Although disrupted brain chemistry and impairment of the endocrine system can influence our thoughts and behaviors and they are the root of cravings for sugar and carbs, our thoughts, language, and behavior can also influence our brain and endocrine system.
You can overcome your cravings by resetting your biochemistry with changes in diet and lifestyle, as taught in the Break Your Sugar Addiction Toolkit. However, some triggers that can lead to a bout of cheating, binging, or compulsive overeating and prevent you from adhering to the Paleo diet are the result of thought patterns and not cravings. These patterns are often referred to as the Inner Saboteur, or inner critic, negative self-talk, inner judge, etc.
You know the voice; you’ve heard it more times than you care to remember. It’s the one that says something like, “go ahead and eat that cookie, candy bar, pizza, ice cream, latte” or whatever the case may be, “you deserve it.” Or it might say, “eating sugar and carbs is not that bad” or “the Paleo diet is a bunch of crap anyhow.” It will come up with a very long list of excuses, justifications, and rationalizations for why you shouldn’t or can’t make the changes in diet that are needed to overcome your cravings and improve your mental and physical health.
Origins of the Inner Saboteur
We all have an Inner Saboteur to some degree or another, (you may have more than one and each one may deal with different issues) but some people have a louder and more prominent one than others that can really thwart any efforts to change. The volume of the Inner Saboteur and the frequency it shows up is usually dependent on how one is raised in childhood; if there was a lot of criticism, belittling, or putting down as a child, this gets internalized and exhibited in many areas of our lives. The phrases the Inner Saboteur uses often mimic the words it heard growing up. If one is raised in a loving and supportive environment, then the internal world mirrors more of this instead.
The important point to become aware of is that the Inner Saboteur developed these thought patterns because of being exposed to them consistently. It’s a type of programming. Then the programming got reinforced each time the voice played in your head and you acted on it as if it were truth. Therefore, you can change these thought patterns (reprogram) with repetition and consistency of new thoughts and actions.
When you think and behave in a particular way about something, it forms a pathway in your brain. A pathway is simply a series of neurons connecting to one another. The more that pathway is used the stronger it gets; neurons will just fire in that direction automatically. Just like when you learned to ride a bicycle or drive a car. At first, both of these activities were difficult, but after you practiced riding a bike or driving a car, a pathway was formed in your brain and then you could do it with ease.
If you build a new pathway and begin to use it more frequently, then the old pathway will weaken as the neurons will break away from one another. So, you see, the Inner Saboteur is not really an entity, but simply a series of neurons that have wired together and formed a pathway; and they can be rewired to support the new way you want to eat and live.
Your brain is used to going down that old, comfortable, and familiar road (pathway), even if it doesn’t serve you well, so you must teach it to go down different roads. This is achieved by developing an awareness of and interrupting the undesirable thought process, counteracting it with new thought patterns and engaging in a new behavior. The more often you interrupt these thought patterns, the less they will occur. Eventually, they will disappear and you will have a new pathway that your brain follows.
Thought patterns (the Inner Saboteur) are addressed by first recognizing when they occur and then cutting them off in their tracks. Here are the steps in that process:
1. Become Aware of Your Inner Saboteur
There are many different thought patterns that can sabotage your efforts to make changes in your diet and some of them may be subtle or the pathway is so strong you don’t recognize that it’s happening until it’s too late and you’re on the couch filled with self-loathing after a binge, saying, “I don’t know what the hell happened.” So, you begin by first becoming more aware of your Inner Saboteur and what it has to say.
Make a list of all its conversations, sentences, statements, and objections that you hear in your head, whenever they come up. Write them down on paper. In the sugar addiction toolkit, I provide a worksheet and examples that you can print out to use for this exercise if you desire, or you can just make your own if you like.
This will help you identify which patterns you need to work on and become better at distinguishing the difference between your own voice and the voice of your Inner Saboteur.
2. Interrupt with Counteracting Statements
Now, take each one of those sentences you’ve written down taken from your Inner Saboteur and beside them write down a counter statement that supports the new pathway you want to create and is the opposite of what the Inner Saboteur is saying. Give this step some thought. Come up with the most powerful and influential statements you can think of. Something that makes you feel empowered when you say it.
At the precise moment that you notice the sabotaging thoughts appear the next time, you’re going to use your counter statements to stop them by reciting the counter statement out loud. For example, perhaps your Inner Saboteur tells you that “your binging is not that bad, go ahead and do it.” As soon as you hear that statement in your head, you say your counter statement out loud, “that’s not true, my binging is destructive to my health.”
You can literally say, “Stop, Stop, Stop” in front of your counter statement to give it more power, if you like, but you don’t have to. You can also blink your eyes three times in addition to or instead of saying Stop, Stop, Stop. Use this part of the technique if you find that saying your counter statement is not working as well as you like. This reinforces the interruption.
If you are in a public place and can’t say your counter statement out loud, then it is okay to say it in your head. However, the technique is more powerful when the counter statement is said out loud. So you want to say it out loud as often as possible, with enthusiasm and passion.
3. Design an Alternate Plan and Divert your Attention
Some thought patterns are attached to behavior, if that is the case, then a new behavior must also accompany the counter-statement. For example, you always stop at Starbucks on the way home from work, then you need to plan ahead and have an alternate plan that involves doing something different in that time frame.
If no alternate plan is required, then you immediately put your attention onto something else. If you were in the middle of something when the thought appeared, then just go back to what you were doing. If you weren’t doing anything, then find something to direct your attention on like the view out the window, stepping outside and focusing on the feel of the elements, the TV, a book, a song, your pet, a brief period of exercise, singing, washing the dishes, or anything that works for you to redirect your attention.
New pathways (thought patterns) are formed with repetition and consistency. You must reinforce the new pathway over and over. Each time the sabotaging thought appears, you must interrupt and divert.
Rules for Talking to the Inner Saboteur
Although we call this part of our brain the Inner Saboteur, it really does not have bad intentions or wish to harm you. It originates in a very old, primitive, and unconscious part of your brain that is connected to basic survival and instinct, called the limbic system. Its goal is to protect you from anything that might be harmful and ensure your survival. So it thinks it is doing a good thing by trying to protect you from negative consequences that might arise from taking risks.
However, it doesn’t like change and it always errs on the side of caution. Therefore, it can become overzealous in its efforts to protect you, which actually inhibits you from moving forward in life. In most cases, it is a wounded piece of you that needs kindness, love, compassion, and understanding. It is also like a child that needs firm discipline with a kind hand and encouragement to step out of the comfort zone and into the unknown. You must make it do some things it doesn’t want to do for its own good. With the right guidance, you can make it work for you.
You should never be mean, abusive, critical, belittling, demeaning, or yell at your Inner Saboteur, because this is how it developed in the first place. It will only get stronger and louder. Your tone and volume should be confident and strong, but not domineering.
You’re not trying to resist, eliminate, or conquer the Inner Saboteur; you are simply trying to quiet it down. The more you resist a part of yourself the more powerful and persistent it becomes.
You want to befriend your Inner Saboteur so it will be willing to cooperate with you.
It may even be helpful to say something like, “I hear you, but this is not in our best interest.” Or “Thank you for trying to help, but …”
Your goal is to use your new brain (conscious brain) to kindly challenge the Inner Saboteur and convince them that making the changes you want to change is in your best interest and that the old way of doing things is actually what will harm you. When this is done, then its voice will become quieter, appear less frequently, and it will begin to work with you instead of against you.
Because, once it understands that the changes in diet and lifestyle you want to make will actually ensure your survival, then its voice will start to support this position instead. Eventually, the voice will start to object when you eat bad non-Paleo foods or don’t live in a manner that supports health. The Inner Saboteur can then become an asset in your goal for recovery as you can use its power and passion to go in the right direction.
Engage in New Eating Behaviors
However, please note that you are not likely to be very effective at befriending your Inner Saboteur if you do not actually start making the necessary changes in diet and lifestyle that are needed to correct brain chemistry and the endocrine system. As long as you are eating sugar, carbs, grains, legumes, caffeine, etc., you will be at the mercy of your disrupted brain chemistry and endocrine system. They will sabotage you as well and join forces with the Inner Saboteur.
Your conscious brain, (which is what you will use to quiet your Inner Saboteur) is impaired when it is being fed sugar, carbs, grains, caffeine, etc. and will be incapable of standing up to the unconscious brain (which is what rules the Inner Saboteur). As long as you are eating sugar, carbs, grains, caffeine, etc., the Inner Saboteur will be running the show.
Once you start engaging in the new eating behaviors and begin to experience improvements in your mental and physical health and reduction in cravings, then the conscious brain gets clearer and stronger and the Inner Saboteur will take note that the changes are good (not a threat to survival) and it will no longer object. The Inner Saboteur will start to mirror the new words and actions that you reinforce more frequently. Eventually, the old thinking patterns will be replaced with the new and it will start working with you rather than against you.
However, it takes a little time for this process to complete. The new thinking patterns and eating behaviors must be reinforced over and over again. Eating properly helps you break the thinking patterns and breaking the thinking patterns helps you eat properly; the two work together as a team and must be put into action simultaneously.
Remember “repetition and consistency” are the keywords for not only breaking thought patterns (the Inner Saboteur) but for developing healthier eating habits and for restoring balance to brain chemistry and the endocrine system as well.
The material I just presented to you is an excerpt from one of my eBooklets called Quieting the Inner Saboteur which is found in my Break Your Sugar Addiction Today Toolkit. The toolkit provides you with a blueprint to help you overcome your cravings for sugar and carbs, as well as caffeine, chocolate, or any other substance by restoring balance to your brain chemistry and endocrine system.
Check it out today, and in just a few weeks you can eliminate your cravings, binges, and mood swings, enjoy profound freedom from your food compulsions, and remain committed to the Paleo diet with ease.