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Does the fear of missing out (FOMO) get to you?

behaviour change Nov 03, 2021

Do you see the gleaming, shiny cakes in the pastry shop and want to try one, even though you are committed to eating low carb? How about hearing the crunch of your teenage child eating their toast, or the smell of pizza wafting by as you walk past the pizzeria, or seeing the icy beer loaded esky and big bowls with chips piled high at your mate’s barbeque? All of these sounds, sights and smells can elicit powerful feelings in our brain that we are missing out. FOMO can be a very powerful force and can be difficult to overcome.

FOMO can play with our minds and get in our way, especially if our goal is to choose good food and lose weight. At Real Life Medicine, we coach people on improving their relationship with food. We encourage people to enjoy their food, and to use food primarily to nourish their body, rather than using food for entertainment, for consolation, or for comfort. Emotional eating wreaks havoc with our health goals. However, it is totally possible to overcome emotional eating. And overcoming FOMO is an important part of that.


Our two-step process for overcoming FOMO is:

  1. Understand that FOMO is natural and normal and just accept that it is a slightly uncomfortable but normal part of life.
  2. Harness your natural ‘negativity bias’.


Let me explain...

We humans are always going to have FOMO, the fear of missing out. That's just how our brains work. We are genetically primed to want to be included and to feel that we are “part of the tribe”. We don't want to miss out on anything that the tribe is doing, we feel a biological need to be included. From an evolutionary point of view, this makes complete sense. We are social creatures and throughout our evolution, our survival depended on our peers, on the people in our tribe, the people in our community. And if they didn't like us, or if we were not a part of the tribe/community, then our chances of survival were severely impaired. So over millions of years, there has been this genetic selection to want to be included, to want to be involved, and to not miss out. 

The marketing mischief of big food companies will prey on our innate FOMO to try and manipulate us to buy their crappy, processed “food-like” products. Manufacturers will exploit this “I don't want to miss out” part of our genetic makeup. In addition to this, the highly processed, hyper-palatable and high carb foods that big food companies push are addictive and light up our brain’s dopamine reward systems, making them even harder to pass up. 

But you can! You really can.

Imagine you are in a supermarket and you're doing your shopping. Because you are nourishing your body with low carb real food, you are shopping mostly around the perimeter of the supermarket. But as you walk around picking out your avocados, green veggies and cream cheese, you notice the big flashy advertising promoting a brand new limited edition flavour of Cadbury chocolate that you've never seen before. As you see that sign your brain will start ticking over. “I've never seen it before”. “It's only going to be there for a little while”. “This is my only opportunity to taste this Cadbury chocolate”. “It's not going to be here in a few months' time”. You will then start to think of all the reasons why you should buy the bar of crappy sugary processed junk, because you don't want to miss out on whatever crappy processed Cadbury chocolate has to offer you.

So how do you overcome FOMO in this instance?

Take a moment and pause. Understand that this is natural and normal. Everyone gets FOMO. If you simply walk on past and accept the uncomfortable feelings, they won’t last. 

But what if that is not enough to quell the FOMO? What do we do when the FOMO is particularly strong? This is a good time to harness your natural negativity bias.

I mentioned that FOMO is an unavoidable part of being human. There is another unavoidable part of being human that is very useful here, our negativity bias.

We humans naturally hang on to the negative comments, especially about ourselves. You may have heard that saying, you need to hear ten good things about yourself to counteract one bad thing. Our brains are like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. The bad things that we hear stick in our brain and really, really stay there. The good things we hear can just bounce off. Like FOMO, our negativity bias is a psychological survival strategy that our brains have developed. We needed to be accepted by the tribe. We needed to be part of the community. And so we work really, really hard to make sure that, from a survival point of view, we fit in, that we please people, that we're not annoying too many people. That way we could stay in the tribe, because staying in the tribe gave us a survival advantage.

We all have this negativity bias. We just do. We might not like it, but it's there and we need to learn to work with it. And there's a little trick that you can use with your negativity bias to counteract FOMO.  

When you see the crappy, sugary laden junk, with its bright, shiny signs saying, "I'm new, eat me, eat me, eat me", you can say to yourself, “that won't taste good”. Just use your own negativity bias and push it out. Convince yourself that it will be disappointing. Say to yourself, “I will be disappointed by that”. 

The beer in the esky? “It won’t taste that nice”. The cakes in the pastry shop? “They always look better than they taste”. The pleasant-smelling pizza? “It won’t be worth it, and I will feel sick if I eat it”.

Just say to yourself, “it'll be disappointing. It won't taste that good”. 

You can harness your own natural human negativity to help avoid FOMO. This is a very handy way to avoid the fear of missing out, when indeed you're not actually missing out on anything other than the chance to poison yourself with some sugary junk, or to feel icky after eating off plan.  

It is totally possible to overcome FOMO!


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