Habits & the Lower Brain

· Blog

Creating habits and routines is one of the best functions our brains possess. Habits allow us to be efficient with our time, energy and awareness. But sometimes in the habit forming process, we create habits that don't serve us well in our relationship with food.

Our lower brain is sometimes referred to as the reptile brain because it evolved for survival long before the parts of the brain dealing with rational thinking. It's the old brain, the lower brain. It's the part of the brain that handles activities essential for our survival like breathing, beating our hearts, controlling our blood pressure and also responsible for the fight or flight response.

It's all about survival based functions and operates much like a machine or computer.

Join us to hear more.

As valuable and essential as it is, where this automatic, habit forming function can create problems is when we don't feel good. When we feel anxious or in a low mood, this lower brain sees it as a problem and wants to solve it in the most efficient way. It wants to change the feeling and get us feeling better as soon as possible.

We are born to thrive, to feel a sense of vitality and well being. So, when we don't feel that way, the lower brain perceives it as a problem to solve. And it looks for what we've done in the past that has made us feel good and it wants to recreate that pronto.

All too often it remembers how good we felt when we were eating comfort foods high in salt, oil and sugar. Foods high in salt, oil and sugar produce a pleasurable hit of dopamine. And before you know it, we have a habit of turning to a comfort food, to chocolate or potato chips or fast foods, to feel better even when we know it isn't healthy.

We do it because the lower brain perceives uncomfortable feelings, like anxiety or a low mood, as a threat to our survival and turns on the fight or flight response. And with that, the craving for comfort food suddenly feels like we'll die if we don't give in. The lower brain and it's need for survival trumps the rational brain and our knowing the solution isn't a good one.

Can you see how the strong urges we have for foods that aren't healthy are driven by our natural instinct to survive, even though our survival is not at risk? It's the mistaken perception of uncomfortable feelings by the lower brain switching us into fight or flight that directs us toward food as a way out of discomfort... and into the habit that can lead us to unconsciously reach for food when we aren't hungry.

This habit and behavior doesn't mean there's something wrong with us or that our brain doesn't work well. Our brain is working the way it is designed to work, but it's responding to life through a mistaken perception that a low mood or anxiety is a real threat to us. That the feelings we have when our boss raises their voice or someone doesn't follow through on a promise somehow means our survival is at risk.

When we see how this works, we can get a broader perspective on feeling the urgency of eating food from a habitual response. This is why we encourage you to pause or do the Eating with Presence exercise when the urgency comes up to reach for food and there is no hunger. It can give us a moment to settle and return to the rational mind, the higher mind, which lets the urgent thoughts move on through and makes wise decisions.

Let us know in "Comments" below if you would like a free consultation regarding any habits around food or behaviors that can seem to sabotage your best intentions. Happy to point you to how habits can be a gift when we see them differently.

The recipe for this week is Banana Blueberry Pancakes. We've shared a similar recipe in the past, but we keep refining our recipes to include more whole food ingredients and eliminate any salt, oil or refined sweeteners. These pancakes are really delicious, hearty and satisfying when you're in the mood for an old breakfast standard.

To your Amazing Health,
Connie and Bill

broken image

Banana Blueberry Pancakes

Dry ingredients

  • 2 cups oat or chickpea flour (make your own: 2 cups rolled oats or dry chickpeas in blender on high until pulverized into flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Other fresh or frozen fruit can replace blueberries: strawberries, raspberries or cherries are great

Wet ingredients

  • ½ cup almonds 
  • 12 medium dates, pitted
  • 1 ripe banana (frozen can work when thawed)
  • ½ apple, quartered
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2½ cups purified water

In a large mixing bowl, whisk all dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, ground flax, sunflower seeds and cinnamon. Fold in blueberries and set aside

In a blender, add the wet ingredients, almonds, dates, banana, apple, vinegar and water, and process on high until smooth.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until it forms a batter with no lumps.

Heat a pancake griddle or fry pan over medium-high heat. When hot, reduce heat and scoop the batter into the pan for the size of pancakes you'd like. Press and shape into round pancakes ½ inch thick.

Cook until brown on one side, 2-3 minutes, then flip and cook for 1-2 more minutes until brown on the other side.

Repeat until you've used all the batter.

You can top them with fresh fruit or make a simple, syrupy fruit compote to top them by heating 2 or more cups of frozen fruit.