That Stone is about to Roll Downhill

Posted on January 8, 2012


My hard exterior is cracking. For one. whole. week. I have managed to avoid most white sugar and stick to foods that are less processed. Good for me.

But the last couple of days have been tough. It’s not that I want to eat fake food. It’s that Franken-food prompts a physical reaction in me. I see certain foods and I can taste them before they get anywhere near me. I am sure a number of people out there are nodding their heads in agreement, “Yes, food talks to me too.”

Impulse. How do you make it go away?

This week my only tool has been the phrase, “You are evil.” I have been talking back to the Franken food. For the most part it has worked. It won’t work forever.

I think I have always been impulsive about food. In the past, parties delighted me not because of the people and activity but because of the variety of food – sweet, salt, crunch, color. All my favorites in one location!  Such anticipation! The food industry has found the perfect guinea pig in me. Since I am wired to react instantly to taste, texture and color, my body disregards anything that has to do with nutritional value. At least not until later when the damage has been done.

A dear friend I’ll call Cali Strong (she’s a brilliant personal trainer) told me about a year-long study where overweight people’s brains were compared to normal weight people’s brains. At mealtime, normal weight people’s brains released more dopamine (part of the reward center of the brain) than overweight people’s brains.  Hence, the normal weight group received the “I’m satisfied” stomach signal long before the overweight group. Overweight people ate more to compensate for their reduced dopamine levels. It took longer for their stomachs to get the signal.

According to the study, overweight people don’t overeat because they are fat, lazy and undisciplined. It’s because their brains are wired different.

What the study doesn’t address is if extra weight somehow stunts the dopamine receptors. In other words, are some people born with reduced dopamine? Or do they eat themselves to the point of reduced dopamine?  That’s certainly what happens with drug use and addiction. The more one uses a certain drug, the less efficient the dopamine receptors become. So the user seeks more drugs to increase the dopamine levels. It’s a vicious cycle.  Perhaps it’s the same with certain people and certain foods.

Another consideration is food quality. Did the people in the study eat the same food? What kind of food did they eat? I know I get the “I’m full” signal with a bowl of broccoli long before I get it with M&Ms!  I may not like the taste of broccoli as much as M&Ms but my stomach certainly tells me when it’s had enough broccoli. It’s not quite as discerning when it comes to M&Ms. So is there something inherent in the food itself that kicks off the brain’s reward system? If so, it would seem that you get more dopamine from broccoli than M&Ms.

All this time I thought I was getting a “high” from Franken-food. Maybe it’s not that at all. Maybe it’s that I am missing the high that comes from whole foods. Maybe whole foods are more efficient at delivering dopamine.

With that, I believe I have just armed myself with another tool. This week I will continue to identify Franken-food as “evil” but will also begin to understand that whole foods are – maybe just maybe – where the real “high” is. I know Franken-food will continue to prompt a Pavlov-like response but if I head it off with some whole food, then over time, my dopamine levels will increase.

It’s a theory but one I’m willing to roll with.

What do you think?