It's not an unsolved homicide.

It’s not a buried mystery.
It’s just a yes or no.
Caption here.

Caption here.

It is a very popular and very sexy idea that we need to solve a deep, dark, baffling mystery out of the past before we can break a habit and get our eating under control.

The brain LOVES a mystery. Cracking an unsolved mystery is ecstatically fun. What HAPPENED back there?!

NOT solving but trying to solve a mystery is also very fun for the brain.

So the idea that if we could just figure out what happened to make us be this way - a bit cuckoo about food - if we could just figure out WHY we eat the way we eat, we would magically and instantly stop. We could just become relaxed, normal eaters instead of these nutty, bingey, frantic, obsessive eaters.

You've heard me say lots of times that we actually can instantly become normal eaters. But it's not magic and we don't have to solve any mysteries. There's nothing in our past we need to dredge up before we can change our habits. And there's nothing we need to make sure happens in the future, either.

There's only ever one question to answer right now, and it's not tricky like solving a 40-year-old murder. It's not Why do I feel like eating all the time? It's not Why do I feel this urge to run down the gas station and buy a dozen Twinkies? It's definitely not What is the real need I am trying to fill here?

It's this question: IS IT TIME TO EAT? Is it lunchtime? Is it dinnertime? Is it the meal or the time when I said I was going to eat?

If the answer is No, it's not time, then knowing that your brother stole your Pixy Stix or your mom gave you chocolate when you got bullied won't actually help you break a habit.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with knowing yourself.

But digging into your history doesn't give you a faster, better, easier way to break a habit, because the only way to break a habit is to say Nope!and then do the thing you want to be your new habit.

You need to know what the new habit will be. A decision in place saves you having to come up with a creative solution every single time your brain wants you to eat, which can be SO. MANY. TIMES a day. That's exhausting, and when we're tired we'll do what's easy. Which could look like Twinkies and bagels on repeat << I've done this.

This is why I like mealtimes, rather than asking how hungry you are on a scale of 1-10 or something tricky and complicated like that. Is it lunchtime? Yes: Eat, and then stop. No: Don't eat until lunchtime.

You still have to say No to your habit, but you never have to say No to your habit and figure out how to eat some other way and solve a deep psychological mystery on top of everything.

Image: Pan and Syrinx, Caesar Boëtius van Everdingen, c. 1637 - c. 1640, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.

Max Daniels