Pancakes and Pleasure

Posted by Summer Taylor on

The last time that my husband and I had a get-away weekend, we went to Chicago.  It was a great weekend; the sun was shining, or hotel was immaculate, our connectedness and laughter reflected the love we feel for one another, it was a fantastic and highly memorable weekend for so many reasons.  But, do you know what we discuss when we reminisce about that weekend? The food!  It was a free-food weekend.  We were bidding fair well to “dirty” foods as my husband was kicking off his first-ever competition preparation.  We started our weekend with Gino’s pizza and ended the weekend with bottomless mimosas and crème brulee pancakes.  I’ve thought of that weekend a lot lately as we’ve travelled our cleaning eating competition path together and wondered, “Why is food so powerful?  Why is it so difficult to avoid those foods we love when we know they’re bad for us?  Why do I yearn for crème brulee pancakes?” Blame it on drugs What??  Blame it on drugs?  No, I do not take drugs, nor do I presume you do.  But the neurological response in our brains to satisfying food is the same as it is when drugs, such as cocaine, nicotine, and amphetamines are ingested.   When we consume delicious food, neurons fire in our brain’s reward center releasing dopamine.  Dopamine is the organic chemical in our brain responsible for feelings of enjoyment and pleasure.  Thus, certain foods are more tempting because we desire a pleasurable release of dopamine; just like a drug addict.  Quick, call Pancakes Anonymous!  I need an intervention.  What?  No Pancakes Anonymous?  What to do? Fortunately for us all, there are many things that activate the pleasure center in our brain.  Here are a few suggestions that will not derail your fitness goals or require an intervention: Exercise During long, difficult bouts of exercise, many of you may have experienced what is commonly referred to as “runners high” or an overall feeling of awesomeness.  That “high” is primarily a result of endorphins floating around in your brain, giving you a sense of contentment and well-being, but dopamine has also been linked to a runner’s high.  Whether it is endorphins or dopamine, pushing yourself beyond self-perceived physical limits can activate a pleasure response in your brain, much like the pleasure of Gino’s Pizza on a sunny Saturday. Laugh Studies have shown that the brain loves to laugh.  In fact it loves it so much, it releases a whole host of feel-good chemicals in response to laughter including endorphins, dopamine and growth hormone.  Yes, growth hormone!  Let’s laugh our way to a happy, sexy physique.  Who’s with me? Leadership Some animal studies suggest that social dominance may increase levels of dopamine in the brain.  A recent study at Wake Forest University demonstrated that primates higher in the social order had the highest levels of dopamine in their brains, whereas the primates lowest in the hierarchy had the lowest dopamine levels.  Thus, indicating that taking on a leadership role could lead to increased dopamine levels.  Go ahead, get bossy, you know you want to. Listen to pop music with repetitive rhythms Time for confession…I have a Miley Cyrus song on my iPod.  I know, say it isn’t so!  But now I have an excuse for the cheesy pop I have on my iPod.  Apparently our brains LOVE pop music, even if we’re die-hard 80s hair band fans.  The brain’s guilty pleasure is pop music with predictable, repetitive rhythms.  Rhythmic pop music delivers a double-whammy of dopamine; first in response to predicting the rhythm and second, when it experiences emotion in response to the song.   Get your Miley on; it will be our little secret. Why, oh why? Like an addict, my brain still yearns for its dopamine release in the form of sweet treats.  Angelic and demonic angels sit on my shoulders daily trying to make food deals with each other. “One pancake won’t hurt you.  Go ahead.  I dare you.” “You made a commitment to yourself Summer, don’t give in.” But somehow, just knowing “why” pancakes are my Kryptonite, make them less tempting for me.  I know that I can derive pleasure from other, more healthful activities, than eating. Hmm… all this talk of pancakes…I think I’ll get my Miley on and go for a run.  width=     Summer Taylor is a National level NPC Bikini competitor,fitness model and high school Biology, Anatomy and Physiology teacher. She is a Species 2011 calendar girl, a Team Bombshell Athlete and was featured in December’s issue of Ironman Magazine and NPC Magazine and Lonnie Teper has declared her a ‘rising star’ in Iron Magazine. Sources: 5 Things You Do Every Day That Are Actually Addictions | Funny Science: Why Do we Laugh, and Can It Really Help Healing?   Read more: Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine |