Dieting or writing – we still need to outwit our reptilian brains
Updated: Apr 10
Our writing-dieting selves like to think we’re all frontal lobe, all about visioning, reasoning, planning and problem solving. But hidden deep in the centre of the head are our reptilian brains – the amygdala associated with memory, emotion and fear, and the hypothalamus which controls thirst, hunger, sleep and sex.
These are the hunting gathering parts of the brain that refuse to let us starve to death or to think too much before acting. They’re why, despite dieting, we can’t lose weight.
Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt explains it all in her TED talk, “Why your brain doesn’t want you to lose weight”. In plain English though, what she says is, we’re programmed to be a certain set weight. When we start dieting to over-ride the system, the hypothalamus thinks we starving and ramps up our appetite. It also works harder to slow our metabolism so we burn less energy. Apparently, even after keeping weight off for seven years, our brain will still want to make us gain it back.
Now, this is a woman who lost 10 lbs and is still keeping it off. So what’s the secret?
Mindful eating, listening to your body, giving yourself permission to eat what you want slowly, with no distractions,. That way, your mind feels full. The reptilian brain feels safe and happy.
Then put the frontal cortex to work. Have it develop 4 healthy habits – eating fruit and vegetables, exercising every day, quitting cigarettes, drinking only moderately and no soft drinks!
What’s this got to do with writing?
Well… right now my reptilian brain is scared shitless, so scared it’s paralyzed. The first round edits for my novel are done and I’ve just sent them back to my editor together with the historical epilogue the publisher needed. This novel is going to go out. What’s more, another publisher’s just bought my anthology of short stories Heart – 9 Cuts. I am a writer, there is no doubt about it. But my reptilian brains wants to be a hunter, a gathererer, an unthinking barefoot in the kitchen baker of banana-cream pies. “Don’t you know, men don’t like clever women?” it whispers. “Keep quiet, shut up,” it hisses. “It’s dangerous, all that self revelation.”
My fingers on the key board are paralyzed. I have no words.
I give in, just a little, to that old reptile. I tell it I’ll ease off. I won’t write anything knew. Nothing significant anyway. Just so it’ll feel safe and shut up!
And then I turn to that good old frontal cortex and to my good habits – wWaking up, turning the computer on, going back to those bits and pieces I’ve been working on that need tweaking, the blog I’m committed to posting on.
I went to my poetry and started a piece. Something innocuous … Here it is, incomplete …
FRUITS In the cool dry the insects play
Odalisques of mango Avocado ovals Milkfruit orbs
They bask through the hot They ripen
Today Under a deluge I taste the harvest
Given by fate my golden-skinned daughter used to say Of the mangos that fell at her feet Along her way to school
At eighteen she took to the seas to escape the hunger The fish have her bones now Her fate – I hear her laugh Mangoes do not float
The avocados are from the mountains where they sent my son He returned wrapped in khaki green…. (more later)