Using food to feel better

What’s going on in your brain?

When it feels as if eating happens on autopilot or against your own will, it can be helpful to understand the why behind it.

Of course, our brains are wildly complex and amazing. But let’s keep it simple.

The brain has 3 defaults,

  1. to avoid pain
  2. to seek out pleasure
  3. to do it as easily as possible

Your brain just wants to keep you alive.

Let’s think about how those 3 default go-tos operate when it comes to overeating or bingeing.

Avoiding pain may look like:

  • Feeling angry and hurt after an argument with a friend, and using a tub of Häagen-Dazs as a source of comfort
  • Worrying about a personnel restructure at work, and crunching through a box of dry granola to take the edge off
  • Being alone (and lonely) at home for the evening so turning to those old, reliable friends—a bag of tortilla chips and Netflix mini-series

Seeking pleasure may look like:

  • Celebrating with a slice of birthday cake … then another … and another
  • Showing up at the office Christmas party, and filling a plate of buffet food to get into the spirit of things
  • Longing for the freshly baked sausage rolls at the local bakery, buying a bag and luxuriating in the warm, flakey deliciousness

And as for doing it in the easiest possible way … well, food is likely to be readily available.

Why is this useful to know?

Because, when you understand the natural, underlying drive of your brain, you can have more compassion for the overeating or bingeing. (It’s not food for everyone, but I’ll bet there’s something else instead.)

It begins to make more sense.

“Ah, I understand why I wanted to eat just then—it’s just my brain trying to look after me.”

That brief moment of pause can be enough to disrupt automatic patterns of behaviour.

Over time, those pauses add up to change your choices around food.

Next time you realise you’ve eaten something you kinda wish you hadn’t, try asking:

What was my brain trying to achieve for me? Avoid pain or seek pleasure?

I wonder …

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