Two Science-based Keys to Eating Success
In terms of proving why it’s important to eat mindfully and without distractions, this blog may be the most important one you’ll ever read. For years, experts have been telling you to eat with focused attention, which means, at least while you’re learning to become a “normal” eater, not doing anything else while you’re eating. Now we know why failing to do so hinders behavioral change and why following that advice generates success.
In Grow your mind: the truth about how to boost your brain’s performance (NEWSWEEK, 1/10-1/17/11), science reporter Sharon Begley explains how the brain grows. She begins by stating that “…attention is almost magical in its ability to physically alter the brain and enlarge functional circuits,” then details the results of an experiment in which one set of monkeys focuses exclusively on learning a task and the other half learns the task while receiving other sensory input. No surprise—only the first set of monkeys had expansion in the task-learning region of the brain.
Moreover, there is real science behind the age-old wisdom to stay positive, always tell yourself “I can,” and never say “I can’t.” Begley advises us that dopamine, the neurotransmitter that produces motivation and feeling rewarded, is boosted by “simply believing that you’ll do well.” Having faith that you can become a “normal” eater (or do anything else) releases dopamine in your brain which increases confidence and motivation. This evidence answers the question of why you need to fake it til you make it— because thinking positively is a physical precursor to positive change.
And, finally, science tells us that repetition works. “The more you use a circuit,” says Begley, “the stronger it gets. As a result, a skill you focus and train on improves, and even commandeers more neuronal real estate, with corresponding improvements in performance.” Every time you practice one of the rules of “normal” eating, you are actually creating and strengthening neural pathways in your brain. Which is why the more times you do something, the more likely (and automatically) you’ll do it again.
If you are serious about recovery from food problems, doing two things will move you farther along in improving your relationship with food than any other strategies. First, eat without distraction, at least during the learning phase of “normal” eating, until you’re following appetite rules automatically for several months. Second, continue positive self-talk no matter how down you feel, how frustrated you are, or whatever perceived food mistakes you’ve made. Science did the research. It’s up to you to put it into practice.