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Apr 13

Why Eating Healthy During Change Is Hard

Eating During Change Kat Rentas

When big changes occur in your life, it can feel difficult to adapt your eating habits to the new circumstances.

It’s incredibly common for me to speak with women who have had trouble adjusting their eating choices around new routines.

If this sounds familiar to you, know that this is totally natural.

In fact, there are specific reasons why this is happening to you.

There is a method to the madness when it comes to managing your eating habits during times of change.

In this article, I’m going to discuss why change is so difficult for us.

And how we can learn to embrace change so our eating habits don’t take a back seat.

Let’s get into it.

Our Brains Hate Change

Hating change isn’t a choice we make as humans. 

It’s a primitive reaction that all of the humans experience.

Your cerebellum, or primitive brain, is conditioned to avoid anything that’s unfamiliar to it.

We are hard-wired to resist anything that feels unsure or uncertain.

The reasoning for this is simple.

Your brain knows that it can keep you alive when it is familiar with its surroundings.

All it cares about is keeping you alive.

And it knows that everything you’ve ever done up until this point has kept you safe.

So, if you try and change anything in your life, it will panic.

It will trigger the same stress-survival response as if it was being attacked in the wild. 

While this sounds a bit silly, it’s very true.

It’s the reason why change feels dramatic and overbearing.

Your brain is conditioned to make you believe that you are in real danger when changes occur.

For you, this might come up in thoughts such as:

  • “I don’t know what’s going to happen”
  • “I wish things were the same as before”
  • “I’m afraid of what’s possible”

This method of thinking isn’t conscious.

This is totally due to your primitive brain sending you survival thoughts on repeat.

Your pre-frontal cortex is where you’re capable of doing your higher-level of thinking.

This is your decision making brain where you’ll plan for your future.

When change and uncertainty come up for you, your decision-making brain doesn’t react first.

Your primitive survival brain is quicker to act.

Meaning, you can logically know that change is necessary and safe for you.

But, your primitive brain will cause you to panic and feel fear almost immediately regardless.

Which can lead you to indulge in overeating to numb those negative emotions.

Path of Least Resistance 

Your brain will always choose the path of least resistance.

Our minds operate according to the motivational triad.

This means our brains are always seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, and being efficient.

It will do what it can to keep change from occurring. 

Meaning your brain will think thoughts that cause you to experience fear, panic, or the general feeling that “something has gone wrong”. 

Which is why we think we hate change.

Most of us will want to react to those negative emotions by numbing them.

The most common way to numb negative emotions is through overeating.

If this sounds familiar to you, know nothing has gone wrong.

The fact that you hate change means your brain is doing its job. 

Those feelings you get in response to change are the easiest for your brain to produce.

This is the path of least resistance.

Now, many of you might be thinking, “How is hating change and feeling panic the path of least resistance? How is that easier?”.

Think about it like this.

Have you ever wanted to eat healthy so badly and change your ways?

Only to end up sabotaging your success? 

Here’s what’s actually happening here:

  • You decide to plan your meals and eat healthier. You feel good in your decision and know that this time you’ll follow through.
  • As the week goes on, you start having thoughts like, “I’m not someone who eats healthy”, “I can’t be trusted to eat healthy”, or “I don’t know what I’m doing”. This causes you to feel crippling self-doubt.
  • Because you feel self-doubt, which doesn’t feel good, you eventually overeat to numb the feeling. You self-sabotage your healthy eating progress.
  • Self-doubt ends up coming back stronger than before and you continue to self-sabotage your eating habits.

This scenario is simply your brain trying to keep you safe from change.

It’s very easy for your brain to do this.

Change is much harder.

Sabotaging your healthy eating success is much easier than following through with new eating habits.

Know that when simple changes feel hard, it’s because of your brain and the way it’s thinking.

It wants you to self-sabotage to keep you safe.

Embracing Change

The truth is, change is always occurring.

We can never predict the future and everything is always uncertain.

So, it’s necessary that you learn how to manage your mind through changes in life.

Especially as it relates to your eating habits.

Here are the five steps to doing this for yourself.

1) Practice Thoughts of Acceptance

Your brain is conditioned to replay certain thoughts in your brain when change is occurring.

It will have thoughts that create feelings of panic or uncertainty.

This is natural. Nothing has gone wrong here.

What I want you to do, is to practice talking back to your brain.

And creating new thoughts that allow you to embrace & accept change.

An example of thoughts you can practice:

  • “I surrender to the uncertainty that is occurring”
  • “Change means I’m growing. I embrace it fully”
  • “If something happens, it was always meant to happen”

Come up with your own thoughts that will talk back to your brain.

This is a skill that you want to master.

When you can intentionally decide thoughts that serve you, there’s nothing you won’t be capable of.

Especially when it comes to changing your eating habits.

2) Feel Uncertainty

Your brain hates change because it’s uncertain.

When things are uncertain it’s unsure it can keep you safe.

I want you to examine what uncertainty feels like for you inside your body.

Explore what that vibration feels like.

Is it warm? In your chest? Is it fast or slow? Be descriptive.

Then practice feeling uncertainty intentionally.

Be able to sit with it at it’s fullest capacity.

You need to teach your brain that there’s nothing scary about uncertainty.

So that when changes occur in your life, your brain will be less inclined to get into survival mode.

This will make you less likely to react to your emotions by overeating.

Feeling your feelings is one of the little-known most effective ways to changing your eating habits for life.

3) Look for Healthy Change

You want to practice teaching your brain that change can be beneficial to you.

Practice exploring ways that you can practice change in your life.

In a way that serves you and makes you feel good.

The best way to do this is to incorporate small habits that are new to you.

Examples of this are:

  • Cooking something that is new to you
  • Trying a new exercise
  • Implementing a new meditation practice
  • Making a new friend
  • Daring yourself to try anything new daily

This sounds simple, but it’s super effective.

You will be training your brain to embrace change.

Since you’ll show it that change can be really enjoyable for you.

4) Create a Food Menu

Change will always feel a bit uncomfortable.

There’s nothing wrong with this.

As long as your don’t escape those uncomfortable feelings through overeating.

A way to prevent overeating during change is to give yourself a menu of food choices.

During this time, your brain will resist strict food rules that you give it.

It will encourage you to be “the food rebel” and ditch any food rules you set.

Instead, give it the option of flexibility with food.

Create a broad menu of meals and food items to choose from daily.

This way, you can eat a variety of foods based on how you feel.

But, they will have been intentionally chosen by you.

Doing this will prevent you from reacting to the uncertainty your brain feels when change is occurring.

5) Find Grounding in the Kitchen

When change occurs, things feel uncertain.

This uncertainty can cause your brain to feel unsafe.

By finding ways to ground yourself, you can calm your mind so you feel more at peace. 

Grounding yourself simply means reconnecting yourself to the present.

Instead of obsessing about change or the future, this allows you to find peace in the present.

I find the best way to do this is in the kitchen.

Nothing makes me feel more grounded than trying a new recipe.

Especially if it’s with a loved one. Or while playing music in the background.

When you can find the joy in cooking, not only does it calm your mind, but it also prevents overeating.

Because you will find more intentionality around your eating choices.

If things feel uncertain, try this for yourself.

What to Do Next

Follow the five steps above to practice managing your eating habits around change.

I know what it’s like to feel like change disrupts the way you eat.

It can feel easier to indulge in overeating during those times.

There is another option available.

Intentionally go through this exercise.

So you can begin doing this for yourself.

- Kat Rentas

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Kat Rentas, Eating Psych. Coach

Hey there! I'm Kat Rentas. I’m a certified eating psychology coach for women who believes that eating healthy should feel simple and sustainable. I teach hundreds of high-performing women to change their eating habits without the overwhelm. Want to change your eating habits in a way that is aligned with your needs, preferences, and goals? You’re in the right placeYou can read my full story here.