Thinking Positive

Neuroscientists have discovered that if you want to break a  habit, stop trying to.

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.


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6 Responses to Thinking Positive

  1. susie walsh 12 May 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    Yep, definately, having a positive attitude and perspective achieves so much. Our human capacity is amazing if we only believe we can do something. Great article.

  2. Philip 21 April 2012 at 2:42 am #

    So if you do not look for it you will find it! Or in your case lose it the weight.

  3. nomadd 19 April 2012 at 10:59 am #

    People who are thin are born so, or are depending upon their heritage. In my case I have always been thin and I am the same weight as when I was 17 in England.
    Mostly I depend upon my parents heritage and my metabolism as I burn up fat when I sit still as my mind never rests, always thinking of other things and places, even when asleep.
    Although I have a moderate intake of food and don’t eat lunch since my retirement. I never snack or drink beverages throughout the day, only water from the tap.
    All my life I have hated vegetables and fresh fruit and never consume same. I only buy canned fruits as I the think it tastes much better than fresh.My favourite foods are good Rye bread, pasta, rice and fish and strong cheese.
    I also love eating Swiss chocolate in great amounts every week and adore Black Forest cake and Tirimusu cake.
    A habit I picked up in France is to eat chocolate and fresh bread for breakfast.
    Instead of cooking meals I often buy these packets of foreign meals which can be cooked on the microwave in 3 minutes, and I find them delicious.
    I never purchase fresh milk and have not done so for 20 years, instead I use powered milk, a packet lasts me two months. I find my tea, coffee and iced drinks taste just as good as in the cafes.
    My advice be happy whether you are fat or thin, who cares? Nevertheless, don’t eat large meals and don’t snack.

  4. Lucy 16 April 2012 at 11:47 pm #

    PS: Other family members, friends and peers have been bike riding huge distances – one in New Zealand recently and another in USA. There’s a huge interest in this sport and it’s one way to lose weight, but where is the line between weight loss and obsession? It seems to me the baby boomers who were into drugs in the 60’s are now obsessed at the other end trying to stave off mortality. Where’s the middle ground, I ask again. And I’d be interested in exploring the notion of ‘guilt’ and ‘redemption’ in this equation too!!

  5. Lucy 16 April 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    Oh God, if only it worked for me. Two of my sisters (one 53, the other 62) have become obsessive with diet and exercise. Both have lost truck-loads taking up their new love of (the first sister) another post-grad degree and bike riding, No.2 , riding from Sydney to Cairns (complete with kit and gear) and riding from one end of France to another. (What will happen to their knees and joints??). I don’t have that much energy and, besides, the younger one looks MUCH MUCH older given the drastic weight loss. I want a compromise, but nothing is happening right now. Oh dear..

  6. Katiep 15 April 2012 at 11:20 pm #

    Hey Ruth — it worked for me too. As a former obsessive dieter I love to hear when just ‘letting go’ results in effortless weight loss.

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