Hardwired Survival Instincts

Are you someone who finds it difficult to lose weight (I am)?  Most of us blame ourselves for this shortcoming but it’s not entirely our fault. We are hardwired to conserve energy. Energy is needed to fuel the fight or flight response that is built into us in case there is a life threatening situation that might present itself. Personally, in all my years on this planet, I have not found myself in that situation.  Last time I looked, the sabre-toothed tiger was extinct. This hardwired instinct is failing us now.

Tied into “flight or fight” is the “feast or famine” response. During the historical periods of famine humans would feast when food was available. This survival instinct is so deeply ingrained in us that it’s hard to shake. Sure, we talk about not having willpower when we consume excess calories but what if this is not about having the strength needed to pass on the donut? What if this is about out-smarting our instincts?

The first hurdle to overcome is understanding and accepting that we are being manipulated by the food industry. There is documented proof that a combination of sugar, fat and/or salt is addictive. Think about something you ate recently that had that combination in the ingredients (potato chips, chocolate bar, french fries, cheese burger, ice cream, etc.). It is hard to stop at just a little bit. The more you eat, the more money the food industry makes. This combination of ingredients and our hardwired survival instincts are setting us up for weight loss/management failure. 

Taking back control is possible. It might be a long road with lots of bumps but it is possible. It starts with awareness. There’s a wonderful strategy used to help children with their behaviours.  Essentially we’re all just big kids so it can work for us too! Train yourself to say: STOP – THINK – GO before you reach for food. Imagine this: you’re at the grocery store automatically reaching for your favourite box of cereal but you stop. You look at the box with the mouth watering picture on it. All of the sudden you’re feeling ready for breakfast but you turn over the box and read the ingredients. There it is – sugar, fat and salt. You put the box back on the shelf.  As you’re standing there pondering the best choice for breakfast you look down and notice that on the handle of the grocery cart it says “CRAVE MORE”.  How is that helpful?! Let me answer that for you – it’s not!

Survival instincts are part of us for good reason. We do not need them in the same way any of our ancestors did. It’s time that we figure out how to have them work for us and not against us.

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