Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cravings: Brain Generated Bad Feelings

I've been thinking a lot lately about how overeating interacts with bad brain chemistry. I overeat in response to the bad feelings that come from my brain; it's a way of self-medicating, a way to fix the problem of feeling bad for no reason.  That method is especially effective when the bad feelings are the result of overeating!

The brain is efficient--it knows exactly what will fix the problem quickly. Chocolate-induced stimulation is missing, says the brain, so chocolate must be obtained. And then it nags the organism to go fetch some for it. (The brain is bossy like that.) And we all know how painful the brain's nagging can be.

So what to do? Surrender and give the brain what it wants? That's one solution. Not the best, considering what the consequences are.

What else, then? Well, if you consider that in most cases cravings for highly stimulating foods like chocolate or french fries are generated by the brain (and not by the environment), they can be dealt with like other brain-generated bad feelings such as anxiety, depression and rage. That means you can recognize them for what they are and make them go away with the usual bad-brain-chemistry scanning techniques.

Not so easy, you say? I agree, especially when the feeling is strong and the customary remedy is so cheap and close at hand.  And so seemingly harmless, right? Wrong.

The key is "seemingly." Having a couple of cookies or a piece of pie of a big dish of ice cream will quickly fix my cravings/depression/stress and won't hurt me or anybody else, you say, so why not go ahead?  Well, the truth is, it will hurt you and others who care about you. But more practically speaking, because eating fat/sugar is an addiction, as time goes on, more and more of the substance will be required to do the same job, until no amount will fix the problem and you're left with powerful, painful cravings and no way to satisfy them. And by then you'll no doubt be morbidly obese.

So the answer is to treat food cravings like any other brain-generated bad feelings and make them go away as harmlessly as possible.  Do a jigsaw puzzle, for instance. Or read a murder mystery.  Do genealogy hunting. Or make a model. Take pictures.  Or paint.  There are many healthy ways to stimulate the brain so it doesn't feel deprived. Come up with your own and try it out!

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