Basic human needs include;

  • Food
  • Water
  • Oxygen
  • Shelter
  • Comfort

This comfort comes in the form of physical and psychological (emotional).

Your primal instincts will drive you to seek these out. You can hold your breath, but only for so long because your body needs oxygen so eventually you will gasp. It’s a reflex. The same goes when you are feeling any sort of discomfort – your body will respond instinctively to relieve this discomfort.

Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize winner and he wrote a book called ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’. I love this book because it explains so much about human behaviour. In the book, he explains how we have a higher and a lower level brain function.

Your higher-level brain function is rational, contemplative, effortful, conscious and slow. It’s designed to support your best interests. It analyses information and comes up with possible solutions, but this takes time.

Your lower level brain function is instinctive, effortless, reactive, non-conscious and fast. It’s designed to support survival. You don’t want to be slow and methodical when you are about to be eaten by a Sabre-toothed tiger, so it makes instant decisions causing you to act without thinking. The reactions are based on previous experiences and memories.

Why am I telling you this?

Well think about it – if you are experiencing any discomfort (whether its physical or psychological) your lower level brain function kicks into survival mode and you react automatically (without thinking and without any real effort) in order to relieve that discomfort.

In our modern world this discomfort is not because we are threatened by a Sabre-toothed tiger, it’s often due to stress, feeling tired, anxious or down and the most readily available thing in our habitat that provides instant relief is….food! Particularly high calorie, high sugar, high fat, highly processed and addictive food. These foods are etched into our brains so we instinctively sniff them out.

Our higher-level brain knows that this isn’t the right thing to do but it’s too slow, your lower level brain has already acted. And when your higher-level brain finally catches up, you think more rationally and then feelings of guilt, remorse and hopelessness come flooding in.

The more we resort to things like food, alcohol and drugs, the stronger the neurological pathways in our brain become so our memory of it is enhanced and next time you are feeling any discomfort – it happens even more instinctively.

You end up flying on autopilot, wondering why you can’t show more self control!

The food industry takes full advantage of this and that’s why these highly addictive ‘comfort’ foods are everywhere!

How do you overcome this?

  1. Firstly, slow down! Let your rational brain catch up so it can help you make decisions that better serve you.
  2. Practice self-awareness and recognise when you are experiencing physical or psychological discomfort. What preceded the event? How can you avoid or minimise it? How else can you manage it? What is making you feel this way?
  3. Remove these substances from your environment – it’s just a matter of time until you are feeling stressed, tired, anxious or down and you will subconsciously be reaching for it so keep them away!