I can’t tell you how many questions I get about self sabotage when it comes to healthy eating. We feel like we do so well all day or all week or for a few weeks or even a few months. But then eventually we end up going right back to our old habits and patterns and it feels like we’re taking one step forward and three steps back!
And the truth of the matter is that despite the fact that we’ve landed a man on the moon and even invented smartphones, our brains are still very much wired the way they were back when we were cavewomen.
You know how big companies have a mission statement that allows everyone who works within the company to know the direction and the values of the company? Well, your brain, or more accurately your cavewoman brain, has a mission statement. And that mission statement is to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Oh and accomplish both using as little energy as possible.
What happens every time we try to go against this mission statement? Or we try to go against the way our brain is naturally wired? We usually lose.
This is why my clients like to joke that I’m the nutritionist who never talks about food! My work is not so much around telling you what you should eat or what you shouldn’t eat because (for the most part) you already know all that.
Instead, my work is focused on helping you understand why it’s so hard to stay consistent, why it’s so hard to stay on track with the healthy choices that you want to make, and how you can actually start to train your brain to reprogram and rewire those old habits and patterns that keep sabotaging you. Why? Because that’s the only way healthy choices start to feel a whole lot easier, like second nature.
Ok let’s get back to self sabotage.
Every time you go against your cavewoman mission statement – avoid pain, seek pleasure, and do both by spending as little energy as possible – you tend to fail. And very often the messages you’re being told, the well-intentioned advice you’re given, sets you up to go against that natural wiring.
Things like deprivation, you can’t eat this ‘bad’ food, guilt, beating yourself up, or shame (the Mean Voice as I like to call it)…
These techniques set you up to fail. They register in your brain as pain . And that goes against the 3 step mission statement..
What if instead of going back to these old techniques like deprivation and beating yourself up (that always fail long term anyway) you start working with your brain’s natural wiring? What if you started working WITH your brain’s mission statement. Doesn’t that sound like a better plan? Who wants to swim upstream when you can just float downstream with the current?
Ok so now that you know your brain wants to avoid pain and seek pleasure the next question is: How can you make healthy healthy choices feel like pleasure? You want them to feel like a reward instead of something you have to do or shouldn’t do.
Here are two ways you can do this:
The first is to use your imagination.
What’s the bigger picture? What’s the beautiful and compelling vision you have for the healthy lifestyle that you want to live? The healthy body that you want to inhabit? When we think about improving our health and lifestyle we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about what we DON’T want. I don’t want to feel so heavy. I don’t want to have no energy. I don’t want for it to all feel so hard.
But remember that your brain is motivated by pleasure – not pain.
So, if you keep focusing on the negative and all the things you don’t want, it’s counterproductive.
Instead, think about creating a story, creating a narrative, imagining how those healthy choices you want to make are going to bring you closer to your beautiful and compelling healthy lifestyle vision.
Think of this as creating an imaginary world and thinking about what success would really look and feel like for you.
Who would you be?
What would you be able to do?
How would your life be different?
How would you carry yourself?
How would you show up in a room?
What words would other people use to describe you?
What impact would you have?
How would you inspire other people?
And then once you’re crystal clear on how it looks (and even more importantly, how it feels) you start thinking about how the healthy choices that you’re trying to make day to day are going to bring you closer to that vision. Your choices start to align with your vision. You start to see them as steps that are moving you in that direction and suddenly – for your cavewoman brain – those healthy choices start to feel like pleasure. Suddenly they start to look attractive and like something you actually want to do!
This is step one.
Step two is, when you have a win, when you make a good choice, I want you to really take a moment and absorb how good it feels.
Absorb the fact that you feel proud of yourself. That you feel in control. That you feel like you are making good choices. And nourishing, honoring, and loving your body.
We tend to gloss over the good choices we make and really focus on the negative (which feels like pain to your brain). All that does is trigger more reward-seeking behavior so your brain can avoid pain. Cavewoman mission accomplished.
If instead you take a moment to really absorb how good it feels to make a good choice, then you start to train your brain that making a good choice feels good. Remind yourself every day that, “Making a good choice makes me feel proud. It makes me feel in control. It makes me feel happy and grounded and aligned with the bigger vision I have for myself.”
These two techniques will start that brain rewiring work. And this reprogramming will change the way your brain thinks about food, responds to food, and uses food.
So as you go about your day and as you’re making choices around food, take a moment to start thinking about how you can more closely work with your brain’s natural wiring instead of against it.
Think about how you can reframe healthy choices as pleasure. Remember there are just two steps:
(1) Imagine your big vision – specifically how wonderful it will feel to achieve it.
(2) Take the time to absorb how good it feels when you make a healthy choice.
I would love to hear how this works for you. Give it a try, and please let me know what your experience is like in the comments below.