Sorry, Your Brain is Wrong
Updated: May 9, 2018
Can you stop at one chip? Just one Zesty Dorito, just one Sour Cream & Onion, just one salty crunchy chip?
Maybe it's cake. Or chocolate, or ice-cream, Sour Patch Kids, crackers, Girl Scout cookies, pie.
Some people can stop. Some people can take it or leave it. I never used to understand people like that. I was the kid who ate all my Halloween candy in the following days while my best friend forgot she had it and eventually threw it out. I was the one who got distracted by the chips while we were watching a movie, trying to stop eating them so I didn't look like a pig in front of my friends, even though I felt totally powerless and my mouth was already hurting.
My sensitivity to stimulating junk food is likely something I was born with, but it wasn't triggered out of thin air- it was triggered by junk food. Certain junk foods imprinted on my brain. Sour candy, chips, Smart Food popcorn, Tim Hortons cookies. My brain used to think Doritos were the most important food on this planet.
I never understood people who didn't care about those foods. I tried to understand them, but how could they not also be compelled to eat them? How did it just sit in their house until it went bad or stale and they finally threw it in the garbage? I just didn't get it. Until I became one of them.
It turns out, that although that susceptibility may never go away, the expression of that susceptibility needs junk food to thrive. And the reverse is true- when junk food is out of the equation, the expression of that susceptibility is no longer active. If I eat junk food I want more, and if I don't eat junk food, I could care less about it. It's an ironic cycle, isn't it? The less processed and stimulating foods you eat, the less you care about and crave them. The more you eat, the more you care about and crave them. And if you want to not eat them or care about them, then you have to be willing to resist them, for a long time, until your brain gives up and decides they weren't so important after all.
Brooke Castillo calls that period of time 'The River of Misery'- when we have to actively resist what our brain is signalling us to do. Resist binge eating, resist calling an ex, resist obsessing about how our child might die by accident, resist drinking the wine or shopping for clothes you don't need or checking if that person replied to your text or criticizing your body. To resist it feels wrong. It feels uncomfortable and painful. But participating in it only drives that loop tighter and reinforces the brain pathways. Participating in it only makes it harder to resist the next time.
Sometimes the signals from our brain don't serve us. Sometimes they're wrong. I didn't need Doritos. The intensity of flavour, colour and crunch told my brain to keep eating, that it must be important food if it's lighting up my brain as it did. But my brain was wrong. My desires were false. And as it turns out, life without Doritos is a happier life for me.