Of Donuts and Tigers

A while back I saw a headline that has stuck with me. It read something like:

Can a donut save you from a tiger attack? No, but your brain thinks it can!

I think the headline was from an article in Psychology Today, but I haven't been able to find it to confirm. I do know that truer words have rarely been spoken.

My brain does, in fact, think a donut can save me from a tiger attack. Not literally, of course. But my brain is wired to accept the idea that food can solve my problems, whether it be a tiger attack or a panic attack. That's why in times of uncertainty, crisis, or strong emotion, I reach for food.

Science backs me up on this. Research at the National Institutes for Health found that eating sugary, fatty, or starchy foods (you know, the good stuff) actually decreases the amount of stress hormones in a person's body. Feel stress --> eat a cookie --> feel less stress. Sounds good, no?

The problem is, the effect is only temporary. Like anesthesia, it wears off. Then what? Eat another cookie? And when that cookie wears off? You see where this is headed. Any addict knows what I'm talking about. It's a dangerous cycle.

I don't know if I was born with my brain wired this way, or if the neural pathways formed in response to my behavior and environment. I suspect scientists can make arguments for both claims. I'm not sure it matters, though. The fact is, my brain is wired for unhealthy responses to certain stimuli and if I am going to reach a healthy weight and stay there, I have to train my brain to respond in healthier ways--to reach for a dumbbell instead of a donut, to reach for the dog's leash instead of linguini, to write my feelings instead of eat them.

Rewiring a brain is far more difficult and time-consuming than rewiring a house. It requires something I hate: hypervigilance. I'm great at it for a while--sometimes a day, sometimes a week, I think I even made it a month once. But then it gets tiresome. Being hypervigilant is exhausting.

Still, I know that it's worth it, so every time I fall off the horse of hypervigilance, I try to clamber back up. That way, if I ever should come face to face with a tiger, I'll have something better than a donut to save me.