Why do we desire food when we aren’t hungry?
I have struggled with my weight for most of my adult life. I white knuckled my way through ALL. THE. DIETS. Joined the trendy program and for a few weeks or months cracked down from a place of misery and deprivation and lost a few pounds, only to gain it all back and then some when I went back to my normal routine. Rinse. Repeat.
When I joined life coach training and learned about urges, it was like my brain suddenly cracked open. Nowhere in any of those other diet plans did anyone ask me what was causing my urge for donuts in the first place. They were all focused on the external…aka the food… instead of hey let’s take a look at what you are feeling and what that food is trying to replace. Instead, they just handed me some rice cakes and said here, be miserable while you gnaw on this. Learning to manage my urges around food has had the most measurable impact on my weight and overall life. This is why I am so passionate about helping other women lose weight, because when you discover a secret you want to shout it from the rooftops, and frankly my friends are sick of hearing about it from me.
I am a social drinker, I enjoy wine or margaritas out with friends but I don’t drink at home in daily life. This is not a rule I put in place, there is always booze in my liquor cabinet, it just doesn’t ever occur to me to drink it. During the early days of the lockdown I was on a zoom call with friends and they all raised a glass to toast and I didn’t have a drink in front of me. They all said Oh my god Jen, how are you not drinking your way through this? And my answer was that it simply hadn’t occurred to me. It was then I had an aha moment, because I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to think about food the way I do alcohol, which is to say it just doesn’t occur to me?
Because the thing that was occurring to me on an hourly basis was hey you should make a pineapple upside down cake (even though the kids don’t even like it) and eat the whole thing! And pancakes, cookies, biscuits and gravy, banana bread… Sound familiar?
Imagine getting to a place where the urge for sugar or carbs simply doesn’t exist anymore. Where you have no thoughts about the cake, so you no longer need willpower or extra effort to resist it. Learning how to manage your urges is the way.
caveman vs badass brain
Our unintentional loop (caveman brain) looks something like this:
Thought- I want/need/deserve this! Gimme cupcake!
Action- Eat cupcake
Result- Overweight and ashamed. Rinse. Repeat
Our new, intentional loop (badass brain) looks like this:
Cue- cupcake *same
Thought- I want/need/deserve this! Gimme cupcake! *same
Feeling- Urge *same
Action– PAUSE HERE. 3Ns
Result- Slim & confident. Rinse. Repeat.
*NOTE! In the 1st scenario, your human brain is doing exactly as it was designed to do, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It wants you on the couch, under a blanket with a pint of ice cream! Why does this matter? Because it means there is nothing wrong with you! You are not weak or lacking discipline because you have an urge to eat a donut. Your biology evolved for you to desire and eat that donut. So, you can put away all the shit-talk and self-judgment knowing that you are not broken, you are just a totally normal human being doing what evolution wants us to do. You just have to retrain your brain to create new, better patterns!
The 3 Ns
So how do we move out of caveman brain into badass in that all important pause between feeling the urge and eating the cupcake? By using a little tool I call the 3Ns: Notice, Narrate, and Navigate.
Notice: Put your eyeballs on it! Simply pause and say Oh there it is, I’m having an urge. Awareness of our emotions is the most powerful way to manage them. Name it to claim it.
Narrate: Write it down! Journal what is going on around you, your feelings (stress, boredom?) and uncover your patterns and triggers. Make like a scientist and gather data.
Navigate: Go around the urge! In the beginning our goal is to simply disrupt it. Breathe deeply, count your fingers and toes, bring your brain out of emotional hijacking to a place of calm neutrality. None of us make good decisions when our caveman is in charge!
Be the watcher of your mind and observe from a neutral place (NO Judge Judy!) to simply pause and reflect on what is happening. Many of us get mad at ourselves for feeling an urge, so in effect we are now having feelings about our feelings and then engage in all sorts of manufactured drama and mental gymnastics. Instead, come from a place of curiosity and look at your beautiful human mind with fascination, so there is no room for judgment. All our shitty self-talk leads us to shitty results, so why not try something new for a change?
My focus on managing urges is as it relates to food, overeating, and weight loss, but this work can be applied across the spectrum. We all know someone who struggles with overdrinking/alcohol, shopping, gambling, porn, or even the urge to constantly scroll social media; all of which can feel compulsive and outside our control. Creating awareness is the change agent we all need to learn to manage our minds and put our badass brain in the driver’s seat.