I wanted a cheeseburger really bad the other day. However, I had made a pledge to really buckle down on cutting out the high-octane junk intake. The problem was I had nothing in the way between me and cheeseburger. There were no obligations to attend to, no financial or logistical barriers preventing me from obtaining my coveted treat. I thought I should maybe head downstairs and hit the heavy bag or the elliptical. Then again, if I had that kind of drive, I wouldn't need to be worrying about cheeseburgers so much.
Idle hands are the devil's playthings, and in this case my devil was that Wendy's girl. So I picked up the controller. Within 20 minutes, I wasn't thinking about cheeseburgers, I was thinking about buckling down and completing all the side quests I had been putting off in "Skyrim." An hour later, I had forgotten about the cheeseburger. It was 7 p.m. and I was hungry like a normal person who needs food for energy and survival. Not a person who is fueled by a predominantly cheeseburger-centric diet.
This may surprise you, but I am not a qualified neuroscientist or behaviorist. However, I think I have stumbled upon a quirk that exists in my own brain and perhaps yours as well. My brain has a pleasure center. Like B.F. Skinner's rats, when I have no other pressing obligations, I generally look for stuff to send signals to that center. There seems to be a certain region of that center that responds to video games, junk food and watching my favorite television shows. I think that I can divert from one by substituting it with another. This sort of makes sense.
When you talk to people or read about individuals who have dealt with addiction, a common tale is after kicking one addiction, they just replaced it with another. Heroin addicts focus their attention on smoking, alcoholics focus on compulsive sex, gamblers redirect to alcohol, “World of Warcraft” addicts pick up “Magic: The Gathering,” etc. The reason behind this, from my understanding, is that addiction is all one affliction. If you're an addict, you can be addicted to just about anything that comes into your world.
The brain, chemically and emotionally, seems to just want you to press the right buttons, and doesn't really care how you press them.
I'm trying to take this knowledge and apply it positively. I seem to be able to redirect cravings for black raspberry ice cream, cheesesteaks and pizza into “NHL 12,” “Mass Effect 3” and “Civilization V.” For whatever reason, the games I love press the same buttons as the foods I love. The difference, of course, is that the games I love are only trying to kill me digitally while the cheeseburgers are trying to kill me literally.
After all, what is dieting but tricking your brain into not wanting things that it wants? Why not trick it with something you actually enjoy?