AN interesting thing happened recently. After two years of being over my desired body weight, I suddenly lost the weight very quickly. Of course, as the weight started falling off, I went to the doctor, who ordered all the mandatory tests. But I’m happily healthy.
So what happened? It’s a psychological phenomenon. There’s an old adage which is one of my favourites: ‘‘What we resist persists.’’ I had decided to go on a diet and a health kick. Which — as those who diet know — just puts on more weight. You are always going to ‘‘start tomorrow’’, which gives full licence to eat a lot today; and tomorrow never comes. And if it does then the feeling of deprivation hits so hard, you binge-eat. You ‘‘forget’’ to exercise because it’s hard carrying all that weight.
The attempted diet lasted two years. But then I gave it up.
So here’s what happened. I changed my goal. By going for something far bigger and more positive than losing weight, I stopped focusing and lost interest in the whole thing — thus not needing to eat to placate myself.
Let me explain. We develop an obsession when are trying to give something up. It becomes the whole focus of our being, making us feel powerless and out of control.
We feel ashamed as we have one more drink; or some of us have one more cigarette; one more bite; one more throw of the dice in business or in a casino; or take one more lover despite risk to the marriage. All of which makes us act out even more because we need to feel better. And we feel good when we get a rush of dopamine, the chemical reward that comes with addictive behaviour.
According to neuroscience expert Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain that Changes Itself, when our brain keeps thinking something — either ‘‘yes, want to do it’’ or ‘‘no, don’t want to do it’’ — the neuro-pathways actually get stronger.
There is no differentiation in the brain between ‘‘I want to eat’’ and ‘‘I don’t want to eat’’. New synapses actually grow when we have a repetitive thought which reinforces the behaviour one wishes to stop.
So with me? My goal changed to doing well at university. Given uni is all I think about, I simply forgot to diet. I just eat normally and have stopped obsessing. The brain has responded by shrivelling in those areas and expanding the learning centres.
Psychologists advise making our goals broader. Make it a goal not to stop doing something but, rather, to create something new: find a passion, a hobby, and focus on having an exciting, fulfilling life. It may not work for everyone, but it did for me.