Creating Awareness of Overeating Consequences
People may think about the long-term effects of overeating such as weight gain or health consequences, but this
awareness often has little impact because it is too far into the future. This audio is about helping to create
awareness of more immediate consequences when you are making decisions about what to eat. The more you practice
this exercise to imprint the memory of the consequences in your brain, the more it helps to make better choices.
About 11 minutes.
Transcript: Creating Awareness of Overeating Consequences
The problem with reducing over-eating, especially binge eating, is that our brains tend to remember what feels good and ignore things that cause pain. This is a natural survival mechanism. The brain has less of a capability for remembering pain than it does for good experiences. Otherwise, there are many painful, but necessary, experiences we would avoid if the memory of the pain was stronger than the good memories. For instance, how many women would give birth a second time if the memory of the pain of childbirth was stronger than the joyous memories of the birth of a child? How many people would push themselves to their physical limits if the memory of the pain was greater than the reward of success?
Unfortunately, however, this survival mechanism can also work against us. In addition, our drive for immediate reward and avoidance of pain combines as a powerful force to make it difficult to reduce over-eating.
Specifically, ingesting food has the immediate effect of reducing the physical discomfort of hunger. Also, eating certain foods has an immediate pleasurable effect through taste, smell, and texture. Some foods provide immediate energy or a feeling of alertness. In addition, we have been conditioned from birth to experience food as comforting. When a child is hungry and uncomfortable and is fed, that child learns to associate food with the reduction of discomfort and pain. Therefore, it is natural that ingesting food stimulates the reward centers of the brain which can lead to over-eating in order to obtain more reward in the form of a reduction in physical or emotional discomfort.
However, as most people who have over-eaten are aware, over-eating frequently leads to pain. This pain can be the stomach feeling bloated, too full, and distended. Or, the pain can be a feeling of queasiness or nausea. Or, it can be the pain of intestinal distress such as diarrhea or constipation. Some foods can cause the brain to feel foggy and less alert. Such symptoms can also cause secondary effects such as agitation, irritability, and anger.
Yet when people have a craving for a certain food, they are much more likely to recall the pleasurable effects and the immediate reward of the food rather than the unpleasant after-effects of over-eating or eating the wrong kinds of foods. To reduce the choice to over-eat, it is necessary to be more aware of these negative effects and to somehow make them stronger than the desire to indulge.
Therefore, the purpose of this audio is to help increase the memory of the negative effects of over-eating in order to help make better choices when confronted with a craving or desire to over-eat. The method involves increasing the attention to the more immediate negative effects of over-eating so as to be more likely to remember these effects.
Generally, people are more likely to think about the long-term negative effects of over-eating such as gaining weight or developing illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes. However, these consequences are often seen so far into the future that they have little impact upon immediate choices. The reward of the food is greater than the fear of these potential consequences.
So it is necessary to focus on more immediate negative effects and to enhance the desire to avoid those effects by making better food choices. To do this, think of a recent time when you ate too much or you ate foods that you are bad for you. In particular, focus of foods that you know have a negative impact on you. Try to fully imagine that impact and what you experienced physically. Recall the discomfort the food caused you. What did it feel like to be too full? Recall the sick feeling in your stomach. Or did it cause you a headache or brain fog? Once you have identified the different physical effects, allow yourself to get in touch with what it felt like. For instance, if your stomach was bloated and distended, imagine fully what it felt like. Think about how uncomfortable or painful it was. The more you can fully create the feeling of discomfort, the more it will aid in creating the memory.
Once you have fully re-created the sensation, try to associate this uncomfortable feeling with the food you ate. Remind yourself that the food caused you to feel bad. Imprint this association in your mind. You want to remember this feeling. The key to creating any memory is repetition. If you want to memorize something for a test, you review it over and over. The same process applies here. Once you have associated this feeling with over-eating or eating certain foods, tell yourself that the next time you want to eat too much or eat certain foods you will remember the uncomfortable and painful sensations that it caused. Remind yourself to remember this feeling. You want to remember this feeling so that next time you make food choices you will be fully aware of your choice and the immediate consequences of that choice. The more you engage in this exercise, the more it will help you to remember when you need to make the choice.
If you have trouble recalling the pain and discomfort you felt in the past, tell yourself that the next time you over-eat you will take note of the unpleasant sensations at that time. You will notice what your body feels like in great detail. Instead of distracting yourself from the pain you will focus on every detail of the uncomfortable sensation. Let yourself notice every aspect of what it feels like when you over-eat or eat certain foods. You will associate those feelings with what you ate by repeatedly reminding yourself of the connection. “I feel groggy, nauseous, and in pain because of the amount of food I ate” or “When I eat that particular food it makes me feel sick and fatigued.”
In addition, the next time you are eating healthy foods in an appropriate amount, take note of what that feels like. Notice how you have energy and your mind is clear and able to focus. Note how different you feel when you eat well vs. how you feel when you over-eat or eat the wrong foods. Also, the same as before, remind yourself to remember this feeling. Sometimes it is too easy to ignore and not remember when we feel good because there might not be much of a difference from normal. In other words, feeling good might be the absence of feeling bad. You eat a piece of fruit doesn't mean you feel better than you felt a few minutes before, but it may mean that you feel better than you would have felt if you over-ate unhealthy foods. Remind yourself of this difference and how good it feels to eat healthy. “I like how I feel when I eat healthy foods” or “My body feels so much better when I eat a reasonable amount of food.”
Also, pay attention to the different feelings you have when you make good food choices. It feels so good to eat healthy. Think about how you like the feeling of health your body feels when you treat it well by eating healthy foods.
Remind yourself to be aware of these differences whenever you make choices about eating. It feels so good to take care of your body. You get the immediate rewards of feeling better, more focused, and more energized than when you over-eat unhealthy foods. The more you can be aware of these differences when making decisions about eating, the better decisions you can make and the better you will feel.
Continue to do this exercise on a regular basis so that your brain will begin to pair unhealthy food choices with discomfort and healthy food choices with feeling good. The more you do the exercise the more you create this memory which can help with making better choices.
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