We know that the human brain has its virtues. It allows us to engage in amazingly complex and sophisticated tasks that no other species can emulate. We invented the wheel, landed on the moon and even created TV shows like Love Island. What a time to be alive!
We have come a long way in the 4 or so million years since we were chimps, however we continue to be driven by our ancestor’s primal goal: To get our genes into the next generation. Although this may seem irrelevant in the context of our eating habits, it is in fact hugely significant.
The human brain perceives weight gain as a success. Our ancestors ability to store fat ensured their survival and ultimately allowed them to reproduce. Hence, our penchant for calorie dense foods.
Does this mean that as a species we are destined to overeat? Absolutely not. The truth is that we have evolved with many characteristics that can both enhance or deplete our overall health. The fact that we crave food ensures that we fuel our body’s energy reserves. However, giving into these cravings every time would guarantee ill health.
Food is not the problem. The real issue is that we engage in habitual patterns of behaviour that largely go unnoticed, such as overeating. The good news is that we can learn to recognise the thoughts, emotions and sensations that drive our behaviour. This level of self-awareness then allows us to make wiser choices. Choices that can move us towards our personal goals and not those of our ancestors.
This may not seem overly helpful until we consider that the quality of our lives depends on the decisions that we make in each moment. These seemingly insignificant choices impact the amount we eat, the level of stress we experience, our close relationships and so on.
The solution is to play a more active role in our lives instead of running on evolutionary autopilot.
The first step on this path is to increase our self-awareness using evidence-based practices such as mindfulness. Practices like mindfulness can improve our ability to intervene when unhelpful moods or behaviour threatens to derail our goals. This skill alone can be hugely beneficial for our physical and mental health and is something we will discuss further another time.
Remember: If we keep moving forward, making one wise choice after another, who knows what our limits might be?