I want to share with you my very favorite belief. This belief has helped me to have more compassion and understanding for myself and less blame and shame. It has allowed me to find and stand in the space of acceptance of myself, my choices and my actions which are my reality and is the most effective place to make changes from…are you ready?
The belief is this: It makes perfect sense.
Let me give you an example of how I have applied this in order to demonstrate what I mean.
Once upon a time I was a sugar addict. Well at least that is the label I gave myself that created instant shame, guilt and hopelessness. I loved sugar in every form – candy, cookies, cake, pie, donuts, soda, slurpees, fruit snacks, ice cream. I did not discriminate. If it was sweet and edible, I ate it. I went out of my way to eat it.
When I got married and had my own house, it was a sugar free for all. Many of my adult years looked like me eating a diet of mostly candy and treats, and some fast food mingled in – punctuated by spurts of me trying to lose weight or eat better and not eating as much or any sugar.
So the love of sugar persisted all my life and its constant companions were guilt and shame.
I don’t remember a single instance of me eating sugar where there wasn’t a little voice in the back of my head saying “you shouldn’t be eating this” or “sugar is so bad for you.” A lot of my sugar consumption was done in secret or in private because of this. I tried to hide from myself everywhere. I didn’t want anyone to know how much sugar I ate or how much I loved it and never wanted to admit it to myself.
I tried so hard to not want it, to not like it, to not eat it. I never succeeded for any significant amount of time – which just intensified the shame I felt – I couldn’t stop eating it, even if I tried as hard as I could…it never lasted.
How sugar affects you
Then one day I learned about what sugar actually does in my body and to my brain. I learned about the feel good neurotransmitters that are released when the sweet hits my tongue and the way that the insulin responds by flooding into my bloodstream to sweep the extra glucose into my cells to be stored as fat. And that my brain has evolved to drive me to seek out and find more sweet foods that create that flood of glucose because that is the energy currency of my body and energy is life sustaining.
“The Molecule of More” book has a great way of describing the Dopamine circuit that is involved in driving us to seek out more sugar and other life sustaining things.
“This dopamine circuit evolved to promote behaviors that lead to survival and reproduction, or, to put it more plainly, to help us get food and sex and win competitions. It’s the desire circuit that’s activated not by need but by the presence of something attractive from an evolutionary or life-sustaining standpoint. That is, at the moment such a thing is seen, the circuit is activated whether or not you’re hungry. That’s the nature of dopamine. It’s always focused on acquiring more of everything with an eye toward providing for the future. Hunger is something that happens here and now in the present. But dopamine says “Go ahead and eat the donut, even if you’re not hungry. It will increase your chance of staying alive in the future. Who knows when food will be available next? That made sense for our evolutionary ancestors, who lived most of their lives on the brink of starvation.”
So learning about how my brain evolved to respond to sugar, that is where my magical little belief was born…It makes perfect sense.
Rather than my old belief that was; something is wrong with me and I’m broken because I can’t stop eating sugar…it shifted to; it makes perfect sense that I think about and seek out and eat as much sugar as I can. It’s not that my brain and body are broken, it’s actually that they are working exactly as they are supposed to. My brain doesn’t discriminate…whether the source is berries or starburst…the result is the same – loads of energy in the form of glucose which is life-sustaining. That is what my brain and body are primarily concerned with. Surviving.
My rational brain knows that eating loads of candy can have a detrimental effect on my body…but my toddler or primitive brain…which is what drives my desire for sugar…it doesn’t think about the effects. It just thinks about what can be done now to promote my survival in the most basic ways.
Beating myself up about how much I loved and wanted sugar and couldn’t stop, just made me feel hopeless and frustrated. And when I feel hopeless and frustrated, what do I want? Sugar to make me feel better. And thus the cycle continued.
But once I started to understand how this was all working from an evolutionary and biological perspective…It made perfect sense. And instead of hopeless, I felt empowered. Instead of frustrated, I felt acceptance. Rather than “there’s nothing I can do” I was able to ask – what can I do? And from that curiosity, rather than judgment, I was able to find solutions for myself.
I have applied this in so many other places too. Like…it makes perfect sense that we go to food instead of feel. We’ve never been taught to feel, and our brains have evolved to avoid pain and seek pleasure. So if we feel uncomfortable emotions, our brain says – food will fix this. Food will make this better. And so we eat.
It makes perfect sense…
It makes perfect sense that we focus on our appearance and obsess over the wrongness of our bodies. We have been taught that there is a right body and that the appearance of our bodies is the most important aspect of our bodies and our identities.
It makes perfect sense that we worry about what other people think and try to fit in and to please and live some version of a perfect life that we think somehow exists somewhere. We evolved to be a part of a community – if we conform and fit in, our primitive brains equate that with safety. And safety is life-sustaining. That is why being accepted or acceptable feels so important and is such a strong motivator.
It makes perfect sense that you don’t want to plan or limit foods or that you eat off plan. Once again, eating is life sustaining so if your brain detects a threat to the ability to do that – even if it’s your own limitation, it will respond with strong urges to eat all the things to prepare for the famine. If your brain feels your freedom to eat what you want is being threatened, it will respond by trying to restore that freedom. If you have disconnected from your body in order to not feel uncomfortable emotions, you will not want to plan ahead for fear of not having food when you need it to escape.
It makes perfect sense that you don’t know when to stop or don’t know how to listen to fullness cues. When our insulin system is constantly on alert for floods full of glucose…our whole digestive hormone system gets out of whack. The hunger hormones that tell us when to eat are constantly signaling and the fullness hormones that tell us when we’ve had enough are suppressed…and so of course we are eating all the time and not stopping. And we have also learned to delegate outside of us what and how much we should eat. We follow meal plans or gurus or fitness food apps that tell us that so we have no idea how to tune into our own bodies for that information.
In most of these situations-we fight against reality and berate ourselves and create guilt and shame storms that just drive us to treat our bodies even worse.
That is why I love “It makes perfect sense”- it helps me look for the reason this might be happening or just might be, and from that more rational place, I can move through understanding to solutions.
If it feels hard for you to get there at first because you are so used to just being mean and intolerant and giving yourself a hard time…you can start with turning this belief into a question.
Sometimes questions feel like the softer version of the belief – so when something goes sideways, or you notice a pattern or a habit that isn’t really serving your goals but you are not sure how to change, ask: How does this make sense? And see if you can work backwards to figure it out. You’ll have to be open minded and willing to really see the reason. You don’t have to like the reason or think it’s a “good” reason. You just want to be able to look for it.
The goal is awareness and eventual understanding. I know for some reason we think that intolerance and punishment is the way to change. But when we can come to some understanding with ourselves as to why we do what we do – that is the path to real change.
That is how we begin to open up to solutions and do things differently.
Ok everyone. Look more closely this week at your choices and see if you can see how it makes perfect sense and start to find some solutions for you.
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