I love your book Eating Less, I’ve underlined or highlighted most lines on most pages. There’s one sub-heading that stands out more than anything else, and it is “Full of Excuses” in Chapter Five. I think of that so often because that’s exactly me, full of excuses. Any excuse to eat something. How do I stop coming up with every reason under the sun to eat and eat and eat? I’m often distracted by other things going on and don’t have time to question it. It just seems logical at the time.
For all of us humans, our extraordinary ability to think is our primary means of survival. We weren’t able to outrun other mammals or to fight them, but we have always been able to outthink them. We were the mammals who could dig a trench, camouflage it with branches and leaves, and wait for something nutritious to fall in. We were the mammals who could invent weapons, cooking and agriculture. Our opposable thumbs helped, but it was our ability to think that kept us on the planet.
You are asking about ‘addictive thinking’, and we can understand it better when we know that it’s a product of our brains’ survival system. Any addictive behaviour operates through this survival system, and this is what makes it so compelling; our brains are reacting as if our lives were at stake. Your brain thinks you might die if you don’t eat that cake, or whatever, so it releases dopamine to keep you focussed on the food and it gets to work on a strategy for obtaining that food in order to satisfy that desire.
In ancient times, the strategies we figured out to get food may have involved climbing trees, avoiding a pack of wolves or constructing a weapon. Nowadays, especially for those who try to control overeating, strategies tend to revolve around how we can get to eat something we regard as ‘off limits’.