pre-frontal cortex. This is the deliberate thinking part of your brain. It gives you the ability to reason, generate forethought, and master self-control.
Understanding how you can use the pre-frontal cortex to override the more automatic part of your brain where your habits, including bad eating habits, reside, is key to losing weight and keeping it off.
For example, let’s say that you have one of what I sometimes call “the evil doughnut people” in your workplace. Yes, I’m picking on doughnuts again! Anyway, this person, who about 75% of the time is slim (and probably not evil at all!), regularly brings doughnuts to work to share with everyone.
The habitual brain of many people will see doughnuts and think “I want one!” without even realizing they were thinking! I mean, they’re doughnuts after all! Here’s how you can train your pre-frontal cortex to take charge in such situations.
If people in your workplace regularly bring in doughnuts or other junk food to share, have a plan. It can look something like this:
1. Decide ahead of time that you allow yourself treats, or “joy food” in moderation. This may mean once a day or once a week or something in between. Don’t deprive yourself of treats entirely because that will just make you want them more.
2. Decide that if you are going to eat sweets or other junk food, you will only eat the very best. Let’s face it, these foods are called junk for a reason. If you’re going to put food with no redeeming nutritional value into your body, it should be way more delicious and wholesome than pre-packaged doughnuts that were fried up weeks or months ago. Those fresh baked chocolate croissants from the fantastic bakery down the street are much more worthy of you!
3. When deciding whether to eat the treats your colleague brought to work, think about what other joy foods might be in your life today. Hmmm. There’s that apple pie at home. Apple pie has some nutritional value, and perhaps you like it more than this other option. Decide which one you’d rather have and stick with that decision.
4. Before taking the food, think ahead of time how you will feel after you eat it. If, like me, you feel kinda crappy after eating doughnuts, think about that before you eat them. Do you really like them that much to make it worth feeling yucky afterwards? Will you feel regret because you didn’t honor the commitment you made to yourself to eat healthier?
5. If the food meets the “best” standard, choose to wait two hours before taking some. They may be all gone by then, taking the decision away from you anyway. Or, cut a doughnut in half – you don’t need to eat the whole thing to enjoy its decadence. In fact, if you’ve read my other blogs, you know I advocate for eating slowly, with attention, and enjoying every bite. Half may be all you need for satisfaction with that approach.
When your pre-frontal cortex is in charge, you will make conscious decisions about what to eat. You won’t have those “where did that package of Oreos go?” moments after you downed the whole thing without giving it any real thought or enjoying them. You can still eat what you love, but you aren’t like one of Pavlov’s dogs. When you let that logical, deliberate part of your brain take the driver’s seat, you’ll make much smarter decisions and you’ll have a lot more control of your eating and your life.
To practice this: Think of any challenging eating situation you encounter regularly. Maybe it is your afternoon snack. Maybe it is eating after dinner. Make a plan ahead of time for that challenge. And if you follow that plan long enough, it can actually become your new habit.
Make a commitment to yourself and your health and stick with it! After all, you’re worth it!