How many of us can relate to this scenario:
You are following a new plan for eating because [BY GOLLY!] you are determined to take better care of yourself. You’ve been good. You’ve been committed. You’ve even been getting somewhere, and it’s about time!
BUT. At one point or another, you get an urge to eat or drink something that is NOT ON YOUR PLAN.
In the last week, here are some example from my own life that snuck up on me:
- I was at a social gathering just to meet people and there was a beautiful display of decadent handmade pastries offered.
- I was working in my clinic and my work friends messaged me wondering if I wanted to order something from the best burger joint in town for delivery.
- I was in my kitchen in the morning and THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE IN TOWN was on my island, JUST SITTING THERE!
- I was getting frozen bacon out of the freezer and chocolate covered ice cream bars WERE RIGHT THERE STARING AT ME!
- I seriously have endless examples of this kind of crap on the daily.
Sometimes, it feels like you ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO DIE if you don’t eat THE THING that is demanding you EAT IT RIGHT NOW.
This is where the discomfort part gets real for most people.
What you are experiencing is an urge. It is a feeling. And it is urgent. It can feel like an ALARM. An EMERGENCY. It can feel like you have no choice but to obey it.
And I want to tell you that there is nothing wrong with you. This is actually just your human brain doing it’s job. When you have an intense urge, or desire, to eat or drink something and you respond to it, you are simply demonstrating the exact process that has kept our species alive for millennia.
SO STOP MAKING IT MEAN YOU ARE MORALLY BANKRUPT! Or that you have no self control. Or that you are a terrible human being. STOP IT.
I want to teach you how to conquer this. But just like anything that is challenging, it takes practice. And failure. Expect it to be hard when you start, but it gets easier. It’s worth doing, because this skill can actually make you unstoppable at any goal you set for yourself.
The first step is to recognize that your primitive, lower brain (whose job is to keep you alive–a worthy goal right?) is just trying to hijack your decision making process. It wants you to seek pleasure and get comfortable as soon as possible.
YOU LITERALLY HAVE TO GO AGAINST YOUR EVOLUTION to override your primitive brain’s urgent desire to eat or drink the thing you want right now.
But guess where the decision making process goes on? In your human, prefrontal cortex.
Your prefrontal cortex is where you choose. This is where you weigh the risks and benefits, consider your goals and future interest, and make a decision. IT IS IMPORTANT TO SEE that your primitive brain has NO POWER unless you agree to its agenda.
The second step is learn how to deal with the discomfort of not obeying an urge. So many of us think we have to fight against the urge. That we must resist it with willpower and grit. This is a mistake.
First of all, it’s freaking exhausting, right? I mean, how long can we possibly keep that up? No wonder we end up giving in and abandoning our prefrontal cortex’s better judgement!
When you believe you have to resist or fight against urges, you are giving them way more power than they deserve. Remember, urges are just a feeling. They feel powerful, but they are powerless without our consent.
What I am inviting you to do is simply allow the feeling to be there. What!? Let me explain.
Imagine you are at work and the fire alarm goes off. Piercing, blaring sirens are going off right next to your ears. Do you jump up and run out the door? Or do you sit calmly, observe your surroundings, and then make a decision to exit the building in an orderly fashion, or to call it a false alarm and go back to work? Let’s just say that the alarm is a false alarm this time.
The alarm is the urge. It feels important. It is uncomfortable to experience. But eventually, it does end, right? It might take longer than we would like, but it does stop after a short time. We don’t need to freak out while it’s going off. We don’t need to run around trying to turn it off or stuff things into our ears.
We can just wait and experience the discomfort until it passes. We can tell ourselves, “I know it feels like an emergency. I know it feels really important. But it’s not.”
The Caramel Cookie Waffle
This is something that I still work on when I have strong urges to eat food not on my plan. Last time, it was a caramel cookie waffle.
I was hiking uphill 3 miles with my 6 kids and my husband to a lake in the mountains. I knew they had brought all kinds of junk food to enjoy by the lake. Whatever, right? 🙄
Well, that was until I saw the caramel cookie waffles. 🤤
I felt the desire and then quickly felt the resistance. It felt like, “DON’T EAT IT DON’T EAT IT DON’T EAT IT!!!!”
I realized what was happening. So I slowed it down. I focused my mind on the waffle. I thought, “This isn’t about the waffle. It’s about my own desire for it. I create my own desire.”
So I breathed into the desire. I thought, “You [the waffle] have no power over me. You cannot make me eat you.” I decided to bring the waffle as close to myself as possible. Smell the waffle. Touch the waffle. Watch my desire. Try to amplify it. Knowing that none of it controls me.
When I stopped trying to run from the urge and, instead, walk toward it, it allowed me to process the desire. To just watch the desire. Amplify it and then release it.
You can handle discomfort. Remember, the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of change.
Why it gets easier with practice
And this does get easier. As you stop rewarding every single urge your brain creates, your brain does 2 things:
- You begin to decondition the reward pathway that is creating SO MUCH DESIRE for the wrong things. When you reward it, you reinforce it. When you stop rewarding it, it weakens. This is why so many people who remain abstinent from drugs or alcohol can get to a place where they just don’t want it anymore. Or their desire is mild and completely tolerable.
- You build the skill of making a CHOICE. You start seeing your primitive brain trying to hijack your plan, you call it on it’s BS, and you take back the wheel with your human, rational, executive brain. Sometimes, I literally tell my lower brain: “B*tch please,” while it throws a fit, and then I move on to REAL problems.
Expect it to be hard at first. I love this saying: “Let it be hard. Hard is good. Hard makes us indestructible.” If you can master this skill, of awareness, allowing discomfort and negative emotion, and taking the action you want to take anyway, you can conquer the universe.
And be patient with yourself friends.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison