I think we’re asking the wrong question.
Everywhere I look people are asking, “what’s the best protein powder?” “what gluten-free pasta do you eat?” “Is quinoa better than brown rice?”
But the real question isn’t, “what should I be eating?” You already kinda know the answer to that one, don’t you? The latest trend or fad diet aside, don’t we all kind of know that we should be eating less processed food, fast food and sugar; and more veggies, fruits and whole foods? All the little details aside, if we just did that alone, it would have a MASSIVE impact on our health and waistlines.
So, the real question is, “WHY don’t we do it?”
We want to lose weight, feel lean and light, have more energy and stay healthy and vibrant well into our old age. And we know that eating better and being active is the way to do that.
So, why don’t we do it?
We hate the way our bodies look. We hate that we can’t wear the clothes we want to wear. We hate that we’re exhausted all the time. And we’re terrified of getting horribly sick. And we know how to turn all of this around.
So, why don’t we do it?
Why don’t we just eat whole, nutritious food all the time; exercise regularly; and make time for self-care?
We’re smart people. We’ve accomplished lots of other things in our lives. We’ve learned new skills and persevered even when things were hard. Moreover, this is something we really, REALLY want. Many people would give almost anything to finally lose the weight and keep it off, feel amazing in anything they wanted to wear, have energy for days, and live happy, healthy and free of disease.
We want this so badly. We know what we need to do. And, we’re smart, competent people.
So, why don’t we just do it???
I believe that this is the missing piece of the puzzle – the question that not enough people are asking, and the question that makes the difference between succeeding and staying stuck – and I think I know what the answer is.
The reason we don’t do what we know we need to do is because of…our brains.
The reason you eat when you’re stressed, constantly fall back into old habits, and feel utterly powerless around certain foods is because of the way your brain is wired.
Let me explain…
In 1949, Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb wrote that, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
This means that when our brain cells (or neurons) communicate with one another, one cell, or cluster of cells, releases a chemical (a neurotransmitter) that the other cell, or cluster of cells, absorbs. This communication pathway between the two brain cells is known as a “neural pathway.”
When two brain cells, or groups of brain cells, communicate frequently, the messages that travel that neural pathway in the brain over and over begin to transmit faster and faster. With enough repetition, the connection between them strengthens, an actual physical pathway is wired in place, and that action becomes automatic.
Neurons the fire together, wire together.
This is why we practice things like hitting a golf ball over and over again. Every time we make that swing, the corresponding neurons in our brain fire together. The more times we do it, the faster and stronger that pathway becomes until they literally wire together and the movement starts to feel easy and automatic.
You may have heard the term, “muscle memory” and that’s just another way of describing this notion that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” It’s not your muscles that are remembering – it’s the development of a new neural pathway in your brain created by the repetitive action.
In this way, our habits actually have a physical structure in our brain.
So, what does all this have to do with our bad habits around eating?
Well, these neural pathways are one of the main reasons we eat when we’re stressed or bored. They’re also the reason we associate certain situations with certain eating behaviours like eating popcorn at the movies, ordering the same nachos when we go out with friends, or having potato chips on the couch at night.
These are all neural pathways that you’ve created in your brain. The neurons have been firing together for so long, that they’re now wired together. The behavior feels normal, natural and familiar and doing something different feels awkward and uncomfortable like brushing your teeth with the wrong hand.
But here’s the good news
You do not have to be a slave to this old wiring in your brain.
Neuroscientists have learned a great deal in the last decade about the idea of “neuroplasticity” which tells us that, with some deliberate and focused practice, your brain is actually very good at breaking old neural pathways and creating new ones.
Also, we can see that it’s our actions, not our intentions that create new neural pathways and determine our behaviors and thus our results.
This means that it’s not willpower, inner strength, or moral character that determines our success or failure when it comes to food. Rather, it’s a simple fact of, the more often we repeat a behavior, the more likely we are to do it again in the same way.
This goes for the things we do, the things we don’t do, and the things we think. All three determine the relationship you’ll have with food and the success you’ll ultimately have in reaching your health and weight loss goals.
Let’s unpack each of these three a little bit…
The things we do
Remember the famous joke about the tourist who stopped a musician getting out of a cab in New York and said, “excuse me sir, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” to which the musician answered, “practice, practice, practice.”
We all know that if we want to get better at something, we need to practice and the principle is also true when it comes to creating a healthier lifestyle for ourselves.
Don’t wait for temptation to strike, set yourself up for success by creating healthy routines that will support your new, healthy life. Get in control of your day with a morning routine (only needs to take 15-20 minutes if that’s all you have) that includes a few activities that leave you feeling grounded and aligned with the highest version of yourself. This could include things like meditation, yoga, journaling, running, visualization or anything else that lights up your soul and makes you feel more like your true self.
Set yourself up for success for the week ahead by making time on the weekend for meal planning, grocery shopping and batch cooking. I know that it feels hard to find time or energy for these things now, but now you know that the more you do them (the more you practice), the more natural it will feel until, eventually, NOT doing them feels weird.
The things we don’t do
We’ve seen now why every time you engage in a specific behavior, you increase the likelihood that you’ll do it again. So, remember this the next time you’re trying to avoid the chips or the ice cream. You don’t have to have willpower forever, only long enough to make a better choice a few times consistently until a new neural pathway around that new, healthier behavior is established. At that point, your automatic brain will take over and the new behavior will start to feel natural, normal and easy.
The things we think
We often forget how incredibly powerful our thoughts are. They play a massive role in the results we ultimately get.
If, every day, you think thoughts like, “I’m never going to lose this weight,” “This is never going to work for me,” “I’m powerless against certain foods,” “I’m not the kind of person who works out or eats vegetables,” then guess what the neural pathways in your brain look like? That’s right, you’re creating deep, solid networks around those beliefs and thus, you’re creating a life that reinforces them.
But, since you now understand what’s going on up there, and how you can break old neural connections and create new ones, you can see how important it is to consciously and deliberately choose new thoughts for yourself. Make a practice of taking a few seconds here and there throughout the day to think, “I’m on this journey and I’m exactly where I need to be right now,” “I’m the kind of person who chooses foods and behaviors that truly nourish my body, mind and soul because they’re worth no less,” “I’m in control of all of my choices, and I choose to honour and love myself and my body.”
These thoughts may feel weird and uncomfortable at first (you’re breaking those old neural pathways around the old thoughts), but the more you practice consciously choosing them, the more natural and automatic they will begin to feel.
Remember, you are either the creator of your life, or the victim of it; there is no in between. You are choosing the life you’re living. What do you want to choose?
If you want to learn some of my BEST KEPT secrets for reprogramming your brain and changing old habits, join me for a free 5-day challenge I’m running starting September 21 where I’ll be giving you five simple strategies that will help you stay consistent with healthy choices, and give you willpower like you’ve never had before. Sign up here!