Neuronal Crowding, Your Brain, and Your Diet


Nutrition plans can be put into 2 phases: Planning & Executing. Generally, people love the planning phase. This is the fun part. You get to decide what diet plan you are going to use, select meals and recipes that you are going to eat, and you can even model out your rate of weight loss to see when you will hit major weight loss milestones. All of this positive anticipation has your brain gushing out the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine. This is the enjoyment of this stage in your nutrition plan.

Then Monday comes and it is time for action.

What were you even thinking?

Counting calories? I have like 7 TPS reports to file!!

Lunch hits and you are wondering…how much fiber is in the rice from Chipolte? Am I on track to get…who cares..I’m really hungry.

3pm…that last meeting was rather stressful, my brain is fried…but where can I find something that has 25g of protein, 7g of fiber, 14g of fat, and no added sugar…that is also gluten free? You know, there is a granola bar right here. It looks good, I have enough to worry about at the moment, this will work.

I teach clients a concept called called Neuronal Crowding using the stage metaphor for your conscious brain that I learned from David Rock.

What you just read was neuronal crowding.

Here’s the short version.

Your brain is like a stage. Things that you consciously hold in your brain are the actors. Actors can come and go from the stage and the stage can only hold so many actors. Just like your brain can consciously hold so many ideas at once (3-4 max). When we are making diet plans, we generally make plans that require too much thought (more actors) and we don’t consider all the other things that you have to do in a day (more actors). When you get tired or stressed out, you can’t hold onto as many ideas in your brain (the stage gets dimmer and smaller).

When you get tired and stressed, it is food related ideas and concepts that are generally the first to go (not work or family related things).

I think it is key to simplify and segment your diet plan. What are the 1-2 things that you can focus on now? Get really good at those things so that you don’t have to consciously think about it. (For example, I never think about having protein at every meal, it is second nature.). Once you do that, you can add 1-2 new nutritionally related things to work on..and you repeat this process. At first glance, this might seem like a slower approach, but it is in fact the fast track to diet success.

Approaching your diet like this helps keep neuronal crowding at bay so that you can make progress with your diet AND continue to focus and make progress in your life.

Some action questions/things to think about:

What is causing your diet to get kicked off the stage that is your brain?

How can you change your plan so that you don’t need to even think about it consciously?

One strategy to get you started is to switch from a food journal (writing down what you eat after you eat it) to a meal plan (determining what you are going to eat well in advance of the meal).

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