25. What You Want is Your Choice
Welcome to episode 25 of the Mindful Weight Loss podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I'm talking about a concept that might seem a bit foreign or strange at first and that's the idea that what you want is in fact a choice, and that you can choose what you want.
Many of us really don't think we have this power over our own preferences. We think they are inborn just like we think about our own personalities. Benjamin Hardy wrote a great book called personality isn't permanent and in it he dispels the myth that we have fixed personalities and demonstrates that we are always changing and evolving and that in 10 years you absolutely won't be the same person you are today.
And so if you are going to change no matter what, you might as well put some intention behind that change so that you change in the way you want to.
And obviously this is so important and powerful with regard to weight loss in many ways, but the way I want to talk about it today is in regards to food. I want to show you that you can actually create or deprogram your desire for certain foods or types of foods.
Because like our personalities, we think that our food preferences are innate. We think we are born with a sweet tooth and that it's just a fact of life we have to live with, and while I absolutely won't deny that our biology drives us towards food and that foods that are high in quick energy and easy to obtain - like a candy bar for example - are naturally appealing. They provide a bigger dopamine hit and so yeah, at first glance that candy bar is going to be more appealing than the kale.
But that's just the reptile or lizard brain in action. We also have our higher brain or the prefrontal cortex that can think beyond the immediate reward toward a future reward - and interestingly dopamine plays a critical role in this kind of forward-thinking - and when you really consider the effects of the candy bar vs the kale salad you can actually quite easily choose the kale salad willingly and be extremely happy about it and not feel deprived in any way.
Now I'm sure that sounds nuts to a lot of you, but there is a process that can get you there.
The first is something that I've talked a lot about in recent episodes which is that you need to stop restricting food or thinking of foods as good or bad.
In order to get to a place where it's even possible to choose kale over chocolate you have to level the playing field in your higher brain. So the way you think about the food needs to change. And when you put food on a pedestal and keep it out of reach or give it power over you or think of it as special, or evil - if you give it any extra qualities, you shoot yourself in the foot and don't give yourself a real choice.
When something is rare we value it more. When something is out of our reach, we are driven to obtain it. And we are naturally driven towards food just for the sake of survival. So when you add those three things together - when you keep food out of your reach and make it rare you are programming yourself to want it more.
And I want to point out that this works the other way too when - I don't know about the biological basis, but I've seen it in myself and others - when we continuously tell ourselves that we should eat the kale, we are going to want the kale less. First off when we do that we're not leveling the playing field and we're implicitly stating that we shouldn't eat the candy bar and putting that food on a pedestal once again. And when we tell ourselves that we should do anything, we naturally rebel because it's an affront to our natural freedom.
So watch out for it going both ways. We have these beliefs about food that really conflict with each other and that in and of itself can cause a lot of discomfort because it's confusing and keeps us stuck. You're sort of damned if you do and damned if you don't because eating the candy bar will be good in that it will be a pleasurable experience, but eating kale will be good in that it's the virtuous or correct choice, or even the choice that aligns best with your goals. And so notice, you can't win. Either way you lose. Either way you make a mistake. And that's because the entire premise that there is a right or wrong choice is completely bogus.
The second piece of this goes beyond just the biology to your associations with food. And this is where emotional eating starts to come into play. And this is where some of us get stuck after we stop restricting. We level the playing field on the biological level and nothing is off limits and some of us gain weight here because of biology, but some of us gain more than we need to because we haven't yet leveled the playing field in our minds.
We are allowed to have the chocolate but we still think the chocolate is special and so, especially once we allow it again, we eat more than what our bodies need.
So why does this happen?
This is societal programming at work.
And it's not all programing in some nefarious sense. A lot of it is associations we make over the years. As a kid you get ice cream after dinner when you're "good" and eat your vegetables, or maybe as a reward for getting good grades or for getting through a tough experience like getting a shot or going to the dentist. You get cake on birthdays and there are sweets associated with almost every holiday.
And there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but those associations then do get exploited by things like advertising and moreso the message so many of us receive that we should be happy all the time.
Because it's so profitable, and sounds so appealing, we fall into the trap of trying to replicate those peak experiences - the holidays the rewards, all of it - we try to replicate those all the time. And so if you're not on top of the world, well have cookies which you associate with good times, except that it was being with your family at Christmas that actually felt good, the cookies were just the icing on the cake so to speak.
And I have to admit that this can be a big thing to untangle and I have a lot in my course dedicated to helping unravel this idea that we need to be having a peak experience all the time. Because it will also keep you choosing the candy bar over the kale as well.
It's one thing to realize that the candy bar doesn't fix you're feelings, but it's another even bigger realization to realize that you don't need a fix for your feelings in the first place. And you know it's really freeing to realize that feeling kind of bla or feeling even cranky can be ok or even good.
We are taught to prize over the moon happy over all else, but there are plenty of other fantastic emotions that you may want to have - thinks like determined, focused, even angry, and even sad. Grief can be a beautiful thing when we honor it. Ultimately it feels good to honor the emotions you are feeling instead of forever trying to cover them up - it feels good to be in integrity. Like if you're dog dies and you go to work and you're really upset, you're probably going to stuff your emotions down a bit so you don't cry at the office, but once you get home alone or if you were on a desert island completely alone, you would just let yourself wail because that would be what feels good at that time.
The desert island question is a great way to figure out your own true wants by the way. Like if you were on a desert island all alone, would you still want to lose weight? And if the answer is no, well, who the heck are you losing weight for then?
But getting back to the topic at hand, what I want you to come away from this is to realize it is possible to level the playing field with food when you stop restricting and when you become aware of the mental baggage you have around food. Just being aware of that baggage and being mindful in the moment is enough to help you consciously choose what you want.
When you get rid of the biological urges and the mental baggage, food choices become a simple matter of cause and effect. You can witness the entire experience without guilt and then the next time consider the entire experience when you make your decision.
When the candy bar isn't restricted or special and you know that it won't make you feel better and that you don't have to feel better anyway, then you can think objectively back to the last time you had a candy bar and remember how it was maybe cloyingly sweet and that the pleasure was pretty fleeting and that you actually didn't feel great after you ate it. You might remember that it kind of left you wanting more or something else. And then you'll think - again objectively - back to the old reliable kale salad and how it's pretty satisfying when it's prepared the way you like, with a dressing you like and how after you eat it you feel good and have sustained energy and how there's no letdown. It tastes good and it feels good and you know that when it feels good in your body, that's helping you move closer to the body you want to have.
And when you have the power to choose your focus and choose your thoughts like this, you create the case where choosing the kale is something you want. It's becomes a no brainer. You want the entire kale experience. You want to be someone who wants the kale and so you choose thoughts that motivate you to choose the kale.
And you know sometimes it works the other way. Sometimes you do choose the candy bar because your body wants some quick energy and you really want some chocolate. And you know that restricting will just backfire. And you again choose to enjoy that without guilt and go on with your day. The point is that it's your conscious choice. Your brain isn't choosing it in spite of you because of denial or because you feel pressure to feel different.
So yeah, make sure your choices and your wants are your own. Make sure you are choosing what you really want because ultimately it's all yours for the choosing.
I hope this has been helpful and if it has I want to remind you to check out my free 7-day kickstart challenge. In it I will teach you the 5 keys to stop overeating and binge eating and help you create a habit of success. Check the show notes or visit mindfulweightlosscoach.com/start to sign up.