Friday, September 11, 2015

Food Porn and Other No-nos for a Food Addict

I have made some key changes in my life that do seem to have contributed very positively to my weight loss, and three of those changes all relate to this mysterious and powerful chemical called dopamine.

The first change, learning to say "no", ended up being such a long blog post that I thought I'd better save the next three tips for their own blog post. Plus, the next three are all so related to one another, you could say that they are really one tip. and that tip is:


Avoid food cues if you struggle with your weight.

I'm not going to pretend that I understand brain chemistry. I'm not a neuroscientist, although I have become fascinated by how certain chemicals in our body and brain effect our ability to lose weight or have a healthy relationship with food.

So anytime I hear someone lecturing about dopamine and seratonin, my ears perk up. The nucleus acumbens, the destruction of dopamine neurons, the mesolimbic pathway--these are all words that get my attention.

But I don't actually understand what is going on.

So when someone who is an expert recommends that I do or don't do something because it will enhance my ability to control myself around food or hurt my ability to control myself around food, I have learned to pay close attention.

My experience following their advice has been to see a dramatic decrease in my cravings and out of control eating.

So I'm really listening to the experts these days. And I'm communicating my experience to you, in case you suffer from the same crap that I suffered from.

The following three changes appear to have made a large impact on my stopping gaining weight and starting to losing it:
  • I stopped relentlessly collecting new recipes, purchasing new cookbooks and developing my own new recipes to blog about
  • I stopped looking at Vegan food porn blogs 
  • I stop watching cooking shows and cooking/baking competitions
I'm not saying that everyone is just like me, but I have a hunch that there are more than a few of you out there that are going to relate to some if not all of what I'm going to touch upon here today. In fact, I received this comment a few weeks ago:

Welcome back! You have inspired me to read Eat to Live . . . I am not just vegetarian trying to lose weight I am a foodie. I read gourmet food blogs all the time - all veg of course. I want to eat healthy and vegan but really good food and lose weight. Not too much to ask lol. Is the ultimate weight loss community veg? I would be interested in joining. Can you add me? I am not quite vegan - still eat gourmet cheese and organic local farm raised eggs but I think I could give them up. my body reacts poorly to dairy and I know that which is why I have an extensive collection of vegan cookbooks. Oh yeah that is my passion too, cooking from my cookbook collection. I think I gained weight when I became veg because i finally enjoyed food! But this veg chef needs to get healthy and lose weight so I would love a support system to help with that!

Extensive collection of Vegan cookbooks? Can anyone out there relate to that?

Ha ha ha ha ha!

And what do those three things have to do with dopamine?

Like I said, I'm NOT any kind of expert, but here is what I think I have learned and now sort of understand. Remember, this is VERY complex and far beyond my ability to accurately describe, but I'm giving it a shot in case it will help you like it helped me:

  • Dopamine in your brain has an effect on how you feel. It makes you feel good. Dopamine also does lots of other stuff in your brain and body.
  • Doing certain things, including eating specific foods, causes dopamine to be released into your brain.
  • Too much dopamine is a bad thing. Why? Because of how the body reacts. When too much dopamine is released into the brain, the brain reacts by "killing off" dopamine receptors. That's not a good thing. It makes it harder for us to feel okay when the good things we do don't give us a big flood of dopamine. That's what people mean when they talk about drug addicts needing more and more of the same substance in order to experience the same high.
  • Ingesting flour, sugar and other high calorie and hyperpalatable foods floods our brains with dopamine, making us feel good (that's why we crave them), but having the unfortunate side effect of killing off those valuable dopamine receptors.
  • If we abstain from the drugs that flood our brain with dopamine, the good news is that the brain will regenerate dopamine receptors. That's what I'm talking about when I quote Chef AJ who says, "Heal your brain and your body will follow."
  • If we can in fact heal our brain, then we can go back to a state when we feel good without getting a fix from sugar, flour and other high calorie and hyperpalatable foods.
Are you still with me?

Okay, so let's say that you are willing to follow me down this thought path. Here's where it leads:

Flooding your brain with dopamine is not a good thing for those of us who suffer from addiction of any kind, in our case, processed food addiction.

So we need to understand what those things are that flood our brain with dopamine and avoid them, thus allowing our brains to heal.

And can you guess what one of the things is that floods our brains with dopamine?

LOOKING AT IMAGES OF FOOD.

Can you freaking believe it?

You don't even have to eat the food to get the effect of too much dopamine in your brain.

It turns out that in people who suffer from binge eating disorder (and there's a continuum of that too!) there's an even larger flood of dopamine from simply looking at food then there is from actually eating that food.

THAT'S NUTS, RIGHT?

So watching a television show like Cupcake Wars is even worse for me than eating cupcakes?

Hot damn.

I think I'll stop watching Cupcake Wars now. And reading cookbooks for pleasure. And subscribing to Vegan food porn blogs. And watching television shows with commercials (have you noticed how many TV commercials are pushing processed food? Does it seem like they all are?).

It turns out that it gets even more intriguing that that. The next thing that I am going to share with you comes from Doug Lisle and his lecture on The Perfect Personality.

I'm going to simplify this extremely, but here goes:

People fall along continuums when it comes to personality traits. Let's take introverted and extroverted as an example. Some peole are extreme extroverts and others are extreme introverts, but the majority of us fall along a continuum and fall somewhere between those extremes.

The same goes for whether or not we like variety. Some people crave variety, ie they are always looking for new recipes because it gives them some kind of "fix." Other people are just as contented eating the same foods day in and day out, week in and week out.

Turns out that the same people who crave variety in the foods that they eat are the same people that have a much harder time sticking to diets and maintaining a healthy weight.

When I found this out, it made a lot of sense to me.

I have collected cookbooks since my early twenties. I would read them kind of like novels, always on the hunt for some new interesting recipe to dream about or try.

Perhaps looking at recipes floods my brain with that feel good chemical dopamine?

I think it does. And now that I know that I'm not doing myself any favors by flooding my brain with dopamine, I can protect my fragile and susceptible brain.

Mind you, not everyone is susceptible to the same stuff. Ultimately, if you want to recover, you have to know yourself.

Me? I was able to stop reading food porn blogs. I pretty much stopped buying new cookbooks. Occasionally I will find one that I can't resist, but even those end up sitting on my bookshelf now, unexplored. If I watch television with commercials, which is very rare these days, I'm very quick to fast forward or divert my attention from any images of junk food.

I also started to eat the same foods over and over. Make the same recipe loads of times instead of always trying out a new recipe.

And do you know what? In conjunction with not ingesting the foods that cause the dopamine dump into the brain, my relationship with food has totally changed. I'm content eating the same few meals over and over. It's just not that big of a deal.

Do you want to read more about food addiction and dopamine? There is so much written on this subject, but here are two articles you might start out with:
How Food Addiction Works
Binge Eaters’ Dopamine Levels Spike at Sight, Smell of Food

I hope that this was interesting to you and that you are reflecting on your own life experience. Let me know what you think. 

Have you made any of the behavioral changes that I have made? What was the effect on you? Are you considering making any changes based on what I've shared?
 
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