“How’s That Working For You?”

The Dr. Phil show debuted on September 16, 2002. I hadn’t been sober even two months when I let Phil’s southern drawl and no-nonsense approach to therapy seep into my consciousness on a daily basis. As a huge fan of Oprah, I had become familiar with him through her show, but it was exciting to come home at the end of each day knowing that my PVR held his wisdom inside. I heeded his advice regularly in my own life and I devoured several of his books. He spoke to me the way I like to be spoken to; straight and to the point.

Over the years, I stopped watching his show. It got a little too “Jerry Springer-esque” for me, and as I grew out of my infancy stage in early sobriety and felt more solid in my footing, I sought out other teachers, mentors and activities that served me well during that next phase of my life.

But I will always have a soft spot for him and his wife, Robin. I just feel like they are really good people, you know? Plus, I am a big fan of the accent. And the “Dr. Philisms”; his classic expressions that make perfect sense and yet make you laugh out loud at the same time.

And it helped that he came from an alcoholic father.

Phil spoke openly about the way addiction affected his life, and he made the choice early on not to drink. Ever. His father was also a psychiatrist, and Phil had tremendous respect for him, but he experienced the impact alcohol had on the family, and he refused to go down the same road. I liked that about him. I admired the fact that he knew he was at risk from a genetic perspective and so he never messed with alcohol. And in those early days of sobriety–when I felt naked and raw and vulnerable–I’d watch that show and see him reach for Robin’s hand as they exited the stage, and I’d think, “Now there’s a couple who’ve got a great life. They love their work and they love their family and they talk at dinner and they play games and they have fun and they never drink a single drop of alcohol.”

And I’d think, “If they can do it, maybe, one day, I will be able to do it, too.”

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

If you’ve also watched the show, you’ll know that one of Phil’s famous questions has always been, “So, how’s that working for you?”. It typically comes out when a guest is defending their behaviour and reminding Phil of why they won’t be able to do the thing that Phil is suggesting they do.

Because it’s all just too hard to change.

In that moment, when Dr. Phil asks that question, people tend to stop and think for a second. And I’d always get a little thrill right before they answered, wondering if the lightbulb would go on or not. When I’d hear them answer, “Well…I guess it’s not…”, I’d feel so much pride in that person, knowing that “today is a changing day” for them, as Phil would say. They’d all of a sudden realize that the only way out of this thing was to acknowledge that what they’d been doing was not working–the way they’d been handling things was not serving them–and they realized they’d have to make changes or else things would continue on, producing the same results in their lives.

Seems so simple, doesn’t it? Don’t like something about your life? Just change it!!

So why do we have so much trouble changing things when they aren’t working for us? There are several factors, not the least of which is the fact that humans are creatures of habit. We do what we know because we have created neural pathways–those “easy buttons” in our brains–that make our lives simpler in many ways (take your morning commute, for example–you don’t even have to think about the way to go anymore; it’s just automatic). But inertia, or “a tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged”, holds us back from making the changes we want to make even if we know they are good for us.

This resistance to change reminds me of the saying,”If nothing changes, nothing changes”.

And it’s true.

We can find ourselves complaining about the way things are in our lives and yet we tend not to change the things we need to change in order to get different results.

And if we go on complaining about the way things are, and yet we simultaneously choose to do absolutely nothing differently (except complain louder or more frequently or to more people) then we are living proof that we are completely insane. Because according to Einstein, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

Yet, how many of us do this EVERY DAY? We are frustrated with the way things are and yet we keep repeating the same behaviours over and over again.

We can certainly see this behaviour in any area of our lives, but when it comes to our health, it’s almost par for the course.

I know I’ve been guilty of it.

I have eaten all the junk food and watched all the TV and stayed up waaaay too late and skipped the gym and then looked in the mirror and criticized my body.

Insane.

But here’s the truth.

We can change. At any point in time, we are allowed to change and we can do things differently. 

But there’s also more to the story.

There is another reason we so often fail, especially with food and exercise. Along with being creatures of habit, our bodies are constantly trying to maintain a state of equilibrium–known as homeostasis–which means that we resist even small changes to our heart rate, metabolism, body temperature and respiration.

One way to hack our natural inclination to “do nothing” is to set up cues that encourage us to stick with the changes we want to make. For example, if eating healthy and working out are lifestyle changes you want to make, try ridding your fridge and pantry of junk food and only buy healthy food when you grocery shop. This way, if you crave junk food, the effort it will take to get it becomes a barrier that will encourage you to eat the apple or the salad rather than the chips or the cookies. Likewise, if you lay your gym clothes and shoes out the night before, plan the workout you will do and set your alarm, you will be less likely to hit “snooze” when your alarm goes off.

And we can’t just choose these behaviours once or twice and expect results. If we want to truly see the changes we say we want, then the best way to combat inertia is to persistently do the thing you resist doing; keep avoiding the junk food aisle so you keep eating good food; keep laying out the gym clothes so that you keep hitting the gym. Over time, you can create new neural pathways that support your desired result.

Our Old Brains

But there’s even more to the story. Compelling research helps us understand what’s going on in our brains so that we can understand why we crave the way we do.

When it comes to food, our brains have a stronghold over us, and changing our food habits–creating new neural pathways–is not for the faint of heart. We are hardwired to crave the high calorie foods we crave and we are genetically programmed to eat the way we are eating. In Stephan Guyenet’s book, The Hungry Brain, he explains that when we were hunter-gatherers, calories were not classified as “healthy” or “unhealthy”; “good” or “bad”. They were weighted by how calorie-dense they were, and we’d make choices to obtain them based on the amount of time and effort (hence, calorie-expenditure) it took to find them. For example, it’s just not worth the effort to eat low calorie leaves (our modern day salad) when our energy (calories) could be spent following a bee to a hive where we’d find high calorie honey that we’d drink by the litre. Our very survival depended on our ability to make these economic decisions, and yet our brains made them subconsciously.

In today’s fast-paced world, where we see high calorie foods on every corner, our old brains get excited because the effort it takes to obtain the food source (by driving to a carry-out window or dialing a number to have someone bring it to us) is nominal compared to the caloric benefit we receive, and so we eat more calories than we can ever possibly expend; hence the reason we gain weight. A green salad just doesn’t give us the same caloric benefit, and so we don’t find ourselves craving it, even if it’s as easy to obtain as a greasy cheeseburger.

So what can we do? A good first step towards making better decisions for our health is simply having this awareness, and, from there, we can begin to rewire our old brains in order to make decisions that serve our greater good.

But I realize we need more than awareness. For many of us, we need tools and strategies and accountability and support. In my Sugar Freedom eCourse, we don’t rid our lives of sugar; we create new habits and attitudes around food, and we begin to develop a lifestyle we want to be living (including all the foods we want to eat). If this speaks to you, I invite you to visit the website for more information.

It's All In Your Head

In his book, Guyenet also shares that members of the Hadza tribe–one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes in existence–all admit to feeling hungry much of the time. Food is the fuel our bodies run on and if we didn’t feel hunger, we wouldn’t seek out the fuel we need to stay alive. The truth is, humans aren’t designed to constantly feel full or even satisfied; we are meant to experience the true feeling of hunger. But in today’s world, we resist that feeling, equating it with dieting, suffering and deprivation.

In our own lives, we can try paying more attention to our hunger in order to increase our awareness and change our habits. We can decide if we are truly hungry or if we are simply craving food because we see it or smell it or think about eating it. It’s also common for us to crave particular foods when we’re in a particular venue–like a movie theatre or restaurant–or at certain times of the day. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t eat when we are hungry; but we can learn a lot about our true nature by exploring our feelings–including the sensations–around real versus perceived, or habitual, hunger. Practicing this habit has made a huge impact on my food choices and intake.

Another way we can rewire our brains is by being future-oriented. Guyenet explains that by valuing our future self over our present self, we can make choices now that will impact us later. We see this in retirement planning where we sacrifice or make choices today that are designed to benefit our future selves, and it can serve us in our relationship with food, as well. When we can visualize ourselves obtaining our future goal (say, fitting into an outfit we like) rather than enjoying the immediate reward of eating the junk food now, we can begin to bypass our tendency towards inertia and rewire our old brains.

Try it in your own life: When you are craving junk food, visualize yourself in a favourite outfit, and really try to put yourself into the scene using as many senses as possible. When we truly visualize something, our brains can begin to believe it’s true, so this practice can serve us well when we are struggling with making choices that are difficult to make (yet we know are good for us).

In my work, when people want to make changes, I regularly suggest choosing just one thing to focus on. If we choose only one thing, we can tend to have a better chance at sticking to it. Then, once we see the benefits of that one thing, we begin to feel more confident that we can make more positive choices, which helps us create the lifestyle we want; one made up of a string of healthy habits. 

My Experience

In my own life, I have struggled with getting enough sleep, and yet I know the impact sleep has on my food cravings (and myriad other health issues). Over the last several months, Roger and I have prioritized our sleep. We make sure we get to bed as early as we can, and we aim for 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. It doesn’t always happen, but it is a goal we try hard to meet.

We had also gotten into the habit of eating out. We typically only ate out once every few weeks, but it was starting to become a more common occurrence, which affected our physical health as well as our financial health. So, once we’d gotten into a better habit with the sleep, it was easier to work on the food (plus, I wasn’t too tired to cook!). We have made a collective goal of not eating out more than 3 times between now and Christmas, and so far we’ve been successful.

We are also back into a regular fitness routine. The last year has been extremely busy and we stopped carving out an hour for the gym each day. Instead, we’d do quick (like, 15-20 minute) workouts in our home gym or else rely on a walk outside. It’s not enough. Not for us. We want to see more dramatic results in our levels of fitness, and we realize that it doesn’t happen by simply wishing for it. We have worked with a trainer and are now on our way to getting closer to where we want to be strength- and conditioning-wise. 

And we are practicing more mindfulness when it comes to eating. We are making sure we take time to truly enjoy our meals, rather than wolfing them down at our desks. We are taking a moment before we eat to practice gratitude for the food we are about to eat. We are feeling truly, deeply grateful for the quality of nutrition we are putting into our bodies. We remind ourselves of how blessed we are to live where we live, with access to healthy, nutrient-dense food that provides our bodies with the energy it needs to fuel our lives.

10 Tips To Inspire You

So, if you want to make some positive changes to your health, what are some ways you can begin to resist the brain’s natural tendency towards inertia?

Here are 10 ideas that might inspire you:

  1. Drink water. It’s free, easy and will immediately curb your cravings, boost your mood, increase your energy levels and reduce brain fog. Even a 2% drop in hydration can seriously affect your health.
  2. Don’t visit the coffee shop today. Skip it and enjoy more water.
  3. Ban liquid Sugar. Swap all sugary drinks like pop, sweet coffee drinks and energy drinks for–you guessed it–water. 🙂
  4. Double a dinner recipe so you have leftovers. For quick and easy inspiration, find loads of recipes in my book or else my favourite, The Detoxinista. Having leftovers means you can take your lunch to work and avoid restaurants.
  5. Make and eat soup. Soup can pack a ton of nutrition without the strong veggie taste, making it ideal for picky eaters and kids alike. I shared an easy leek soup and an easy carrot & ginger soup on my blog, but anything goes where soup’s concerned!
  6. Eat vegetables like your health depends on it…because it does. We absolutely need to eat our vitamins and minerals and there is no place like the produce aisle to find them! Try a new vegetable every week and vary your veggies to ensure you get all your vitamins.
  7. Prioritize protein. You already know this is HUGE for boosting metabolism, managing our weight and killing sugar cravings. Make sure that every time you eat, you see protein on your plate.
  8. Maximize your sleep. We talked about it a few weeks ago and you can start…tonight. Plan to go to bed even just 30 minutes earlier than you normally do and see how you feel in the morning.
  9. Reduce your stress. Whenever you feel stressed, try breathing deeply (I will be sharing some cool research on breathing in an upcoming post, but for now, try Dr. Weil’s technique: Breathe IN for 4 seconds. HOLD for 8 seconds. Breathe OUT for 7 seconds. Do this several times. This technique can also help you fall asleep.
  10. Move your body. You don’t need a gym membership to move more. Simply do some light stretches before you get out of bed. Or, if you normally take the elevator at work, get off 2 flights early and walk the stairs. Every week, you can make a goal of adding a floor. Or park farther from the door (my father used to circle the parking lot for 5 minutes looking for a closer spot!!). Seek out ways to move more–not less–and you will be amazed at how much better you feel.
  11. BONUS TIP: I couldn’t complete this list without talking a little more about sugar. 🙂
    Cut the sugar. Not ALL sugar. But try cutting back on the refined sugar you eat. Continue to enjoy fruits and complex carbohydrates like vegetables, brown rice, oatmeal, etc., but make a conscious choice to avoid as much added sugar as you possible can. This is the kind of sugar that raises your blood sugar and then sees you crashing right back down. It’s also at the heart of the obesity epidemic and is a leading cause of Type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The Bottom Line

I often ask myself Dr. Phil’s question when things aren’t flowing in my life. I realize that whenever I’m not happy with the way things are, the only person who can change them is me. But it’s also beneficial to understand how our brains are wired so that we can develop some strategies to combat our tendency to do nothing.

Remember, you are always, always allowed to change. If you, too, have fallen into some habits that aren’t serving you, then there is only ONE person who can turn things around. And you don’t have to wait one more minute.

You can start RIGHT NOW.

When it comes to our food, it’s good to remind ourselves that craving calories isn’t a character defect but, rather, a carefully crafted survival mechanism developed over millions of years. While inertia will constantly want to pull us back, having this awareness and using the strategies we’ve discussed here are powerful first steps towards making a change.

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

P.S. Are you frustrated with food, your body or your health? What change will you make–today–to help you combat inertia?

P.P.S. Speaking of health, on April 21 & 22, 2018, Roger and I, along with our team, are hosting The Healthy Brain and Body Show for the second year. We are so pumped to bring this show back even bigger and better! We would love to see you there as an attendee, where we will have so much cool stuff to show you. We can't wait to explore, connect, learn and shop at the show WITH you! Please say hello if you come. Roger and I will both be there the entire weekend. It would be a thrill to meet you. 🙂

And if you--or someone you know--might be interested in being an Exhibitor with us, feel free to send them here where they can view/download the Exhibitor/Sponsor Package. Note that we have SOLD OUT of Sponsorship spots and we are over 50% sold out of booths!

We can't WAIT to serve you, so remember to save the date! 

P.P.P.S. Let’s be friends! I’d love to connect on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. Plus, if you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you should! That way, you won’t miss anything. For joining, you get my personal meal plan, shopping list, and a week’s worth of easy, tasty recipes. http://sarahtalksfood.com/

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