Make sure you understand your appetite and your limbic system
Survival in those remote times depended very much on a part of the brain called the limbic system. The physical and emotional responses that are driven by the limbic system are very powerful and produce rapid reactions that were certainly very helpful for our early survival as a species.
We can trace reactions such as fear and anger, hunger and the sex drive to the limbic system and one part of the structure in particular exerts a powerful influence in encouraging rapid responses: we’re referring to a small, almond-shaped portion of the limbic system known as the amygdala. It prompts instant reactions, particularly in the areas of fear, sexual response and hunger behaviour.
The system is primed to function from birth, prompting babies to cry when hungry and it continues to function throughout our lives, delivering emotionally-charged messages to satisfy instantly the need for pleasure, whilst avoiding pain and dealing with danger. As you will soon see, the key word for our programme is the word ‘immediate’.
Taking a moment to pause, slowing down the our reactions, considering the alternatives, leaning towards the brain’s higher functioning mechanisms – focusing on our goals – these are deeply effective habits to tame our fear response and control our appetites.
Learning to delay gratification could be your magic weight loss answer!
If we can learn to delay the need for immediate gratification, we may reduce the cravings associated with the limbic system’s drive for satisfaction. And the amygdala seeks immediate satisfaction. It does not encourage thought, contemplation or analysis. It demands action. In a dangerous environment, it can be a life saver. In front of temptation, however, it can be our undoing. Postponing gratification has been the subject of intensive research for decades and is the gateway to a much more productive and successful life. Start with the simple decision to postpone the gratification for a few minutes. That’s already a great start. Extend the period of delay gradually until you can postpone the moment forever if you wish.
Discover the joy of your pre-frontal cortex
If we were to identify the part of the brain that is most closely associated with the attributes of being human, it would surely be the pre-fontal cortex. This is the most highly evolved part of the brain and it’s the reason that you’re able to read this book. This is the source of our creativity and imagination and provides control mechanisms for our thoughts, our feelings and our actions. This is where human flexibility is rooted.
Unlike the limbic system, it develops slowly, not reaching its full capacity until our early twenties. The prefrontal cortex allows us to plan, to analyse, to be rational and to exercise control. Why is any of this relevant? Well, the two systems are closely linked. If the limbic system is the accelerator, putting the pedal to the metal for instant gratification, the prefrontal cortex is the braking system, slowing things down to maintain control and seek a more logical, reasoned approach.
It’s quite clear that the PFC is the key to many important behavioural changes. Planning, visualising, setting goals, measuring progress and adapting to changing circumstances are all attributes of the PFC. The more you engage its extraordinary creative potential, the more you over-ride the destructive, instant gratification responses of your old eating behaviours.