What is Enough?

Last week I talked about controlling the direction our decision marbles can take down a damp hill of sand. How our conscious brains could direct which way the marble rolled. How consciously sending the marble down the groove we WANT it to go is a great visual to building better habits.

Habit change is best done one marble at a time. We need to practice and keep track of that ONE marble until it is consistently going in the direction we desire. Trying multiple habit changes simultaneously will have us just losing our marbles!  We don’t get efficient at doing our job in one go; with repetition we get really good at opening those sterile supplies, drawing up medication, positioning patients, confirming allergies, setting up equipment, etc. Each task we do at work felt clunky doing at first, we had to think our way through doing it each time until it “clicked” and we began doing it automatically.

Let’s take one of the four basic habits we are practicing on a daily basis: eating each meal to a +2 satisfied on the hunger scale. A +2 means our body has had “enough” to eat. But how do we find our +2 on the hunger scale if our satiety cues are all out of whack?

If we have habitually been overeating emotionally for decades then our insulin-resistant, leptin-resistant metabolism is going to make it VERY difficult to judge when “enough is enough”!

How can we tell when our body has had “enough” like a normal eater can?

I have discussed using visual cues (small plates, just noticeable difference, smaller portions) as a hack to help combat habits that have us overeating. These work by keeping us aware of what, why, when, and how often we are eating in the moment so our conscious brain has a chance to overrule our unconscious primitive brain. These visual cues make us consciously think about what is “enough” food.

But what does “enough” mean?

If we are consistently overeating at meals then “enough” is probably when the plate is clean, the bag is empty, the food is all gone, there is no more in the house, etc. With this type of thinking an external measurement tells us when we have eaten “enough”. Well what if we are on a cruise and there is food everywhere 24/7? Our definition of “enough” will just expand!

Here is another way to think about what “enough” can mean. Enough for a “normal” eater is when they are no longer getting pleasure, satisfaction, or enjoyment out of what they are eating.

Here is an example to understand this concept. A restaurant serves a 10oz. juicy steak with a big baked potato, melted butter and a side salad. You start eating your favorite item and the first 5 or 6 bites are delicious. But if you continue eating, your interest in the food will peak. The taste is still good but not as good so you go on to the next food. This happens with each of the foods on your plate, your taste pleasure peaks and then wanes after a certain amount of bites. This is your body’s way of telling you that it is satisfied with that food and it has had enough!

The next time you are chewing your meal pay attention to each bite. Are you enjoying it fully and loving the taste, texture, and smell enough to eat more? Or, are you going through the motions of eating because food is still there?

We want to enjoy our eating experience! We don’t want to make it mindless!  We enjoy it best if we listen to what our body is telling us.

I have tried this with potato chips. I would eat a whole bag (we are talking PARTY size here!) no problemo! So I did a little experiment this week with a party size bag of organic avocado oil sea salt potato chips from Wegmans.

After eating about 10 chips they started tasting pasty, dull, and my tongue actually hurt from the crispy salty chips. It became disgusting to continue eating them! I had had enough because the pleasure of the salty crispy oily chips had peaked and I was becoming aware of the complete lack of satisfaction I was experiencing as I continued to eat.

I realized I had continued to eat chips (insert in place of chips any food that is overeaten) when my body was yelling at me, “enough! STOP!” I had literally ignored FOR YEARS what my body had figured out 10 chips in!

Now my guide is to pay attention when I am eating and when my pleasure in a food peaks and starts to slide away, that is my enough. This is not an exact science as “enough” is not an exact measure. But “enough” can be found when my mind and body pay attention to each other.

“Enough” will be that physical satisfaction and just noticeable difference your thoughts can “see” and emotions can “feel”. Finding your “enough” is a strong habit to practice that will leave food on your plate and less fat on your body!

Visualizing Habit Change

Last week I explored how I was thinking about a particular circumstance: eating after work. I was thinking UNconsciously one way (food will sooth me) but chose to think Consciously another way (I can wait 15 minutes before eating my planned food). I also decided to think consciously more often by sparking awareness of my thinking at a specific time and place (after work at home).

My conscious thinking will eventually build a new UNconscious habit. Practicing it at each meal is guaranteed to turn it into my new unconscious habit!

Karen Koenig, a behavioral cognitive therapist, developed a wonderful visual to depict this process. In her representation the marble represents a DECISION that needs to be made.

Imagine a tall pile of damp sand with a colorful marble sitting at the peak. A shallow groove is formed when the marble rolls down the pile of sand to land at the bottom. When the marble is again at the top of the pile it will go down the established groove, making the groove deeper, creating a well-established pathway for the marble to follow. Let’s say this groove represents our UNconscious decision of overeating to buffer negative emotions.

Say the marble represents the decision “Do I eat this food now?”

To change the decision from “Let’s eat” → “Let’s NOT eat” you must engage your conscious brain before the unconscious brain makes the decision for you and sends the marble rushing down the established habit pathway.

You can accomplish this with the LEAST AMOUNT OF EFFORT when the marble is at the top of the pile. Catch yourself BEFORE your unconscious brain decides for you.

REMEMBER, OUR BRAINS LIKE EASY SO GIVE IT EASY! We need to do a little effort RIGHT HERE to create a new neurological transmitter cascade pathway for the marble to travel.

Otherwise the marble will just roll down the established groove again. The more often we do this little effort to get the marble to roll down the new groove the deeper the new groove will get. Eventually the groove will be deeper than the one you wanted to avoid and the marble will automatically roll down your new “habit” groove, leaving the other groove to be less “enticing” to the marble!

We want our NEW decision to get to those fast-spiking interneurons FIRST! That means doing some pushing and shoving against the neurotransmitters wanting to start our unconscious habit. This work will feel clunky, wrong, and uncomfortable to our brain. Keep doing it anyway!

For me it FIRST entails being aware I have a decision to make and SECOND sitting with my uncomfortable emotion for 15 minutes. Within 15 minutes I no longer feel jittery, anxious, unfocused, or empty. I’m still feeling “deprived” but I also feel “ridiculous” to be feeding myself when I am not even hungry! Plus, I am feeling “powerful” at accomplishing this win over my unconscious brain!

Physiologically, it took 15 minutes for the neurotransmitters generating the “deprived” emotion to dissipate. Eventually, the “deprived” neurotransmitter pathway will not be stimulated and I will no longer physiologically experience it in my body each day after work. A new “Powerful” neurotransmitter pathway eliciting the “Powerful” feeling will replace it!

So, next time before you want to eat ask yourself one of these simple questions:

• Is my body hungry?
• Is this the only food available to me?
• Am I seeking comfort by eating this?
• Am I really just thirsty?
• When was the last time I ate?
• Did something upsetting just happen to me?
• Am I feeling a negative emotion?
• Am I tired?
• Am I bored?

Your answer will tell you how you are thinking.
Your thinking will make you feel a certain way.
The way you are feeling will make you act a certain way.
The way you act will get you a result AND reinforce your thinking.

When the decision marble is at the top of the sand pile your thinking will put the marble in motion. So think a better way and get that marble going where you want it to go!

Why Delay Gratification?

This week I asked myself: Why it is so hard to NOT emotionally eat?

The best way to get out of my head and understand what I am thinking is to do a thought download. I did a TDL this week after work and found a lot of things to discuss with my brain! I found a series of WHY questions helped me understand what my thinking, actions, and results were.

If we do not understand “WHY” we do anything it is inevitable we will lose our sense of direction. Having an answer as to WHY we do anything is our compass. I know why I do my job at work, it is all about my patient and giving them the safest, best experience possible – everything I do at work comes back to this! Why I want to get to a healthy weight is to feel physically and mentally better than I do now. So all my choices need to support my why.

Here is a bit of my discussion with myself:

Everyone has their times of day or situations in life when food is used to sooth, calm, fill, distract, and create meaning RIGHT NOW. For me it is after work every day.

Why is it hard to not emotionally eat when I intellectually know I am not physically hungry?

I have a meal planned but I don’t want it. I have food prepared but I don’t want to eat it. I want “something” else to fill the emotional discomfort inside me because it has always worked that way in the past.

Why is it so hard to ignore the immediate gratification I will get from that bag of chips, jar of peanut butter, half a cake, or entire pizza?

Because my brain remembers how it tastes and doesn’t care how fat it makes my thighs.

Why do my taste buds rule over what my “self” really wants?

Because it can. Because I let it. Because I ignore what I planned ahead of time when I had the size of my thighs under consideration!

Why can’t I stop making the choices that will lead to gaining weight?

Because I choose to avoid feeling my emotional discomfort. I choose to ruminate over what happened at work, how I spoke to someone, how someone spoke to me, what happened with that patient, equipment, doctor, or in traffic on the drive home.

Because I have been choosing the immediate gratification of food in my mouth and not delaying my gratification until my stomach is starting to growl with real hunger signs.

It feels like an epic struggle in my head, the dialogue is adversarial, combative, negative, and overall “feels” really terrible. I want to avoid it and seek comfort in food instead.

But it is just a feeling! There is no epic battle where people are injured or killed. I keep my thinking at a dramatic level because “epic” stimulates a dopamine release in my brain. And my brain wants that “other” food for the glucose spike to generate more dopamine!

Today I made a different choice. I fought the epic nonexistent battle in my head for 15 minutes instead of eating as soon as I got home from work. After 15 minutes the fight was over and I wasn’t injured or killed. Unbelievable! Now I am feeling better!

I waited 15 minutes longer to eat and will eat my planned food. After all, it is delicious and healthy, colorful and aromatic. “But it isn’t cake!” says my primitive brain!

This battle will continue because my brain wants a dopamine hit to combat my stressed out thinking after work. My established habits of soothing or entertaining myself with food are not leaving my brain. But I am now thinking and feeling differently and am building new habits that will take me off this fat generating battlefield more often.

I want to win these battles because I know delaying my gratification will make me feel better, healthier, confident, motivated, successful, in short, only good things! This is what I realize after sitting with my emotional discomfort for only 15 minutes. Next time the battle begins inside my head I will say: “I can wait to eat for 15 minutes, easy!”

I don’t want to “think” I have to battle with my body. I want to live happily with it! I am willing to seek delaying my gratification again and again. Hope springs eternal it will get easier.

Boredom and Food

All our weight gain is from overeating. Overeating because we are bored, celebrating, awkward, fearful, happy, angry, or any other emotion you can name.

I pretty much want to eat in any of those circumstances. But I cannot do that if I want to lose weight or maintain my weight loss.

Coming off a month and a half respiratory illness that included taking steroids I gained 6 pounds because I stopped being aware of my overeating.

However, I have been reminded by the weight loss success of my co-workers over the same month and a half time period that I need to put back into practice my good eating habits of drinking water, planning my meals, sleeping, and doing the hunger scale.

I always feel bored after work and want to fill that boredom with food preparation and snacking while I meal prep but am going to level up my thinking by trying on a new habit. If I want to snack after work before dinner I have to put what I want on a plate and wait to eat it at dinnertime. This way I can SEE what extra food I am emotionally eating because I am bored.

Then when I sit down to eat my meal and my emotional food snack I can decide if I want it all. It will be a good visual for my mind to see what my emotions are having me overeat. I want to use the plate to stimulate my awareness by using the just noticeable difference of what I see to help my brain ask, “Do I want to eat all this food?”

Why is it when I am bored, or happy, or angry I respond with eating food?

Because it is my go to habit I have built over years.

I don’t like this habit that results in extra fat on my body. I need to replace this habit that gets me the immediate gratification of food in my mouth with one that is based on the delayed gratification of feeling healthy at my normal weight.

I want to replace my current post-work habit of soothing my emotions with food. But that will be difficult if I don’t have a compelling reason that answers the WHY I don’t need the immediate gratification I get from that food.

“Absent a WHY, a decision is harder to make,” says Steven Pressfield.

I found my why by looking at the emotions inside me. I don’t like the emotions I feel when I come home after work! I want to replace them with ones I do like. Why? Because I want to FEEL better inside!

I will not find these new emotions near the refrigerator, pantry or stove!

So, this month I will look outside of the kitchen for these emotions. I’ m looking in the park, at the gym, at the local pet shelter, outside in my yard, in my favorite chair with a good book, at the local library, in a museum, or with my friends and family.

I want to trade feeling bored, stressed, depressed, unhappy, scared, afraid, and any other emotion that distresses me with happiness, achievement, confidence, motivation, joy, silliness, healthiness, strength, curiosity or any other emotion that makes me feel good.

This week take a look at your emotions and WHERE you are habitually feeling them. Maybe take the action of changing your WHERE on a regular basis. At the very least you will experience a different perspective that gives your brain something new to consider!