Rewire Your Brain To Develop Healthy Habits

Rewire Your Brain To Develop Healthy Habits

 Matt Michaud

 

If you have ever tried to avoid that pizza at the staff party at work, you know what a challenge it is to keep your fingers out of the box and instead go for the salad that no one has touched.  Ohh and once you get to that salad, the fight isn’t over.  Even at your desk you keep thinking about that amazing combo of dough, sauce and cheese…

What makes it so challenging to ignore that slice? You bargain with yourself by thinking that its jut a small piece.. you’ll only have one…but will it help you reach your goals? The battle is going on in your head… and it has everything to do with habits and mindset.

Comfortable Habits

The magnet that pulls you toward that pizza goes way beyond just a mild interest:  it feels like your instinct to want it and walking away feels impossible.

When you taste foods that are easily craveable (things that are sugary, fatty or salty), your brain releases chemicals  into circulation that tell you “hey this feels good”. In that moment we feel pleasure and maybe we forget about things that aren’t so nice for a minute. This effect has been described by experts to mimic, at some degree, what a smoker feels when they light up or even what a heroin user feels when they get high. For some that addiction to food may be so great that changing this behavior can feel hopeless.

The “feel good” that you can get from food is the thing for so many that takes that feeling away.  

That “feel good” comes from a chemical produced and released by several areas of your brain called dopamine.  Your body LOVES dopamine and it will trick you into doing most anything to get some of it flowing around inside of you. The reason you want to gobble up slice after slice is because you secretly want dopamine to run through you and that pizza will get you there. Your body remembers how good it tasted and how awesome it makes you feel.  Dopamine motivates you to concentrate on that slice and dopamine inspires you to put your hand in the box.

Now your body says “hey that felt good.. so why don’t we do it again?”  When this process keeps happening, the whole cycle becomes a habit that is very reward focused, very ingrained and very hard to break.  Your brain is now wired to want that pizza.  Guess what else..you don’t have to have the box sitting in front of you for your body to be reminded about dopamine…. have you ever made a special trip to the store for a snack that you just had to have right then? Thats your body remembering how that snack gave you some of that sweet dopamine.

The Sad News…

Sadly, the vast majority of Americans (an estimated 160 million) are either obese or overweight. This includes nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of American women. These are also major challenges for America’s children – nearly 30% of boys and girls under age 20 are either obese or overweight, up from 19% in 1980. The strain this puts on things like healthcare costs and taxes on the American people as a whole is absolutely unfathomable.

Our culture breeds this behavior. We are inundated with advertisements for fast and processed “foods”, candy, soda, alcohol life in excess.  Our society is widespread with these type of influences and ingrains us into believing that we NEED to live with these things in our lives. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded not only with unhealthy “food” and we are stuck with brains that, if wired to do so, drive us to want it.

But There Is Hope….

Now there is a light at the end of the tunnel: you can rewire your brain and change the path that you are on.  With some patience and an honest desire to change, you can be released from the clutches that unhealthy foods have over you.  You can change your thought process and in the process, pass by the pizza box, leading you to even greater reward.

The mystery is solved by changing your mindset. It’s a realization of what is more important to you. You have to want good health, a better body, more years with your grandkids, the ability to run a marathon or whatever else you can think of more than that slice of extra cheese. Whatever is greater than your craving if what you need to figure out. Find that thing that is more important to you and put in in front of you. At work, At home. All the time.. everywhere. Your “important thing” should give your body all the dopamine it is craving both while attempting to achieve it and when you do. Always remember.. If you can’t resist that slice of pizza, your “important thing” might not be as important as you thought.

Ok I Know What’s Important To Me..So Now What?

Once you’ve found your “important thing” that will replace your unhealthy eating habits, how do you stay on track?

  1. Be a leader and stand up for your goal. 
    When you start, this will be a challenge, but you must remove yourself from things that inspire poor decisions.  When everyone around you is guzzling soda and shoving fistfulls of birthday cake into their mouths, you will struggle. You will be in the emotionally charged situation and your body will want to join the party when maybe your mind won’t. Place your “important thing” at the front of your mind and ask yourself if that glass of Mountain Dew will help you reach your goals. Think about where you will be if you keep making good decisions.
  2. Be proud of your accomplishments.
    When you get a victory, you will have accomplished much more than just saying no to an unhealthy choice. Guess what else.. your body likes victories too! Ride that wave. Feel good about your win. You have taken the first step toward rewiring your brain to habitual patterns of behavior.  Just like working out, you get a little stronger every time. Every time it’ll get a little easier.
  3. Keep Going.
    Achieve your “important thing”? Good! Find a new one. As you rewire your brain, you are creating new habits that, after a while, will be much stronger than the “shove this pizza in your mouth” ones.  Make sure that any “important thing” that you chose is also healthy – don’t take up smoking to kick soda. Your “important thing” should have value that can apply to those who you care about or surround you. It should be something that thrills, invigorates and inspires you to grow.
Your habits dictate who you are.. so who do you want to be?

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