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Who's Making Your Food Decisions?

Ever wondered why it sometimes feels like, no matter how much resolve you have to lose weight, it's hard to control what you're eating in the moment?  If this is you, I want you to know that you're not alone.... and even better, there's a solution! 

It turns out, there are 2 parts of your brain making food decisions.  One part serves you while the other part does not!  So you want to make sure the correct part of your brain is in charge. This is the secret to lasting weight loss. 

Some of this weeks episode highlights are:

4:00 To end our struggles with our weight permanently, we can't just go on a diet. We have to actually slow everything down and begin to make very conscious choices about the foods that we eat and why we're eating them, making it conscious is the key. So no more of these automatic grabs for food. You want to make very clear and rational decisions about what foods you're going to eat.

8:15 So what part of your brain should be making your food decisions? The prefrontal cortex. That's the front part of the brain, the highest, most evolved human part of your brain. And this is the rational part of your brain that can think ahead. That can think about what you're thinking. It can plan. It knows what your long-term goals are. This is the part of your brain that you want to have in charge of your food decisions.

13:01 You're using your executive brain, your prefrontal cortex to plan, not just what you're going to eat, but how you're going to overcome the obstacles that your primitive brain puts in the way. You have to learn how to process your feelings without caving into the desire to eat, or without ‘people pleasing’ by eating some of your mother's cookies.

--- Full Raw Transcription Below ---

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:00):

You are listening to the Keep The Weight Off podcast with Dr. Angela, episode number 35.

Introduction (00:05):

Welcome to The Keep The Weight Off podcast, where we bust all the dieting myths and discover not just how to lose weight, but more importantly, how to keep it off. We go way beyond the food and we use science and psychology to give you strategies that work. And now your host, Dr. Angela Zechmann.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:27):

Well, hello, friends. And welcome back to the podcast. If this is your first time listening, be sure to subscribe to the podcast because Marchelle and I have all kinds of helpful tips for you. And if you're enjoying this podcast, please rate us and write a review because this really helps other people find the podcast. So we're on episode number 35. Can you believe that Marchelle?

Marchelle (00:56):

I think it's fantastic.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:58):

I know we've, we've just been having such a blast doing these podcasts for you guys. So today I wanted to talk about one of the absolute basic aspects of weight loss. So I've already alluded to it lots of times, but I want to re-emphasize it because I always think it bears repeating. It's just so very important. This aspect of weight loss is really key. And I think it really helps to remind ourselves often about this very basic strategy.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (01:31):

So what is it that I'm talking about? Well, here's this question. I want you to ask yourself, who's making your decisions about the foods that you're eating. Who's making those decisions. And think about it very seriously for a minute. Nothing goes into your mouth unless you pick it up and eat it, right? So what goes into your decisions about what to eat, why to eat when to eat? So is it a habit? For example, I used to go to Starbucks every morning. I had a very specific coffee drink that I'd order. It was sugar-free. So I figured it was okay. Turns out it was creating cravings and difficulties later. So that's just one example. Lots of us are eating right out of habit. We're just sort of on autopilot all the time. Here's another question. Are you eating to please someone else? So we've talked a lot about how there are people in our lives for whom food is love and their gifts of food are expressions of love for us. And we would feel badly if we didn't accept their love.

Marchelle (02:47):

That's your true, and i really struggle with that.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (02:49):

Yeah, I do too. I mean it's hard. Yeah. Yeah.

Marchelle (02:54):

I have a mom that knows how to bake really, really well.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (02:56):

I know.

Marchelle (02:59):

And I'm sure if anybody's listened to any of our previous podcasts, they know about my mom as well.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (03:06):

Yeah. So are you eating as a buffer to prevent feeling some sort of negative emotion? So that's a term, there's a term called buffering and that's where we want to put up something in between us and our negative emotions so that we don't have to feel the negative emotion. So for example, are you eating because you're really actually bored where maybe you're feeling restless or maybe you're feeling frustrated or tired, or maybe you're feeling unloved or misunderstood. Food comes as a very nice buffer between us and those negative feelings.

Marchelle (03:49):

Oh, that's me too.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (03:50):

Yeah, me too. So all of these and many more are reasons people eat and overeat and then they end up struggling with their weight. Right? So to end our struggles with our weight permanently, we can't just go on a diet. We have to actually slow everything down and begin to make very conscious choices about the foods that we eat and why we're eating them, making it conscious is the key. So no more of these automatic grabs for food. You want to make very clear and rational decisions about what foods you're going to eat. Okay. So I spoken before about the two parts of your brain that make food decisions. The there's the primitive part of your brain, the reptile brain it's sometimes called and it has three motivations. They call it the motivational triad.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (04:49):

The first motivation is for pleasure. The second motivation is to avoid pain. And the third motivation is to, is basically ease and convenience to find easy ways to do things. So if this part of your brain makes your food decisions, what do you suppose is going to happen? What happens when this part of your brain makes your food decisions? I'll tell you what happens. Well, it's like, Hm, I suddenly am like, oh, I'm a little bit hungry. I wonder what I can go rustle up. You know? And it's never anything that's very well balanced. Maybe grab a handful of nuts or something. I haven't really planned any meals and I'll just go grab something. And, you know, for many, many people there's chips in the house, there's all kinds of other stuff in the house. And if you just go grab food, what, what do you end up eating Marchelle? Like?

Marchelle (05:48):

So what I, what ends up happening with me is I say to myself, what sounds good today? What's going to taste. And so definitely an emotional eater or out of boredom, you know, trying to fulfill you know, a need or a void. And so I, you know, if I not, I mean, for me, it's like prepping, prepping, prepping super important. And when I prep, then I, if I have the right choice there, I will make the right choice. Don't have the right choice there. I will make the wrong choice because I just tend to yeah, I have, like, my primitive brain is is always, you know, turned on and waiting for me to make a wrong decision. I mean, it's, I always like talking to myself about food. I don't know if anybody else does that. You know, all day long, I'm talking to myself about food. I go through periods of time, you know, where things get easier, you know, when I get into my groove, but I get derailed pretty fast. And and then I'm just talking to myself about food all day long.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (06:52):

Yeah. Like what's,

Marchelle (06:55):

You know, what am I going to have for breakfast? And what I'm, you know, what's the next meal going to be? Am I going to snack today? Am I not going to you know, so yeah, it's a, it's a conscious,

Dr. Angela Zechmann (07:05):

it feels like a lot of really really intense mental energy. Sometimes they call it cognitive load is the psychologist's term for it, or the neuroscientists - cognitive load. It takes a lot of cognitive load to make these food decisions in the moment. It just takes a lot of effort to make the right decision in the moment. And so your cause your primitive brain is always right there wanting to, oh, like, like you said, what's the best what's, what's going to taste the best right now. So there's that, there's that motivation for pleasure. And what's going to be easy. That's what happens for me is I'm just looking for something easy. I don't want to actually cook something when I suddenly realize I'm hungry. Right? Many people end up not eating because they're like, well, I really want to lose weight. There's nothing decent in the house.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (07:53):

I'm just not going to eat. And that's counterproductive as well because your body won't let go of fat unless it's well-nourished. And it knows that there's food coming. It's like it, it needs to - your brain needs to know that you're getting fed in order to be able to release fat. So, so it can be a real, it can be a real conundrum. If you are relying on the primitive part of your brain to make your food decisions. So what part of your brain should be making your food decisions?

Dr. Angela Zechmann (08:19):

That is your prefrontal cortex. That's the front part of the brain, the highest, most evolved human part of your brain. And this is the rational part of your brain that can think ahead. That can think about what you're thinking. It can plan. It knows what your long-term goals are. It has that vision of you six months a year from now, however long it might be for your particular body to reach its ideal weight, your prefrontal cortex, has that in mind. So this is the part of your brain that you want to have in charge of your food decisions. So to be successful in weight loss, your prefrontal cortex must be in charge. Okay. You cannot be at the mercy of your primitive brain. You just can't, it won't work. So you never ever want to make food decisions in the moment.

Marchelle (09:17):

No. And it's sad to say that the American food industry is targeted so much towards your primitive brain and trying to get us to stay in that mindset of like easy, convenient, you know, it makes them money. So there's so many bad decisions. I mean, like, look at all the fast food. I mean it's, and they're just billion dollar industry. So we're just a constant battle for all of us to to stay, you know, in our executive way of thinking. And for me prepping, prepping, prepping is the way to do

Dr. Angela Zechmann (09:48):

Yeah. It's, you're planning it ahead of time and you're preparing it ahead of time. Yeah.

Marchelle (09:52):

And it gets easier. I mean, at first, yeah. I mean, it kind of sucks at first because you know, we're not used to doing it and you do have to take some time out of, you know, what you might be doing otherwise, but after awhile it gets easier and then it just becomes a part of your regular routine. I promise, because at first I was like, oh, I don't want to do this. It's so much work. And and now it's it's just gotten easier and easier for me. Yeah,

Dr. Angela Zechmann (10:16):

Yeah. Yeah. It's so true. So, so what I recommend is that everybody plans ahead at least 24 hours in advance. So Marchelle will plan the whole week, which is a really advanced skill actually to plan everything a week in advance. But, but for those of us who are just getting started, planning 24 hours in advance is enough. And so let's say it's the night before, and you're thinking about your day, the next day. And you've got you're thinking, okay, I'm going to have, I'm going to have this for breakfast. I'm gonna have this for lunch. I'm going to have this for dinner. And you write it all down on a piece of paper this way, especially in the beginning this way, you're going to know exactly what you're supposed to eat, because you'll be going along all busy on at noon.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (11:10):

And you'll be like, oh yeah, it's time to eat. And you're like, wait a minute. What did I think I was going to eat? What did I plan? You know, you might have it with you. You might not have it with you. So you want to make sure that you write it down in the beginning. Okay. So that you know exactly what you're going to be having. So, so that kind of, you know, like planning it ahead is actually a relatively easy part of the weight loss journey. Even though it takes a little bit of extra time and thought the not so easy part is then learning how to manage your primitive brain when it presents you with urges in the moment. So what happens is, you know, you've got it all planned and then it's like, oh, you know, I had this chicken salad plan for lunch, but I don't really want to eat that. I'd rather have, I'd rather just go out for a fast food with, with my coworkers or something like that. Or I'd rather (inaudible).

Marchelle (12:11):

Sure our patients, you know, we talk about how you buy everything for your salads and then just rots in your refrigerator, not eating it. Right.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (12:21):

Yeah. So, so this is the real work of weight loss is managing that primitive brain because that primitive brain is always going to be presenting you with urges, for pleasure eating or relief of pain eating, meaning emotional eating, or convenience eating. Okay. But if you know that this is what's happening, you can plan for it. So if you know that you've got a chicken salad plan for lunch, but you know, you can just expect your brain to say, let's not do that. Let's do something different, just expect it. And then you can plan for what to do. So you're using your executive brain, your prefrontal cortex to plan, not just what you're going to eat, but how you're going to overcome the obstacles that your primitive brain puts in the way. Okay. So let's say that you have an emotional upset or you're bored, or you're anxious.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (13:25):

You have to learn how to process your feelings without caving into the desire to eat, or without people pleasing by eating some of your mother's cookies as what happens to Marchelle. So that's why it's so important to have this plan ahead of time. So plan what you're going to eat, plan, how you're going to handle any urge to eat off plan. And sometimes, you know what you're going to, you might want to just observe yourself for a few days and see, because sometimes you don't really know what the obstacles are until you're actually presented with them in the moment. And so it needs to be a very compassionate learning journey for you as well. So you don't have to be perfect at this. You can, you can make mistakes and we'll talk about failure in another podcast and how to make mistakes and how to, how to move past that.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (14:19):

But for now, what I want everybody to understand is just how important it is to notice what your brain does. Don't just go automatically eat, sit down and, and recognize and become aware of what kinds of urges your primitive brain comes up with in the moment, become much more aware of what types of emotional upsets you experienced during the day. Upset might be too strong of a word, but, you know, I always have this time at three o'clock in the afternoon where I just, I get kind of antsy and restless, cause I just want to go home, you know? And so we all kind of have periods of time, lots of, lots of people with young children, they get the kids to bed and then that's the time where, oh, thank God. They can finally relax. So that's a struggle period for a lot of people.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (15:11):

So we all have periods during our days where we have these sort of ups and downs in our emotional in our emotions and understanding your own rhythms will be very, very helpful. Okay. What I want people to know is that when you do the weight loss journey really well, and you learn how to manage your primitive brain, this weight loss journey then becomes a training ground for a whole new set of life skills. Okay. Because what you're going to discover is that you have other goals that your primitive brain is getting in the way of too, not just weight loss. And so what you're going to end up doing is really being able to use your prefrontal cortex brain to move yourself forward in life in all kinds of other ways. So that's why I'm so excited about the weight loss journey done right for people because the skills that you learn are absolutely incredible. Okay. it's, it's not easy. I don't, I don't want anybody to think it's easy, but it's super, super rewarding. So Marchelle, do you have any comments or anything?

Marchelle (16:29):

I'm just thinking like something that you told me back when, because I remember, you know, when I first started this, I was really connected to snacking. I still am. I still have like problem with snacking. And I would always think that I was hungry. Like I'm hungry, you know? So I'm snacking. I remember you telling me, like when we were studying, you know, on the scale of emotions to like, when, when you think you're hungry, instead of automatically, you know, like what sounds good, what tastes good and going with that to like sort of stop and label your emotion that you're feeling, even if it's just boredom and then, and then sort of assessing the situation like, okay, well I just ate lunch. I'm not hungry right now. Probably like feeling some type of way and then sort of like sitting with that and then letting it pass and it does pass and, and it, and it's hard at first because like, if you're a snacker, like I am, it's hard to tell myself no, when I want snacks.

Marchelle (17:26):

I mean, mostly I snack out of boredom and and you know, just to get like that, that little bit of pleasure, you know, that feel good, you know, I'm snacking on whatever, some, whatever, you know, I don't wanna, I don't wanna say any trigger words, but you know, on anything that I shouldn't be eating. And and so that's, that's one thing I remember, cause I was just trying to think back on, like, how did I get started on that? You know, try to get past it and definitely talking to yourself very, very kindly because this is a journey, you know, it's not, I mean, it's, this is gonna, this is not something we're just cured from, you know, in a month or, I mean, it's, you know, obesity is a disease and getting this under control. I mean, it takes, it takes a long time to understand it and and you know, you just gotta be super supportive to yourself. And so like, even me, so this is my third time of doing the sugar and flour detox. And so I am on day. What am I on day five.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (18:26):

Yeah. Oh, awesome. Yeah.

Marchelle (18:28):

Yeah. And that was with a root canal to see, so pretty well, I think what you said, one of those life situations where you can resort back to you know, to like the comfort foods I'm trying to, you know, I'm trying to like just learn and do things differently. And when I have to start over again, I start over again and I just use it as a learning experience. And I just, yeah, I just think you just gotta be really supportive to yourself and, and just don't, don't give in so easily when you feel like you're hungry. And for me also with the meal planning, I don't plan meals like a week ahead because like, I'm super, like I'm an overachiever. The reason why I do that is because when I'm skipping breakfast, I know that's when I'm, when I'm off track.

Marchelle (19:19):

And I just so happened because, because I'm lazy and I don't love to cook that much. I found this breakfast frittata that I can make a whole week's worth and then wrap them up, you know, and put them in the refrigerator. And then I feel like, okay, so I got my breakfast. So it's when I'm eating breakfast every day, I really feel like I'm, you know, I'm on my game. And so that's, that's why, that's why I do that. And it just turns out that I can plan, you know, a week ahead. But if you can't plan a weekend and you can plan a day ahead, you know, do that, it's whatever works for you. Yeah.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (19:53):

Yeah. The idea is to plan it ahead to never make food decisions in the moment, always because that's your primitive brain. That's going to make those food decisions. If you have planned ahead and you're you're making your food decisions at least 24 hours in advance, right? Then your prefrontal cortex is making those decisions. And you might even plan that you're going to have a special splurge meal, you know, like maybe it's Friday. And you know, you're going to go out on Saturday night and you're going to have a splurge meal at a restaurant because there's a celebration or an occasion, just make sure that you've planned it ahead of time so that your prefrontal cortex is making the decision, not your primitive brain

Dr. Angela Zechmann (20:42):

And whatever you planned to eat at that restaurant or whatever it is that you've planned to follow that plan in the moment. Okay. So that's, that's the tricky part is too. Cause you know, you can get to the restaurant and then you'll be like tempted with all kinds of things in your prefrontal, your, your primitive brain is going to say, oh, well, that sounds better than that. What you'd planned, you know, it's just always about managing that primitive brain. So you learn to manage your primitive brain and the urges that come from your primitive brain, you are going to be successful at weight loss, but it takes time. And you have to understand that, you know, you've got patterns that you have developed over many, many years. And so like you were talking about with snacking, like your brain is used to, was used to getting snacks all day.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (21:32):

And so then you tell your brain, well, no, we're not doing that anymore. And your brain is going to put up a little bit of a fight, right? Takes a little time for the brain to stop getting used to those little snacks. Okay. But you can extinguish that pattern pretty quickly. So just you just extinguish the bat, the patterns that don't serve you and develop patterns that do serve you. And and you lose weight as you go. It's never happens as fast as you want it to, but you lose weight as you go. And when you slip up, you just start over the only people who fail are the people who quit. Right.

Marchelle (22:10):

Never give up - No matter what happens,

Dr. Angela Zechmann (22:12):

can't give up. Yeah.

Marchelle (22:13):


Dr. Angela Zechmann (22:14):

Yeah. So just to kind of sum up, I would like to ask all of our listeners to ask themselves, who is it that's making your food decisions? Is it your primitive brain, or is it your prefrontal cortex, your executive brain, or some of each? Who do you want to be making your food decisions? How are you going to make sure that your future self is healthy and happy? So those are my questions for you. And I would encourage you to sit down and do some journaling about this and start writing things down that you're eating and notice your patterns. Get in touch with what you're feeling when you're having these urges to eat. Name the feeling. That's huge! And start using your prefrontal cortex to make your food decisions and see what happens. I guarantee you you'll be satisfied if you do. All right. Thank you so much for listening everybody. And we will see you again next week. Take care. Bye-Bye

Closing (23:25):

Hey, if you really want to lose weight and keep it off for good, your next step is to sign up for Dr. Angela's free weight loss course, where you're going to learn everything you need to get started on your weight loss journey, the right way. Just head over to to sign up. Also, it would be awesome if you could take a few moments and write a review on iTunes. Thanks! And we'll see you in Journey Beyond Weight Loss.

Dr. Angela



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