Anyone who’s spent more than fifteen minutes looking into the issue of weight loss can tell you that its essentially about managing the intake of energy (food) and expenditure of energy (heartbeats). So if its that simple, why is losing weight and keeping it off so difficult? Why eat those excess calories if you know its going to come back to haunt you?
We know intuitively the fundamental difference between right and wrong. We use that logic in order to raise our children to be responsible, law-abiding citizens. And let’s face it, we are very quick to criticize people ‘who should know better.’ Our every day conversation is full of reproach for such misbehaving people.
Unfortunately when it comes to our food behaviors, knowing what to do and being able to do it can become two completely separate things. The problem, in my opinion, is that we really can’t extend the right/wrong logic to our food choices. It just isn’t that simple. Deeper factors are at play – we are hard-wired to eat in a way that we are not hard-wired to rob a bank.
If I had a nickel for everytime someone told me ‘I’ve been soooo bad’ or ‘I was so perfect’ when they are describing their eating journey for the week, I’d be writing this column from my private island in the caribbean. Most people, it seems, believe that there is a correct way and an incorrect way to judge food choices, and in making the ‘wrong’ choice, they are being bad, illogical, stupid or wilfully ignorant.
Research shows, however, that our short-term eating decisions are heavily influenced by evolution. According to a recent article in Business Week, these seemingly irrational choices are actually easily explained. In essence, we use the ‘older’ part of our brain to make snap decisions (‘mmm, doesn’t that donut look good’) even when the ‘newer’ part of our brain recognizes the long-term folly of doing so (‘those pants won’t fit anymore’). That older thinking is a survival mechanism which helps us fend off attack, take advantage of immediate rewards, and stay alive.
But we are not (I repeat NOT!) destined to live solely by this ‘older’ thinking. Our ‘newer’ brain is there to help us, if we give it a chance. Just as early civilizations taught themselves not to eat the seeds they needed for planting, we are definitely capable of injecting at least some degree of rational thinking in our daily eating. I don’t think its easy, and I don’t think it becomes purely automatic. But I do think it can be done.
Labelling ourselves ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for choosing ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ foods is missing the point. We make choices about food and those choices have consequences. If we can employ the newer part of our brain to thwart (or pacify) the older part, we have a chance of success. If we get mired down in blame and judgement, we fail.
Can you make some ‘new’ choices this week, instead of the ‘old’ ones?