As I’m sitting here eating a banana on national doughnut day… I am a little sick to my stomach…
Not from the banana… from the culture of obesity that is reaffirmed every day.
To be straightforward, I don’t like doughnuts anymore- they were once one of my favorite “foods”. Although this article may be unfair and biased, I hope my point is clear. We have created a culture of obesity in the United States. Not only do we encourage poor health choices, poor health choices are celebrated, glorified, promoted and standardized as part of daily life.
Turn on any media and there is an advertisement for manufactured “food”, alcohol, prescription drugs, “health” supplements and the list goes on.
Drive down the road and the lines of businesses promoting and selling poor health is overwhelming.
Manufactured holidays that promote candy, food, alcohol and overindulgence occurs monthly.
The rising health care costs, the massive obesity figures and decreasing health stats are real… the struggle to make healthy changes is real… the idea our culture is set up to fail is real.
I didn’t want a doughnut today… because really, I don’t like them anymore… but when I see an available doughnut, I want it without even thinking about it. It’s been over an hour and I am still thinking about it. I didn’t ask to be triggered today. I didn’t put myself in any position to see a poor food choice today. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary today… but I still have to fight over 30 years of habits so I don’t eat a doughnut I don’t even want…
Maybe I’ve lost you by now or maybe you stopped reading by now but let me see if I can explain what I mean with a real world example.
Client A has been struggling with their weight and life choices for many years now. They know they need to make a change. They even want to make a change. Their goals have been set and an action plan is in place. They have been exercising for a couple weeks and slowly modifying the foods (and the amount) they eat. They have no restrictions to what they can or can’t have, but they know reducing processed foods is something they need and want to do… mainly because they feel better after eating real food, but the nutritional aspects is a big reason why as well.
Today is a typical day at work. It’s early afternoon when they walk into the breakroom and someone brought birthday cake… Client A had no intention of eating. They weren’t hungry when they walked into the room and there was no indication anything would be out of the ordinary. They see the cake. They know it is a trigger for them so they walk out of the room right away to avoid seeing, thinking and possible eating a piece of the cake. Crisis averted… right?
Unfortunately, no. The stage has been set for relapse.
With every action, there is a system our brain goes through whether we are conscious of the process of not.
In this scenario, the trigger is a piece of cake. Maybe Client A likes cake. Maybe they associate cake with positive feelings. Maybe they just see food and now think they need to consume it because it is there. I don’t know yet and really, it doesn’t matter. The reason why doesn’t stop the trigger from occurring. The process has been set into motion.
Client A now has to make a decision. Complete the habit loop by consuming the piece of cake. (They most likely haven’t stopped thinking about the cake since they saw it… it is likely to be turning into an obsessive thought loop which is causing an internal conversation and deep negotiation inside their head.)
Client A can replace the action of eating a piece of cake with a different action. Maybe they decide to take a walk or maybe they choose a different food or maybe they bury their head in the sand… once the trigger begins, there must be an action taken or the internal conversation and negotiation will go on.
Once the action to eat the cake is complete, the habit loop will be complete. The closure might be the taste of the cake, the chemical reaction of the sugar, the positive feelings associated with the consumption of the cake… it is not important what the reward is, but that there is a reward for the action.
If the reward does not satisfy the individual, an additional search for satisfaction will occur and the possibility Client A has a second piece of cake is likely. Do to the law of diminishing return, the second piece will be less satisfying and will leave the client searching for more which could in turn cause additional binge eating of the cake or a search for something external to fill the reward void within the individual.
If Client A does have the mindfulness to take a different action other than eating the piece of cake, there must be a strong enough reward to make up for the reward gap for not eating the cake. Very similar to the example above, the individual will search for a reward after an action until they are satisfied with the outcome.
(In order for Client A to change course and create a different action, they must first be aware of the trigger and the need to take a different action. If there is no awareness, the habit of mindless eating of the piece of cake will occur which will leave satisfaction or regret. In essence, this will trigger an additional habit loop.)
The importance of understanding the cause behind the action is as important as the action itself. Triggers are all around us… anything that touches our senses, emotions, chemical responders, environment, etc. can affect how we think, feel and act in a predetermined way whether we are conscious of our actions or not.
One of the most beneficial techniques I use is journaling actions. We are looking for not only the actions, but the triggers for the actions and the rewards that follow. The laws of the universe say there is always a cause for an action and an effect of the action taken… To change the actions we take, we must learn why we do what we do and what we are searching for as a result of the actions we take.