I’m currently reaping the benefits of a low sugar month which I am doing in conjunction with my ’30 Day Habits’ group which I run in Facebook. I have a clearer head, better sleep, I’ve leaned up a little and my running feels better.
I have done this many times in my life, I’ve managed to break the sugar addiction and I always feel better for it. But then I go back.
Why is that?! Everything about life is better when I’m eating less sugar. Not only is my energy better, but I am more productive, calmer, my mood improves and I am a better communicator with those around me. Why wouldn’t I want to be like this always?
The same goes for other habits of health. Exercise, stretching, meditation and a good night’s sleep are all essential for optimal health and they make life feel good. But as with the diet, the good routine of these things comes and goes.
This is something that has fascinated me both in my life and in that of my patients.
We all know what’s good for us, so why don’t we do it?
After years of wondering, I think I have finally found the answer. It goes deep into how our brain developed.
Over the millennia, our brain’s primary focus has been to protect us from danger. Anything that seemed tough or scary was to be avoided, and this simple philosophy kept us alive.
The problem is, the predators of the plains, the famine, the poisonous mushrooms and the neighbouring warrior tribe are all distant remnants of our history.
Yet that deep part of our brain still kicks in if we perceive something to be difficult or scary. Our mind will always favour the easy option.
If the thought of setting the alarm to get to the gym before work sends a shiver down your spine, despite knowing you’ll feel great after, the primal brain will say, ‘nah, I’ll hit snooze, I’m much more comfortable in bed, thank you’.
If eating the low sugar diet initially gives you hunger pangs and cravings (which normally last a couple of weeks), then your mind will start whispering for you to reach for the biscuit tin.
If you want to be more flexible but haven’t stretched for months, your first time will hurt! And you guessed it, staying on the sofa instead of getting the yoga mat out can easily win the battle.
So what’s the point of this story? What can we do if our primal brain has such a hold over us?
Well, I personally find that just knowing this has helped me start new healthy habits.
When I feel the discomfort of a sugar craving or the alarm going off for an early workout, I notice the thoughts that follow.
I pay attention to the voices that say “go buy some chocolate”, or “hit snooze, missing one workout won’t matter”, and once I’ve noted them, I ignore them. I think, ‘ah, that’s just the primal brain trying to hold me back’.
I embrace the discomfort and do the ‘thing’ anyway. I always feel better for it!