Having a high IQ is not going to save you from overeating and having a low IQ doesn’t doom you to it. How much we eat and what we eat are tied to the evolutionarily much older part of our brain. That “caveman” part of the brain says, “When should I eat? Anytime food is available of course!” What should I eat? The highest fat, densest calories food available, clearly!” And that was great when we were trying to survive on the Serengeti. But if you’re reading this I can safely assume you aren’t struggling to get enough calories. Intellectually we KNOW a healthier diet is a good idea. But when it comes to DOING it, well that’s a challenge.

We talk a lot about this subject and how to overcome it in the How to Feed a Human master class. But today I wanted to give you a few things you can think about that might help you make better food choices:

Who or what is controlling what you choose to eat? Sometimes it’s a spouse who does the shopping and cooking. Sometimes it’s what the kids will eat. Sometimes it’s just what you have “time” for. Sometimes it’s habit and sometimes it’s emotions. Taking the time to consider what is influencing your food choices it a great step in the right direction.

Which emotions are the most likely to cause you to make a poor choice?For some people negative emotions (sadness, anger, frustration, etc) are triggers. For others, celebration, happiness and excitement are reasons to eat. There is also a group of people who eat for both reasons. Which camp do you fall into?   

When you emotionally eat, what do you choose? This is likely one of two things; salt and fat or sugar and fat, maybe both and usually packaged with highly processed carbs. Super easy to eat A LOT of without thinking or feeling full. Know your devil and you’re more likely to be able to avoid him.

When do you Pavlovian eat (ie out of habit)? We all have habits that tell us to eat when we aren’t hungry. Times of day, TV shows, social events, activities. What queues trigger your mindless eating?

When you Pavlovian eat, what do you choose? I’m going to guess stuff that’s pretty similar to the emotional eating example. If you happen to be choosing brussels sprouts or legumes, carry on. Otherwise, something to consider.

Self-awareness is key to catching mindless eating. But just because you KNOW a healthy choice doesn’t mean you’ll choose it. Following a “food plan” or diet sounds like a grand idea when you feel good. But those high hopes often go out the window under stress, disappointment or unhappiness.

Instead of trying to bully yourself into healthy eating, try this: Make a note (preferably in writing) when you eat for a reason other than being hungry (you’ll have to be honest with yourself and actually know what hunger feels like). Write down what you ate, how you felt before you ate it and how you felt after. If you have any insight into why you chose the thing you did (I always eat x when I feel y or it reminds me of my grandma’s kitchen, etc), make note of that as well. Over time you’ll start to see a pattern of you emotional and Pavlovian eating; which will allow you to start thinking about your choice before it gets to your stomach.

Too many of us are perpetually on a diet. If we aren’t actively dieting we feel like we should be. Diets are a losing venture (pun intended). Most of them will cause weight loss (or it wouldn’t be a “diet”) but none of them are sustainable. There is no way humans are meant to count calories or points or macro and micro nutrients for the rest of our lives. It won’t work. But if you diet, as soon as you stop, the weight comes back and brings friends.

How about if we make a pact to stop dieting and start eating? If we start paying attention to what we eat, when we eat and why we eat, we can make choices that taste good, make us feel full and nourish our bodies, while treating treats as treats, processed “food” like the junk it is and things that cause metabolic disease (heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) as not-food at all. Then we will have the freedom to live happier, healthier lives and stop worrying about overeating.

Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.