Wired To Eat For All The Wrong Reasons

How Neuroscience Can Help with Food Cravings

Posted May 13, 2015

Wagner Cesar Munhoz/Flickr
Source: Wagner Cesar Munhoz/Flickr

I've invited Sharie Spironhi to do a guest blog this week. I met Sharie two years ago in "The Message of You Workshop" in NYC.  It was there she discovered her message -- how Neuroscience can help us find happiness. Cut to -- her new book  “Why We Are Wired to Worry and How Neuroscience Will Help You Fix It.” (Available on Amazon). Enjoy!

So you walk past the snack room at the office and see a delicious piece of chocolate cake that a deviant co-worker brought in to share. At first you walk away, proudly reminding yourself of the steady diet path you have been on. However, only 45 minutes later you're suddenly overcome with the urge to have a piece of that delicious…whatever. Why now? Did you change your mind or your diet goal? Did you decide to self-sabotage? This is the type of psychological gymnastics one does to find an answer, assuming it will help fight the urge. But as you search for clues it feels more and more like a no-win situation, and your frustration grows. 

Neuroscience tells us these urges have little to do with craving food and controlling our appetite, and more to do with another type of craving, “comfort.” A wonderful feeling, comfort is the result of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in your brain that rewards you with security, confidence, and pleasure. Serotonin is our “well-being” drug. It evolved to tell us that our needs have been met —  when we eat something we love, go on a shopping spree, feel adored by others, receive a compliment, or believe we are superior to others. You could say that Hollywood is the epitome of a serotonin junkie.

When you feel a craving for something sweet or salty, don’t reach for the diet pep-talk. Instead ask yourself how you're feeling in that moment — are you less confident, less secure, less capable, or less important? I found while writing my last book that several times a day I craved some sort of comfort food, stuff I don’t even keep in the house, like cookies, cake, and ice cream. I quickly realized this happened anytime I was struggling with my writing. If I kept at it, once I completed a page, my confidence came back and the urge dissipated immediately. 

You must learn to pay attention to what's happening in your subconscious in order to catch the negative feeling surfacing. The culprit is usually some type of negative emotion born from beliefs and perspectives you have about yourself that have NO factual basis.

Without this understanding, you are doomed to give in to the urge to raise your serotonin level in various unhealthy ways — eating something you shouldn’t, being a know-it-all, bragging, making a joke at someone else’s expense, or in the long term, relentlessly chasing illusive admiration, wealth, and fame. 

Here are three things to help you when you feel like you have become possessed by the pastry demon:

1. After identifying the negative emotion, find something from your past, present, or future that you feel really good about — bringing to mind praise, a successful accomplishment, or a skill you are proud of will release the serotonin you are craving. I don’t just mean briefly recall it, but rather sit and relive it until you feel a smile come across your face and the urge will be gone. 

2. Accomplish a task on your to-do list — find a closet or drawer to clean out, help someone... even another co-worker. Do anything that makes you feel like you matter or made progress.

3. Use the trick of illusion (which your brain is great at). Close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale slowly, then imagine taking a bite or sip of whatever snack you are craving. Take your time to taste it, feel the texture, smell it, then swallow. Believe it or not, that wonderful brain of yours will feel a sense of satisfaction. Your brain does NOT know the difference between real or imagined so it’s as happy with the illusion as it is with the actual experience. 

Sharie Spironhi is a public speaker, educator, counselor, trainer, author, and artist.  Through proven techniques based on neuroscience, she can help you rewire your brain for happiness and discover more about yourself.  Sharie is available for workshops, readings, one-on-one sessions, and speaking engagements. Contact Info: http://www.shariespironhi.com