In Pavlov’s laboratory, the scientists rang a bell when they fed the dogs. The dogs saw the food and began to salivate. After repeating this sequence enough times, the scientists only needed to ring the bell to get the dogs to salivate. The dogs no longer needed to actually see the food to want it.
The way our brains work is that something cues an urge. The urge puts us in motion to satisfy the urge. The urge is rewarded by the action. This sequence repeated enough times becomes habit. Once it is a habit we no longer need the cue. We just do it. No cue, no urge, just action.
I started getting iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts when I drove out of town. The coffee was yummy and relieved some of the boredom of driving. Now when I see the Dunkin Donuts, I swing into the drive through and buy the coffee. I don’t even consider if I am hungry, if I really want it, or if I can do without it. I just get it even if I know that it is cheaper to adder creamer to cold coffee from home and that will be just as satisfying. The cue is the Dunkin Donuts sign. The urge is for the iced coffee. The motion was driving in. The reward is the relief from boredom (more than the taste). Now it is habit.
The food industry really knows how to screw up a good diet with their signs. They know how to create pleasant associations for us with their products. They know how to get us to automatically purchase a food item that we wouldn’t buy if not cued and how to get us to buy it without really thinking.
How much of your eating is based on habit not on desire? Mindfulness is one way to learn to think about eating before you eat and during to get maximum pleasure and satisfaction instead of thinking afterward in the form of self-chastising.