Intuitive Eating

Dealing with your lizard brain

June 7, 2016

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


You'll also love

learn more

A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

You are at a restaurant surveying the menu, trying to decide what to order.  A rich, luscious dish catches your eye.  It sounds so good, just what your body is craving.  And then you see it, the number written beside the item that has the power to send your entire body into physiologic overdrive.  I’m not referring to the price.  I’m referring to the calories.  Suddenly a meal that sounded delicious is now the fear-based equivalent to a saber tooth tiger.  

Your "lizard brain" has been activated.  I am borrowing this term from Seth Godin who has written and talked about it extensively.  It is the primitive fear center in your brain, the amygdala to be specific.  The fear can make you freeze like a squirrel in the middle of the street, unable to decide which way to go.  Guess what, the squirrel dies.  Fear is a powerful thing, regardless of how seemingly trivial the thing is that you’re afraid of.  Sure, it might just be a high calorie plate of food, but to your lizard brain it’s just as scary as the tiger.

At this point you have a few options to quiet the lizard brain:

-Get up and leave the restaurant

-Scan the menu for the lowest calorie option and order that instead, regardless of how unsatisfying it is

-Make a pact with yourself to “get rid” of the calories after the meal through compensatory behaviors

-Order the dish you originally wanted, eat it mindfully, stop when satisfied and let your lizard brain thrash while you enjoy your meal.  


The last option doesn’t exactly quiet the lizard brain in the moment, but in the long-term, repetition of this exercise “proves” to your brain that you can eat what you want, regardless of the calorie content.  Eventually the fear response calms down.  The other options offer short-term gratification by giving in to your lizard brain like a toddler in a toy store.  Giving in to your lizard brain might seem like a good idea in the moment but doesn’t always work out in the long run.

Leave a Reply