Habits: Out With the Old In With the New

Posted: May 9, 2013 in Uncategorized
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A big piece of starting any nutritional or exercise program is developing a new routine.  What many may not know is the deck of cards is stacked against most of us in this situation.  We actually have habit forming circuits built into our brains.  This is critical for our survival.  For one, it allows us to breathe, blink, and function without having to literally think about it.  It is also set up to get us to do tasks relevant to our survival.

Our habit circuits are set up like such; there is a trigger, followed by an action, and lastly there is a reward.  For example, when eating.  The feeling of hunger is a trigger for us to act.  When we are hungry we seek out food and when we eat our brains flood our system with the feel good neurotransmitters.  The more we take part in this cycle the more it becomes habit.

In that previous example we developed a habit of eating when we are hungry.  How do you feel when you can’t get food when you are hungry?  When that typical routine is broken we get adverse effects such as decreased mood.  The other problem lies in the reward piece.

Highly rewarding foods are readily available everytime we get hungry.  I wrote extensively about this here, http://robbwolf.com/2012/02/15/carb-addiction-cake-is-the-new-crack/ , and http://robbwolf.com/2012/02/29/might-as-well-face-it-youre-addicted-to-food/ .  We eat a food that is highly rewarding and we are going to seek it out more often.  Willpower is a muscle and can be exercised just like any other, but it also gets fatigued like others as well.  At some point you will give into the reward.  Our systems were built like this for survival.

To take that same example from before, when we get hungry we look to eat.  Now instead of the processed sugars and fats we are used to we are eating meat and veggies.  The reward is not quite the same.  This can leave us feeling empty inside, like we weren’t hugged as kids.  Willpower may last for a day, a week, or longer, but at some point everyone falls off the wagon, even me.

How do we fix this problem?  If I had a definite answer I would be a millionaire, but Kenneth Blum and colleagues have done extensive work on neurotransmitter deficiencies and addiction.  The Reward Deficiency Syndrome states that whatever substance we ingest that balances us out biochemically we will become addicted too.

If we have dopamine deficiciencies from lack of sleep, poor diet, and so on, and then we eat a high sugar food such as a bagel and we get that dopamine rush we will be hooked.  This can explain why we all have different food addictions.  Just like with any other addiction, when we get that rush and feel good we are going to want it more and more.  A meal of meats and veggies not giving us that rush is going to leave us wanting that bagel more and more as time passes.  So what can we do?

Here are my suggestions.  We need to identify the triggers that lead us astray.  If it is hunger then we need to make sure we are eating enough at meals and balance out those hormones responsible for that response.  Some people like to eat candy while watching a movie.  They need to identify that as a trigger and maybe have some berries around for those instances.  There are an infinite number of triggers and solutions and that is all individualized.

From there we need to attack that circuit from the reward end.  Being tested and treated for neurotransmitter deficiencies can help balance out our biochemistry and take away that “want” for the addictive food.  Also, those neurotransmitters are largely responsible for our energy and mood and help mitigate stress.  This can lead to better sleep at night and more energy in the morning.  Lastly, neurotransmitters are implicated in just about every disease so they are critical to long term health!

  1. Thanks for explaining that so well. I’ll keep reading for more info. When the cravings start, sometimes I just lay down and rest if possible. When fatigue sets in, cravings increase for me.

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