Practice, Changing the Brain, and Better Eating
An article about changing the brain (The brain set free by Laura Sanders, SCIENCE NEWS, 8/11/12) offers more evidence for some of my most persistent advice: If you want to eat differently, you have to keep practicing new behaviors. You can’t just do something a few times and decide you’re a failure. Practice changes your brain.
Before getting to how your brain changes with practice, here’s a description of how it begins laying down neural pathways in your earliest days. At first there is a rush of information into our newly formed brains. Slowly connections start to form and strengthen between nerve cells. “In time, these brain connections crystallize, forming indelible patterns” and “In a fully set brain, signals fly around effortlessly, making commonplace tasks short work” as the brain becomes “a master of efficiency” and what scientists called “petrified.” They talk about “The potential for this metamorphosis” as the brain having “the power to remake itself.” Still with me? Good.
Scientists have been learning about techniques that cam help this remaking process.
“Just two hours of playing a racing video game changed the structure of volunteers’ brains,” according to a study in the March 22 journal Neuron. Moreover, “Mindless video games actually make the brain sharper…The results, reported in May in Computers in Human Behavior, suggest that this kind of brain training reopens a window.”
Okay, science lesson over. What does this mean to you in terms of repetitive action? Research is telling us that our brains change according to what we do. As children, we’re running on instinct until we settle into routines which carve out neural pathways in our brains to make certain behaviors automatic. This is an evolutionary process: The folks who could do things automatically lived longer than those whose reactions weren’t quite so fast. The more behaviors that got set down, the better off they were.
If brains can be changed by two hours on a videogame, imagine what you could do to change your neural connections if you ate slowly, without distraction, chewed a lot, and tasted your food every meal? Just as it takes a baby quite a while to learn what she has to learn to live, it will take you quite a bit of practice to change all your eating habits. You could start by picking one, say, slowing down or eating without distraction, and doing it over and over. Eventually it will become habit. Speak to anyone who has overcome eating problems and they will tell you that they feel as if they have a new brain. That could happen to you if you practice enough.