Oh glorious food! How nice it would be if we could eat everything in sight and not feel the guilt or put on the pounds. Life would be perfect if we could go for a drive and have a late night supper and not do much damage to our waistline. It is so difficult to turn away from the temptation, especially since tantalizing food is everywhere. The easy access to good food is probably the main contributing factor to the high obesity rate in America.
A Soft Spot for Chocolate
I believe in whipping up my own meals and keeping to an active lifestyle. While I am not one who frequents fast food restaurant, I too have my own weakness: chocolates. The sweet indulgence. The rich creamy taste you get when you gently bite into a piece, as your senses euphorically erupt. I was puzzled with my love for chocolates, and so I decided to get to the bottom of it.
Why We Love Eating Food
The brain controls our movements as well as thought processes, including what we feel like eating at this very moment. A chemical in the brain known as dopamine has an effect on our feelings of pleasure or pain. Dopamine is released in our brain when we enjoy activities like eating and coitus.
What causes the release of the highest level of dopamine? You got it right: fatty food that has a high sugar content. Is there no way out of this, since the brain —the control center of our body— is at work? No, there is! Firstly, we have to admit that we are addicted to food, and realize the potential dangers of overeating and eating unhealthily. Obesity is often the leading cause of illnesses such as diabetes, heart attacks and mental problems such as depression.
An Unending Cycle
Why is it that binge-eaters cannot seem to stop their self-destructive ways? In a recent study by the United States Department of Energy’s National Laboratory (Brookhaven), it is revealed that just the mere sight or smell of food can trigger a spike of dopamine in binge-eaters. A psychiatrist named Nora Volkow and a physician called Gene-Jack Wang, both of Brookhaven, also conclude from their study that people with obesity are also less able to draw pleasure from the simpler things in life, such as enjoying a nice walk in the sand. This appears to be because they have less receptors for dopamine compared to their non-obese counterparts.
Food is what comforts them, and so they over-indulge in junk food. The problem is that they then get depressed or feel a strong sense of disgust when they see their own reflection in the mirror. To fill the void, they once again eat to feel better. There is a need to stop this cycle.
If the above situation sounds like one you are in, there are some solutions for you to extricate yourself from the vicious cycle.
Start Eating Healthily
Usually the first move is making a determined effort to wean off your junk food diet. Junk food makes one feel lethargic and moody. Conversely, healthy food such as cheese, bananas, and apples have a hand in triggering the release of dopamine. Also, forget about going on fad diets to lose weight: they decrease the production of dopamine and the only thing that goes down is your mood.
Exercising will also bring about the production of dopamine and also increase one’s receptors in the long run. This explains the ecstatic feeling you get on finishing working out — even if you had been gritting your teeth just to get through it. To really get the most out of it, make sure that you enjoy your exercise or the sport you are doing. When things become routinized, incorporate cross-training to jazz things up. Exercise programs like the P90x do this very well. Tony Horton, the mastermind behind it, introduces a series of exercises to confuse the muscles so that you won’t ever get stuck on one level with your workouts.
Music Is the Answer
Not one person I know hates music. When we listen to music, dopamine gets released and we also feel adrenaline. This explains why music is universal and could even bring about world peace. So be sure to complement your activities with good music. When going for a hike, put on soft music and take in the beautiful scenery. If you are hitting the beach, alone, then bring along your player and simply indulge in the finer things in life.
What Makes You Happy?
Think deeply about this question. For me, it’s exercising and I love picking up my set of Bowflex dumbbells. It doesn’t have to be high intensity; just simple activities can really brighten up your day and trigger the release of dopamine. Does watching videos of babies cheer you up? Spend some time a day just watching baby videos then! It is okay to take time out to indulge and do things that make you happy.
A good combination of these four tips will help you to achieve the best results. If you are still finding that you are prone to swings in your moods, then you will need to work even harder. Currently, scientists are at work trying to discover new drugs that will trigger or even control the amount of dopamine released, although the research is very much preliminary. Supplements can also help. The American Journal (of Clinical Nutrition) has found that amino acids including l-tryptophan and l-tyrosine, and also vitamin B6, can aid in the release of dopamine and serotonin, and these two chemicals have an effect on one’s mood. l-tyrosine triggers the release of dopamine in the morning, while l-tryptophan helps spike the level of serotonin in the evening.
I would also like to leave you with one final tip. To ensure that you really see results, keep a daily log and record all the activities and emotions you’ve felt for a month. Over time, you can see how you have progressed, and you will know what you enjoy doing.
Keep us posted on how you get on!