I can’t button up my jeans and it’s all my stupid jerk brain’s fault. I can blame my brain – instead of my complete inability to say no to cheese – thanks to a Queensland nueroscientist, who says it is all down to brainpower, rather than willpower.
Feel free to steal this as an excuse.
Professor Selena Bartlett says not only do diets hardly ever work, but our brains basically haven’t changed the way they tell us what to do since prehistoric times.
Professor Bartlett says this is because we ignore our brain, which silently drives our behaviour as if we are still ancient humans living in prehistoric conditions. Good one, brain.
It has evolved, of course, and in three distinct areas – survival (controls our heart beat, breathing, keeps us alive), emotional (where our “fight or flight” response lives) and rational (impulse control, planning and decision making).
What’s going on, according to Professor Bartlett, is as we are stressing out about everyday life our body releases is releasing stress hormones like cortisol, which over time reduce the number of synapses in the brain, which stops our rational brain from looking after our impulse control.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, our emotional brain starts looking for ways to up our dopamine, serotonin and endorphins via things like double servings of delicious caramel slices Alex from Kotaku baked on the weekend AKA things that bring us pleasure. The chemicals then bind to receptors in the brain and reduce the damaging effect of stress hormones. So that’s a good thing, I guess.
The same applies to addictive behaviours. When we are stressed our brain seeks pleasure, “and that’s the problem,” Professor Bartlett says.
So what can be done about it? We need to learn to derive pleasure from low-calorie foods (ha), accept the fact that we need to go up a jeans size (never) or we need to override the ancient brain that responds to stress. Colour me intrigued.
According to Professor Bartlett this can be done with compassion (sorry for calling you a jerk, brain), recognising and avoiding stress, and replacing the urge to eat an entire tub of Connoisseur King Island Honey and Macadamia Ice Cream with things like deep breathing, stretching, walking and running. Reducing sugar and alcohol intake and exercising more will help your brain heal, too.