SCARY Reasons Your Diet Makes You Feel Like You're In Withdrawal

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Woman Dieting

You just started a new diet. You’re SO excited for your new lifestyle and new body ... for a day or two. Then you begin feeling irritable and your chocolate cravings becomes overwhelming — almost a PHYSICAL NEED.

Why? It’s all about your brilliant brain. So let’s take a look at how it got programmed, and what to do about it, so you can FEEL good and LOOK good too.

Let's start with the reason you’re dieting — maybe you’ve been eating too much? Or eating all the wrong foods? Maybe you've been trying to make yourself feel better? 

In short, though, what you’ve been doing is teaching your brain that FOOD = PLEASURE. 

Here’s the scary part: we all know that when you eat sugar, salt and fat together (the ingredients in most processed foods) — or even think about them — the reward center in your brain starts to light up. That’s right ... you feel amazing thanks to your feel-good chemicals, like dopamine. And so you want that feeling MORE.  

It’s the same place as a drug addict’s brain lights up. And, just like a drug addict, you’re going to need more and more food to get that same pleasurable hit. 

Even scarier? Lately, food companies are using scientific techniques to increase the likelihood that you'll become dependent on their processed foods. No wonder you’re experiencing withdrawal on your diet, huh? 

All of a sudden, you're starving yourself of dopamine, which makes you so SO happy! So you’re not weak, or defective. You’re simply experiencing your brain’s reaction to your diet. And thankfully, our brain is changeable.

"But" — you may protest — "I never eat processed foods, and I still feel like I’m in withdrawal on day two!" 

That’s because there’s another — equally scary — process going on in your brain when you start dieting. It’s in your lower, primitive brain, which is designed to keep you safe. 

New theories are being developed on the origins of addiction, and I have found that whether or not we become dependent on food depends on how we manage our emotions.

Johann Hari talks about the lack of human connection as a cause of addiction, and I want to take it one step further. In my work with overweight women, I find that the lack of connection with themselves is a prime cause of overeating in the first place, and their experiencing withdrawal when they diet. 

Remember when you were a child, and you got ice cream when you hurt yourself or your best friend dumped you? Someone probably told you "Don't cry. Don't be sad. Here, have some ice cream." Your brain was learning that food makes you feel better, that FOOD = LOVE, and — in turn — it's your ultimate comfort.

Think of your brain as a computer. The program that was being written is: “When you feel bad, Eat food. Preferably sugar”. If you’re like me, you probably practiced that model many times over the years, and it became a way that you cope with uncomfortable feelings like loneliness, disappointment, anxiety and stress. It usually happens so automatically that you don’t even realize you’ve done it until you wake up surrounded by empty bags of Ruffles and Hershey Kisses.

But now, you’re officially on a diet. Your higher, logical brain is thrilled with this idea. Your reasoning mind is calculating all the benefits you’re going to create with this new way of eating. Problem is, your primitive brain doesn’t like change. It gets nervous because it’s harder to predict threats in uncertain conditions.

Believe it or not, your diet is scary to your poor, primitive brain, that’s just trying to do it’s best to keep you safe. 

The good news is that there is a way through your withdrawal (that doesn’t involve chocolate). Here’s how:

1. Don’t try to reason your way out of it.

There’s a war inside you — your executive brain is trying to remind you why you started this diet, but your primitive brain is having a tantrum and drowning it all out! And if you’ve ever seen a battle between a tantrumming toddler and a reasoning mother, you know who’s going to win.

2. Tell yourself “I am SAFE".

"There is no danger. I don’t have to do anything. This is just an outdated program in my brain” Keep repeating these phrases. It’s calming for your brain to have something to do. 

This may sound hokey to you, but I guarantee you that it works. I’ve led many women through this process, and your craving won't last more than a few minutes if you follow the steps above. Once it’s gone, continue with your day ... and do it ALL over again if it comes back. Eventually, you’ll notice that it’s stopped altogether.

Yes. You’re that powerful.

Bev Aron is hosting an upcoming webinar on Seven Ways to Stop a Binge next month. Sign up here to be on the first-to-know list.

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