Temptation is something we have all experienced at one time or another, and some of us experience it more often than others. The actual definition of the word Temptation is a ‘desire to engage in short term urges for enjoyment that threaten long- term goals.”
And if that definition alone didn’t do it for you, then let’s look at some of the synonyms for the word temptation; desire, urge, itch, impulse, seduction, attraction, draw, pull and lure.
Yup that sounds about right!
It’s that little booger that keeps you from saying NO to that piece of cake, one more drink, some more fries, another slice of pizza, all the chips and dip… I could do this all day.
Why is that though?
How exactly does temptation work? It’s not quite as simple as you merely saying you’ve got no will power. It’s pretty intricate a system, and it all comes down to one tiny little neurotransmitter… Dopamine. Dopamine regulates emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The anticipation of a reward increases the amount of dopamine released in the brain which in turn mediates the desire for that reward and motivation to get it.
Well SHIT! That’s pretty much everything that spurs us to give in to temptation isn’t it!? This is a good thing though. Because now that you know the science behind WHY your brain tells you to pick up that cookie and why once you have that cookie you only want more cookies, you can also use that same principal to manipulate those signals and not allow them to throw you off course.
For some people that’s easy. You crave some chocolate, enjoy one little square and you’re good to go. For other people it’s not quite that simple.
Are you an emotional eater? Do you bury your stresses in comfort foods? Do you see that heavenly looking piece of cookie cake that you KNOW tastes SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO good that one piece turns into 5? Yeah, that’s the dopamine. Your brain has this amazing ability to remember situations; both pleasurable ones and painful ones. You don’t touch a hot stove after accidentally burning yourself once. If your fondest childhood memory was the first time you ate a funnel cake at the fair with your dad, you’ll always choose to get a funnel cake at the fair to remember that wonderful first experience. It’s all the same action.
Does your cheat meal often turn into a cheat day? After that meal that you assumed would satisfy you you’re now craving all those foods that you demonize throughout the rest of the week. Yup, that’s the dopamine too. You’ve expended so much thought and effort trying to stay away from those certain foods you’ve placed into the “bad” category that you just want them even more as soon as you get a tiny taste of them.
So why is it so incredibly difficult for some of us to have the self control to say no to temptation? Well there is a little bit of that dopamine response that plays a role in whether or not we give in to temptations, but it can also be shown that self control and self discipline are possible in those tempting situations.
It would seem as though one of the main contributing factors to your level of willpower is in fact…WILLPOWER. You’re probably thinking “well that’s just great!” and you know what!? It actually is! It’s another one of those teachable moments in life. You see, if you’re exerting too much willpower in one area of your life it will actually negatively affect your ability to exert willpower in other situations! If you’re trying to live too rigidly and not allowing yourself to relax and enjoy life, you’re truly going to be more likely to have difficulty resisting temptation. So, yes, dopamine plays a huge role, but it doesn’t play the ONLY role in whether or not you say no to the taquitos at your next Mexican Fiesta.
BALANCE AS A MEDIATOR
It’s all about creating a balance in your overall lifestyle. A balance that enables you to have the flexibility and freedom needed to indulge on a semi regular basis… AND not feel bad about it! This is key for keeping you from feeling deprived. Deprivation just leads to overthinking, overthinking to obsession, and obsession to binging. Instead, what would it look like for you to allow yourself to have a treat two to three times a week? What would it look like for you to allow yourself to fit in some french fries with dinner sometimes or add other foods you feel like you “can’t have” all the time?
From a mental standpoint, adding those things into your life more regularly will serve to help lessen cravings for them and allow you to find and perfect that balance. Balance will always be necessary when seeking positive long term, sustainable progress.
When social gatherings, holidays or travel come around preparation is the key, both mentally and physically. Balance yourself within that plan. If you want a certain type of food or multiple foods; account for them in advance. If you have a fear that trigger foods will be present and you’ll be unable to deal with the urge to give in; create a plan of action. Make healthy choices leading up to the event. Getting good food quality in earlier in the day has been shown to positively affect decision making later in the day. If you’re trying to keep your drinking to a minimum, alternate slowly sipping a drink with slowly sipping a glass of water or other non-alcoholic beverage.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As we close in on 2019, there are more food products in our lives than ever before and every single life event from celebrations to mournings revolves around food. There is absolutely no way to rid yourself of experiencing temptation, but you do have the power to choose how you respond to those temptations.
Learning to relax, enjoy yourself if moderation and not beat yourself up afterwards are the tools that will set you up for success in achieving balance and making resisting those temptations easier!