Friday, June 1, 2012

Ramblings: Rewards and Punishment

There is a hard way and an easy way to do everything.  You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the easy way would be, well, easy!  We are, as humans, always looking for ways to conserve our energy (read: be lazy!) so it seems logical that the easy way would be our first choice.  I’m no expert, but I’ve been thinking so here are my ramblings….

The reality is, the human psyche is not built to look for easy, but rather for reward.   This is why we kill ourselves with crap food.  Being fat is not easy, being a smoker is not easy, being late for work every day is not easy, having a messy house is not easy!  But what they all have in common is the reward, the punishment, and an element of effort!

It all comes down to effort verses reward and or punishment.  Chocolate is a reward, and weight loss is a reward.  Obesity is not pleasant, and even indigestion and fatigue are not very pleasant.  We see an immediate reward in chocolate.  We get an instant taste and sugar pleasure buzz!  It doesn’t matter that an hour later we get indigestion.. it is a delayed punishment, it doesn’t matter that we will continue to get fat, increase our risks of infertility, diabetes and goodness knows how many other diseases.  Our brains are designed so that instant gratification outweighs everything – even a slow horrible death from lung cancer, or heart attack in 20yrs time.

Interestingly, if there is an instant punishment (or even slightly delayed severe punishment) for food we develop food aversions quite quickly and easily!  Ever eaten something and vomited not long after?  Even if your mind knows the two are not connected, it can take years to consume the food again!  It’s a great adaptation from an evolutionary perspective.. it’s a basic instinct that stops us from eating food that makes us sick!  I can’t eat bananas after eating one that was not quite ripe and I ended up in bed for hours in agony with heartburn.  Even the smell of a banana turns my stomach!  I still love the taste of them, I just can’t think about eating them!

These are not things that are happening on a conscious level,  and this same psychology is what we see in eating disorders to differing extents.   However, if we are aware of these we can work them to our advantage!  We just need to swap them around!  We need to make good healthy food rewarding – through taste, presentation, and ‘fake it till you make it’ good positive attitude to healthy food.  We also need to consciously make ourselves feel off-put by crap food, notice the lack of taste, that oversweet sickly taste of chocolate, or the over salty chemical taste, or the super rich thick heavy taste of cream based sauces.  Think of the full gross feeling as it hits your stomach and that horrible heaviness that comes from eating too much.  I am sure you get what I mean anyway!

Really think about why you are choosing something.. is it for the sugar or salt hit?  is it just habit?  Does it really taste good?  Does it really make you feel good?  Are you letting your Inner Labrador – the Pavlovian dog responding automatically to food rewards – control your life?


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