Improving Your Diet: why its hard, why patience and neuro-plasticity will help

‘Why do we eat food that creates trouble for us?’

We frequently create a nutritional culture based on how recipes make us feel in the short term. The meal size, the textures, and certainly the flavors, feel nourishing and efficiently banish hunger for at least a few hours. But unhealthy meals often make us denser, providing a strong feeling of fullness that can push away awareness of more subtle physical or emotional sensations.
This meal is like an antidepressant, and in fact, junk food alters brain chemistry along the same pathways that cocaine does. Our feelings of boredom or stress; feelings that we have given too much to others or that we deserve a treat for hard work or for dealing with difficult circumstances – these frequently make us reach for the sugar, fat and salt that successfully trigger our brains’ pleasure centers. Our brain is trained to place value on this experience. The numb feeling provides a nice distraction from the troubles. Real stress can be created when lose this distraction.

‘How does a person even know which meal is fulfilling the priorities of our health needs?’

Without any immediate food sensitivities in the body, the effects of diet on our health appear very slowly. In fact, the conventional wisdom that says steamed vegetables and fish is “healthier” than a bacon cheeseburger came from over a hundred years of scientific research looking into the food behaviors of tens of thousands of people. The immediate benefit of ‘healthy food’ is very difficult to perceive in an individual in a short span of time. Give an average, healthy person a fish and another person a cheeseburger, measure their vital signs then re-check in a few hours. Both would be absolutely fine. No wonder making the change is difficult. On a meal by meal basis one needs blood analysis to see any difference.

‘How does change happen?’

As we begin to make a diet change, we rely on our intellect to understand that our diet is not nourishing our health needs. We read or hear lectures about what foods foods are currently thought to be disease promoting or disease preventing. We frequently hear conflicting information as well, just to add to the difficulty. In the beginning, we simply do not have the direct experience of cause and effect. And of course there can be frequent feelings of guilt or even shame as our intellect is found to be insufficient to fight all the emotional energy around leaving the old ways behind.

But after a time a new feeling happens. We have more energy, our digestion improves, our bodies feel lighter and we work more efficiently. Symptoms of inflammation improve. Weight can be lost. As we experience the reality of cause and effect, our emotions change. Instead of placing value on the numbing, short term effect of unhealthy food, our minds learn a new way of perceiving value. This happens by a process scientists call neuro-plasticity, the ability of our minds to be reshaped by experience.

Our emotions now relate to time in a new way. The experience of feeling great over the course of several weeks outweighs the immediate gratification of numbness. We have changed the part of ourselves that responds to food from one that enjoys the break from feeling bored or stressed to the part that feels forward looking and healthy.

So the moral of the story is be patient and observe, your brain will handle the rest.