Many times I find myself eating, not because I feel hungry, but because snack food is available, because I want to feel fuller (I’m already full), or because I crave something sweet. Other people may eat to relieve boredom, to occupy time, or to feel better with use of mood-elevating carbohydrates, like candy and cake. When we eat to feel better, we can put on weight. That can lead to shame for our shape–which leads to eating more to feel better. Now a vicious cycle sets in.
What we’ve learned about drinking too much and depression as bad habits, we can apply to overeating. Just as we need to take control of our decisions in those areas, we need to take conscious control of our (over) eating. If we have or have had a problem with a compulsive behavior, we never forget how to do it. Just like we never forget our ability to ride a bike or to drive a car, we’ve learned our compulsion to overeat. That’s because our brain contains a permanent source of memory.
Our brain, however, can also help us. One part identifies opportunities to make life better, and also how much better. Another part evaluates how much effort it will take to do so. That leads us to assess whether or not change is worth it. When we decide it is/is not worth the effort, the brain signals the area of our memory. We then act.
Remember, our brain focuses on the next few minutes, not long-term. It’s up to us, therefore, to find reasons to justify our self-control. To become healthy, we need good reasons, with long-term benefits, ways to reinforce our decision, and support at each step. But we can do it.
Source: Brian E. King, Ph.D. Presentation on “How the Brain Forms New Habits,” Institute for Brain Potential, Clackamas, OR 2/1/12.