Food and Pleasure
Before the holidays, I went for allergy testing to find out what foods I have become intolerant to. To my surprise, the list was really long. My body began to react to my favorite food choices including, my beloved chocolate! It has an intelligence and knows what is best for me, even when I try to rebel.
Now, when thinking about what to eat, I need to ask my body what it wants at that moment. That, of course, is really challenging because I want to give in to my cravings. I hear the same things from my clients all the time. Why is it that we have trouble saying no to the foods that are not right for us? Are we always pleasure seeking? When I was growing up, I remember hearing people say to certain family members, “ if you would just stop eating, you wouldn’t have a weight issue”. I remember knowing that it wasn’t that simple and that kind of a statement comes from someone who has never had a weight issue and lacks knowledge, understanding and empathy.
How many people believe that someone who is overweight is consuming too much food, has no willpower, doesn’t exercise is self-indulgent and sits around watching TV all day?
This kind of judgment causes prejudice at work and in all facets of life. If those were the only reasons then it would be easy to rectify, however it is not that simple.
I recently watched an interesting video featuring Dr. Douglas Lisle. According to him there is a motivational triad, a trio of biological mechanisms nature has designed into every creature on earth in order to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. We are all pleasure seeking, and that includes food and sex, avoiding pain and trying to do everything with the least amount of effort.
Rich, fatty concentrated foods give us the highest amount of dietary pleasure and reward with the least amount of effort. Ice cream is a good example as it takes little effort to eat; you don’t need to chew and it’s laden with fat and sugar, which work on the pleasure receptors in our brain. It makes us feel good for that moment, but it’s temporary. Basically, we will eat more food if we don’t have to work too hard to chew and swallow it. Meat served in restaurant chains has been mechanically tenderized and injected with marinade. It dissolves in your mouth quickly and we end up eating more. We tend to eat overeat pasta in restaurants as well.
How many of us have eaten past the point of being full and satiated? If your favorite dessert is staring at you, you eat it even though you are full. It will most likely cause discomfort, but the pleasure seems worth it at that moment.
There is a greater activation of the pleasure circuit in our brain when we eat calorie dense, fatty and sugary foods. This Large, fast-rising pleasure signal in our brain give us the most reward and is highly addictive.
We are also more likely to overeat if foods have combinations of contrasting tastes such as ice cream with chocolate, nuts and fruit. Sweet and spicy, fatty and salty, and spicy and salty are all combinations that work. Contrasting textures are also highly rewarding: A crispy fried exterior with a soft filling is what most people crave. Cheesy pasta with tomato sauce or bread, fresh out of the oven with melted, salted butter are good examples. Flavors and odors from cooking fats also provoke a response, perhaps because we have an inordinate number of olfactory receptors devoted to the smell of fat or maybe because it brings back childhood memories.
I was watching a show called Diners, Drive Ins and Dives on the Food Network and was amazed at what people consume. People love fatty, greasy, sugary and salty foods which give us those fleeting moments of pleasure, but not without a price. Even though we know it is not healthy for us, we still can’t help but give into our cravings. And as with any drug or addictive substance, eventually we require more to get the same effect.
So why do some people eating the same food as others, end up with a weight problem?
Some of us are blessed with a perfectly functioning satiety, regulatory system, which should help us avoid weight issues. We are equipped with nutrient receptors and stretch receptors. We stop eating when our stretch receptors signal our brain that we are full, as eating more would lead to discomfort. It is our regulating system to help us eat the right amount of food.
We have nutrient receptors in our digestive system that detect how much of our food is protein, carbohydrates (sugar) and fiber. It is our accounting system, it tells us when to stop eating and when to continue, based on calorie estimation and volume.
Highly concentrated foods such as; cheesecake or a chocolate milk shake contain more calories per pound and contain a much smaller volume. If genetically someone doesn’t have enough fat receptors then that person will still feel hungry and will end up eating more food. The more fat receptors we have, the more it can detect, how much fat we are consuming. The trick however, is to eat foods that are nutrient dense. Nutrient dense foods will fill us up with less calories. Having healthy grains such as; buckwheat, millet, quinoa or brown rice, legumes, sprouts, vegetable juices, fruits and lots of vegetables and greens. These foods will fill you up with the least amount of calories. In fact, these foods will give us the greatest long-term reward – health!
My own personal experience has taught me that ‘less is more’, when I over indulge in certain foods then my body will react, its accumulative. My body is saying it has had enough. In order to listen to my body, I need to take a break from filling it with food and give it a chance to speak. Allow myself to feel hungry and then I am able to distinguish emotional hunger from physical and make a better choice. I also think about my overall intake that day, energy level and how I am feeling and then decide what is best for me at that moment. We always have a choice.
Let’s not forget about the emotional aspect of food. When you are living your purpose and doing what you love, your passion, then food is not the only pleasure in your life. Your mind is what you create your life with, and how you see yourself will dictate your experience. If you need to lose some weight then choose foods that will give you energy and not deplete you of energy. The idea is to not deny yourself completely but to find balance and peace within your body. Just like the story of the three bears, finding the balance that is just right. The more nutrients we take in the better we feel mentally and physically. We feel happier and less hungry.
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