If you have ever tried to ignore a box of doughnuts at work, you know how hard it is to keep your hands to yourself and walk on by. And once you walk by, the battle isn’t over. Even if you are in a different room and down the hall, you can’t stop thinking about those doughnuts. Why is it so hard to resist something as small as a doughnut? It has to do with habit—and mind set.
Hardwired habits are the draw you feel from that doughnut that goes way beyond just a mild interest: you are wired to want it, and resistance is hard.
When you taste foods that contain excess sugar, fat and salt, your brain releases opioids into your blood stream. Opioids are brain chemicals that cause you to have intense feelings of reward and pleasure, as well as relieving pain and stress. The pleasurable effect is similar to the feelings that morphine and heroin users experience. The desire may be so intense that you keep taking one bite after another: it can be hard to stop. It’s one of the reasons when we are sad, we turn to comfort food.
BUT why do you give in and approach that doughnut box in the first place? Why not just refuse to take that first bite?
The answer is another brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for motivating you to seek out the doughnut so you can get the opioid release. You remember how good it tasted and how great it made you feel.
Dopamine energizes you to work for that doughnut. It causes you to concentrate on it and drives you to seek it out. Once this process happens a few times, the whole cycle becomes a habit that is very reward focused, very ingrained and very hard to break. Your brain’s circuitry has become mapped and wired to want the doughnut. And you don’t even have to be near the doughnut for this process to start—the dopamine can kick in even when there are no doughnuts in site: ever made a run to the store for a treat that you just had to have right then?
The dopamine process is not just limited to food. Alcohol, drugs, sex give dopamine highs too and as most of you know millions of people have alcohol, drug and sex addictions. Dopamine is some powerful stuff.
1/3 of all adults in our country are obese. The habit of eating unhealthy food and too much of it is widespread. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded with unhealthy food, and also some hard wiring within us that drives us to pursue that unhealthy food.
The good news? you can start right now to change the path that you are on. You can rewire your brain and begin reducing the power that those opioid-producing foods have over you. You can draw a new map in your mind that will have you passing by the doughnuts.
The secret is mindset or in easier terms, self control. You must want something else more than you want those fleeting moments of pleasure . What is it? What do want? Maybe you want to drop a couple of jeans sizes. Maybe you want to be off your blood pressure medication. Maybe you want to be more ‘athletic’. Maybe you want to keep from becoming ill. Or maybe you just want the satisfaction of being in control of yourself!
How to stop the madness??
1. Stop. There is no other way : you must stop eating foods that are not good for you. In the beginning, it’s really difficult. When everyone around you is tossing back pizza, beer, ice cream and soft drinks, you will struggle. You will smell the pizza, you will be in an atmosphere of relaxation and dopamine will be flowing in your bloodstream. Think about what you want more than that doughnut; think about what you can only have by resisting the doughnut. Sheer will power is what you have to use at this point.
2. Victory! Once you come out on the other side having successfully won the battle within your own mind, you will have accomplished much more than just saying no to a piece of pizza. You have begun ‘cooling’ the stimulus. You have taken the first step toward weakening the circuitry in your brain that drives you to habitual patterns of behavior. The next time, it will be easier.
3. Focus on new rewards. As you remap your brain, you are creating new neural pathways that in time will be stronger than the weakening, “doughnut-centered”
pathways. Make sure these new rewards are healthy and not an equal replacement for the doughnut/
All well and good on paper, but it’s really hard to do this… and now I want stupid Doughnut!