• I’ve been keeping in mind recently the goal of making “small sacrifices for the bigger picture”. It’s definitely a battle between instant gratification and overall health. One is an easy decision but with bad consequences and the other is harder but with good consequences.

    This is a wonderful article. Thank you!

    From Raquel (Thoughtful Eating)
    December 3, 2012

  • Linda,
    Great post! It was a wonderful reminder to pause before making food choices and reflect on my ultimate goal. I also love the section that describes the brain’s reaction to food.

    From Lisette
    December 6, 2012

Coaching Corner: Decisions, decisions…


My husband has a favorite joke. It goes like this: “When Linda and I got married, we agreed that I would make the big decisions and she would make the small decisions. So far, there haven’t been any big decisions.”

While I laugh at his joke, it reminds me of the myriad decisions we all must make. Some sources say that the average adult makes about 35,000 decisions each day. Thankfully, most of them are rather simple, many based on habit as opposed to a complicated thought process (think brushing your teeth, bathing, driving on the appropriate side of the road, stopping at red lights, etc.).

But when it comes to making healthy decisions about food, the process becomes more complicated. In an interview published in The Sun Chronicle, neuroscientist Gregory Berns explains why.

“The first problem we face is choosing between instant gratification of a hungry impulse and the delayed consequences for health. When you eat the chocolate sundae, you immediately feel good. We now know that these positive feelings are associated with the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. In fact, dopamine is released well in advance of consumption. It is more properly a neurotransmitter of anticipation. When released, it causes the feeling of positive anticipation, and this is what causes you to reach for that spoon and dive in. The dopamine system is like a fuel-injector for action. It mobilizes your motor system to acquire whatever goodies are within your reach. It is also very fast-acting. It doesn’t really consider future consequences. That is the job of the frontal lobes, which have to work overtime to interrupt the dopamine system. We think that the brain evolved this way because it is more advantageous to consume something immediately present than to wait for something possibly better in the future (a bird in the hand). Every animal on the planet behaves this way—even honey bees.”

So if our brains are wired for instant gratification, how can we override that process and make better decisions about food?

For me, the most effective strategy is to put some distance between myself and the foods that call to me. Maybe you can keep a box of cookies in your house and eat just one. I have trouble with that, so cookies don’t live in my pantry. When I want one, I must make a conscious decision to drive to the store and get it. And I only get one… If I find myself in a situation where temptation is under my nose—say at a restaurant or at a party, I flex my decision-making muscle by asking myself if it’s worth it. Sometimes it is, but many times it’s not.

My motto is: “Don’t trade what you want most for what you want right now.” Right now, my primal brain may want the double decker banana split with extra whipped cream, nuts and cherries. But what I want more is to be able to move, play, and live—hopefully for many years to come. This doesn’t mean I will never indulge in a special ice cream treat, slice of pizza or candy bar. It just means that I make one small decision at a time.

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