How your primal brain sabotages your eating behavior

How your primal brain sabotages your eating behavior
Are you aware of the saboteur in your head? It’s your primeval brain chatting all day and making everything you do sound good. Oh well, one composition is fine, I’m going to exercise tomorrow… Eating behavior expert Carola van Bemmelen shows in this article how you can unmask the saboteur and learn to listen to your common sense.

Any good argument that tries to undermine your agreements is your saboteur in action.

The primal brain is constantly chirping

Your primal brain owns 99 percent of all (eating) decision shares. What you eat, when you eat, whether you are going to eat, and how much you eat… most of the time you hear your primal brain talking. Not only about food, by the way, about anything and everything. The whole day long. And that makes it so very difficult, because: how do you know whether your (unconscious) primal brain is talking or your (conscious) human brain?

Inner conflicts

How your primal brain sabotages your eating behavior

Your brain is divided into all kinds of small departments that guard your own interests. It is bustling in all these departments and people chat continuously. Sometimes you can literally hear it, but most of the time these conversations happen subconsciously. Unfortunately, it is not concretely observable to us which part of the brain is talking in your head. That’s what makes it so difficult. Especially when you are busy introducing new habits. Where you think you are in control and ‘doing good, your primeval brain cleverly deceives you by talking to you. With your own voice. In your own words.

As a result, you think in 99 percent of all cases that you decide for yourself, while you (unconsciously) just obey the instructions of your primal brain. This is how inner conflicts arise. In the first place, because your primeval brain is persuading you to do all kinds of things that you didn’t intend to do. Secondly, all those different brain parts talking and preaching to their own parish can sometimes be quite contradictory in their needs. Especially when they all try to convince you to do or not do something. They argue with you and 99 percent of the time they win. While you think you decide it all yourself… In reality, things are different.

Bad behavior good talk

In short, when it comes to food, your primeval brain works like this:

  • When you’re hungry, your hypothalamus tells you to eat.
  • Then when the dopamine receptors in your brain work less because of dopamine resistance, your brain says: ‘Eat more.’
  • Or when the leptin signal at the brainstem is blocked by too much insulin, your brain stimulates you to keep eating. Even though you’re full, even though you know you’ve just eaten, your brain says, “I’m still hungry.” So when your brain speaks, you hear your own voice.

Here’s the thing: our brain doesn’t like incongruity. It wants the things it does to be right. That means it will always find a good explanation for the things it does and for things that happen. In other words: it justifies ‘bad’ behavior with the greatest of ease. This goes for food, for shopping and everything else we do. It may sound bizarre, but serial killers can still get along just fine this way. Their brains ensure that there is a plausible explanation for their behavior.

This is how you recognize the saboteur!

Now that you know how it works, you also know that you are not your thoughts. All your thoughts simply come from all those little departments in your brain eager to have their needs met as best they can. Since you are the person who has to do this, all too often they will provoke you with great arguments into behavior that you consciously do not want to perform at all. Afterward, they will excuse your behavior. It is logical that it is difficult to have a relaxed relationship with food…

How your primal brain sabotages your eating behavior
Since the saboteur is talking to you in your own words, it is very difficult to tell whether the saboteur is speaking or your human brain (your common sense). In other words: when you are in your right mind and sincerely make the right decision for yourself and when not. However, there are some tricks you can use to discover who is communicating with you:

  • Restore the chemistry in your brain
    When your blood sugar level is out of balance, your dopamine receptors are not reliable and the functioning of your hunger and satiety centers is disrupted. This will likely allow you to eat constantly and give your saboteur free rein. In that case, it is impossible to soberly deal with the voices in your head. So changing your diet and balancing your blood sugar levels is really the first step to calming your saboteur’s voice.
  • Make feasible agreements with yourself
    Our brain is like an adolescent. If you don’t make clear agreements (such as a budget when shopping or watching Netflix for a certain amount of time or eating three times a day), it crosses all boundaries. There will be endless discussions with you – adolescents are also very adept at this. Sometimes with really good arguments that are impossible to get in between. Of course, it is your own voice that speaks to you. But remember: you have made agreements with yourself and you do not want to disappoint yourself.
  • Stop multitasking
    Our human brain is not designed to consciously do several things at the same time. Our unconscious brain can multitask just fine, so everything that is fully automated works fine at the same time. But all the things that require active thought must be done one by one. If you don’t, your primeval brain takes over some of these tasks.
  • It will search the large ‘database’ for the most appropriate behavior in the situation and will let you do this (often old, unwanted) behavior because that is automated. So make your meal plan at a quiet moment and really take the time for it. Write a clear shopping list and, if necessary, do the shopping alone, so that you are not distracted by children who want everything that is not on the list.

Letting go of the emotion

How your primal brain sabotages your eating behavior

Any good argument that tries to undermine your agreements is your saboteur in action! It often promises you mountains of gold or even more success in the future, only to leave you with a bad feeling. Therefore, only be persuaded to another ‘deal’ if you have thought it through carefully and discussed it with people in your area. They are not caught up in your emotion and often see exactly who is speaking. What also helps is to take a break or sleep on it for a while. That way you get rid of the emotion and it is often easier to look at the situation objectively.


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