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How Our Brains Manipulate Us to Eat Irrationally

How Our Brains Manipulate Us to Eat Irrationally

Do you think you could resist if there’s a pizza fresh out of the oven in front of you? Smells good and looks crispy? Whether or not you’re actually hungry, you probably wouldn’t turn down a slice. If you had to wait 15 minutes for it, would it be easier to say no?

We’re bombarded with opportunities to make unhealthy choices every day. When junk food is readily available, the urge to indulge is even greater. There’s a satisfaction that comes with seeing a warm chocolate chip cookie or an ice cream cone and indulging right away.

You brain is wired to eat on impulse

Our relationship with food hasn’t evolved even though our dining options are more plentiful than ever. Eating high-fat and high-sugar foods when they were available was once a key to our survival.[1] Our brains are wired to enjoy the instant reward we get from chowing down, which leads to the impulse munching you catch yourself doing in the break room or the food court.

When you have the opportunity to enjoy something, your brain gets a hit of dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that rewards us for our behavior.[2] The positive association we make with the action drives us to be impulsive, even when taking advantage of the situation now may yield less favorable results than waiting. Would you rather have the piece of cake now or a beach body in six months?

The brain’s chemical response to these enjoyable situations is amplified by society’s need to have everything right now. Every time we check our smart phones or social media, we are also rewarded with dopamine.[3] We no longer wait for anything, and it’s turning us into dopamine junkies.

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We want it all, and we want it now

This drive to get everything as quickly as possible leaves us chasing instantaneous rewards. We want instant gratification.[4] It’s our need to get what we want as quickly as possible that causes us to do things like neglect our retirement accounts so that we can buy the newest gadgets. Instead of spending 45 minutes preparing a nice home-cooked meal, we head to our freezers to microwave a substandard dinner in five minutes.

We’re all guilty of chasing instant gratification, and it is only through mindful consumption and interactions that we can learn to control our impulses.

You can see the big picture, but you’ll still battle your drive for more dopamine

Society and chemical reactions in your brain set you up to get your reward by the quickest means possible. This is an absolute nightmare for people trying to live a healthier lifestyle.

When you indulge in the hot slice of pizza in front of you, the reward that you get is instantaneous. Junk food really does make you happy. The problem is that too much of it can also make you unhealthy. Exercise can make you happy too, but it takes time to get satisfaction from working out. You have to endure a certain amount of suffering before you can see and feel the rewards.

It is so easy to become lost on your journey to better health when it seems like you have to run the gauntlet of temptation every day. You may know that you’ll live longer and have an improved quality of life by taking care of yourself, but it takes time to see and feel the results. You can feel the joy of that cookie as soon as you eat it.

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Commandeer your body’s drive for rewards

If a person trying to lose weight sees the number on the scale go down, then he or she feels a surge of motivation. People who experience a plateau in their weight loss or fitness goals tend to become frustrated.

We have to change how we think about being healthy if we want to stick to fitness goals. We know that the rewards of living a healthy lifestyle are present every day when we commit. We have the autonomy and physical capability to do whatever we choose. We gain the energy that we need to do challenging and exciting work.

Obesity leads to a myriad of health-problems such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.[5] Many of these issues are life-threatening, or at the very least, they are life-altering.

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to under perform at work, and it prevents you from enjoying activities associated with an active lifestyle. Tired and unmotivated people do the bare minimum to satisfy their requirements, but they don’t innovate and they don’t typically enjoy what they do.

You know what being healthy can do for you, and you’ll have to actively wrestle control back from your dopamine-seeking brain. If you can learn to recognize small rewards that happen instantly when you opt for a healthy lifestyle, you may be able to overcome temptation.

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We are less likely to commit if the reward is not certain

One of the things that makes enjoying immediate rewards so gratifying is that we don’t know what the future holds. Imagine that someone offers to give you $1,000 today or $10,000 10 years from now. Which would you choose?

Even though $10,000 is a significantly larger sum, most people opt to take the $1,000 in quick cash. They may think, “I could really use the grand right now,” or “I might be dead in 10 years,” or “The person who made the offer might change his mind.” It’s normal to worry about the uncertainty of the future and act in favor of the here and now.

When we ignore our long-term health for short-term gain, we will almost certainly end up with nothing. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.” We can’t control everything about our health, but we can certainly put forth an effort and make a commitment to wellness.

Making changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard. Start with small choices such as going for a walk every day or avoiding keeping your favorite snack within easy reach. At first, you’ll crave the instant gratification of lounging on the couch or chowing down, but eventually, you’ll want movement and healthy choices more.

As some point in your journey, the paradigm will shift in your mind. You will appreciate feeling more energetic and less achy, and that reward will overpower your desire to eat a sleeve of cookies. It may take a long time to reach this point, but if you can celebrate small victories every day, you’ll make it.

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Don’t make it harder than it has to be

Making healthy choices becomes more difficult when you try to do everything in absolutes. People who try to become vegan overnight or cut out sugar all at once make their health journey harder. Their first step is so much more drastic, and when they give into temptation, the dopamine hit and the subsequent guilt are also much stronger.

The reward for dramatic change is almost invisible, which means that you’ll lose motivation quickly when you don’t see results. Take small steps toward your goal. Instead of banning all sugar from your diet, cut back on select snacks or tell yourself, “If I want cookies, I am not allowed to buy them. I have to bake them from scratch.” The aspiring vegan would do well to cut out one type of meat at a time instead of emptying the entire contents of their fridge and living off toast and hummus.

You’ve already taken the first step

If you’re reading this, then you are already interested in improving your health. The first step on a journey to wellness is to be more conscious about food choices and exercise. By understanding the forces that could stand in the way of a healthier you, you can make sustainable changes.

Retrain your brain so that its reward response is triggered by different activities. When you make subtle changes over an extended period of time, you’ll readjust your definition of what you find rewarding.

Reference

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Jolie Choi

Gone through a few heartbreaks and lost hundreds of friends but I am still happy with my life.

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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