Planning: The Secret to Outsmarting Our Impulsive Brain

Turning what we “Should Do” into "What We Do”

You know the cartoon image — an angel on one shoulder trying to convince you to be responsible, and a devil on the other tempting you to give in to desire. That classic battle is a fairly good illustration of the struggle many people with diabetes experience making eating choices every day.  The imaginary angel and devil represent two parts of your brain, and food can stir up quite a debate inside your head.

The imaginary angel on your shoulder is the smart part of your brain – your “thinking” brain. Your thinking brain understands that better eating decisions today will be important to your health five years from now. Your thinking brain can decide which foods are best for managing diabetes, and lead you to better health.

The little devil on your shoulder is your “working” brain. Your working brain is all about survival instinct, and it wants you to eat whenever food is available. Your working brain doesn’t think about your health five years from now – it’s worried that you may starve tomorrow if you don’t eat right now. If food was in short supply, your working brain would save your life. When food is everywhere you turn, your working brain makes healthy eating very difficult.

For most of your life your thinking brain rules, but when it comes to food it’s a different story. When you see food, smell food, or think about food your working brain can take control. And, where diabetes is concerned that can be a problem. Can we ever hope to silence that little devil, and gain better control over impulsive eating behaviors? We can if we plan.

Planning your meals ahead of time does much more than just save you time. Planning puts your thinking brain in charge of your eating decisions when you’re not standing eye to eye with food. And, planning means deciding exactly what you’re going to eat, not simply thinking “I’m going to eat something healthy.”

Try these three when you plan exercise, and see what a difference listening to your angel will make:

  • Plan a full week’s menu following the meal plan you received from your registered dietitian.  Your diabetes meal plan provides a road map for your meals, but you can plan exactly which foods fit and include foods you enjoy.
  • Write your grocery shopping list before you go shopping, and stick to it while you shop.
  • Plan ahead when you are dining outside of your home by reviewing menus and the nutrition information on the restaurant websites or on an app. Eating out is definitely challenging and comes with a lot of distractions that can keep you from making wise choices. Making your choices in advance keeps the influence of delicious menu items, the sights and smells of food, and conversation with your dining mates from affecting your food choices.
(4 Articles)

Toby Smithson is a registered and licensed Dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association).


Toby’s expertise in diabetes management is unique. Beyond her professional credentials to practice as a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, she has effectively managed her own Type 1 diabetes for over 45 years to achieve a “text book” personal health status. Smithson is the co-author of ”Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies”” by Wiley Publishing, released in October 2013. This hard earned credibility makes her an invaluable resource to individuals, community groups and media.


Toby founded, an online technical and lifestyle support resource for people with diabetes. offers constant access to Toby’s unique professional and personal diabetes management insights, primarily through original video segments. Video productions address food in diet planning and recipe preparation, as well as physical activity, medical management, diabetes lifestyle and motivation.

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