Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Weight Loss Challenge: Immediate Pleasure vs I Know Better

I've mentioned recently how I think setting New Year's resolutions sucks, we'll now I actually have some science to back up my beliefs. Love it when that happens!

Strike one against our efforts to lose weight...big surprise: we like sweets! Turns out humans are genetically built to prefer sweeter tasting foods than bitter ones. This was good for procreation and safety as more bitter tasting foods were poisonous than sweet ones. Survival of the fittest (or sweetest) at work--those who didn't eat the poison survived.

We also get a hit of dopamine when we eat foods that we enjoy...dopamine is a pleasure-sensing hormone and it reinforces the pleasure aspect of eating those foods. So every time we eat something that tastes super yummy we get a hit of dopamine and so we want it even more.

So we like sweets and then foods that taste really good give us a brain buzz.

This double whammy makes it really hard to break a habit. We may have really good intentions (like setting a resolution) but this dopamine hit is more than just a bad habit...it actually hard-wires us to want the substance, even when we have a better reward in the future. So much for willpower!

So it is a showdown between our intellect and our biology. Dr Nora Volkow is an authority on the brain's pleasure sensing pathway and she says this is why unhealthy actions become habits and why they are so hard to break.

Not only are habits hard to break, for some reason we think we will be able to handle temptation better than we really can.

Loran Norgren is a psychologist at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and in their studies they have documented that people who put more obstacles between themselves and the temptation have a much better success rate at not giving in. They have also shown that people tend to overestimate their ability to withstand the temptation...and that leads to their downfall.

Lessons from this?

Immediate pleasure is a powerful thing--and certainly not all bad (that procreation thing, remember But in our effort to lose weight, sometimes we need to put a little distance between ourselves and our food temptation. At least until we can unwire our brains.

Another thing we can do to help us overcome the pull of that immediate pleasure is to be very aware of when we eat and why. Reducing emotional reasons and environmental stimulation really helps. Don't go to the grocery store hungry for one. And don't stock up on your favorite treats to test yourself...studies show odds are you will "not be the biggest loser" if you get my drift.

As far as I am concerned learning to really love ourselves is one of the biggest weapons we have against the pull of immediate pleasure. When we love ourselves we naturally want to take care of our bodies and eat healthier foods. It doesn't mean that we will never want a treat, it does mean that we will be less inclined to have to binge over it. And if we do binge, we will be better able to forgive ourselves and move on.

In the meantime, loving ourselves might just mean putting some distance between a food we love and the bodies we love, at least temporarily!

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