By Molly Patrick
Dec 2, 2014,
Raise your hand if…
You’ve ever been super hungry and instead of making a rocking yummy salad, you open a bag of potato chips and eat the entire bag.
There have been times when you have been an emotional basket case and all you wanted was chocolate cake shoved directly into your mouth and you didn’t care if you had to use your hands to get it there.
You’ve ever driven by a fast food restaurant and before you knew it you were at the window paying for your food, only to realize you’re not even hungry.
You ate something that you knew full well was not helping your bod in any way, shape or form, yet you ate the damn thing anyway and then wondered why the fuck you did it. You chalk it up to PMS, (even though you just had your period) and move on, trying to get that greasy coating out of your mouth by licking a napkin.
We’ve all been there, and today I’m going to explain why.
First things first.
Dopamine plays in important role in all of this. Dopamine is one of the feel good chemicals produced in our brain and when it’s released, it makes us feel damn good. It’s our own brain crafted happy drug.
Next, it’s important to know that we all have a natural guidance system that’s built into our DNA. This guidance system is in all animals, including humans, and the goal of this guidance system is to help us survive so that we can reproduce. This guidance system is made up of seeking pleasure, avoiding pain and conserving energy.
I can’t personally relate to this because I’m a lesbian who doesn’t want kids, so although this guidance system isn’t helping me make babies, I do need to survive in order to help people eat better, so I’m thankful that survival is built into my DNA.
When we eat, our brain releases dopamine as a little reward for doing something that is helping us stay alive. Yay – one meal closer to procreation!
The higher in calories the food, the more dopamine is released in the brain. This is why most people would grab a french fry over a carrot stick in a hot second. Raw veggies, like carrot sticks have about 100 calories per pound whereas french fries have about 2,500 calories per pound.
So we experience different levels of pleasure depending on what we eat.
Eating a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) diet gives us a medium range of pleasure. It’s not low; it’s not high; it’s a happy consistent medium amount of pleasure.
The pleasure center of our brain actually gets hyper-activated by dopamine and it convinces the nervous system that we need to keep eating this food because we’re definitely close to reproduction with all that dopamine going off in our brain! KEEP THOSE FRIES COMING – IT MUST BE CLOSE TO BABY TIME!!!!
So when we go from eating lots of salt, sugar and fat to eating a raw salad and chickpeas, our brain doesn’t release as much dopamine, so we end up thinking that something is missing. We don’t salivate when we get a whiff of the millet salad. We don’t daydream about those celery sticks and we don’t sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night to nibble on a banana, trying not to wake anyone.
It just doesn’t happen, so we unknowingly seek out foods that will give us some feel good dopamine and avoid the foods that don’t make us salivate.
Being someone who has dedicated my career to teaching people about a healthy plant based diet, I know this. I know that the high levels of dopamine that people get from unhealthy food is working against my success every single day.
And it’s not that healthy food doesn’t release dopamine, it does. It just doesn’t release nearly as much as processed and caloric dense foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt.
But I also know that when we eat nutrient void crappy food that produces high amounts of dopamine, our brain might think it’s what we need, but our body knows better.
- When we eat crappy foods, our body doesn’t get nourished with the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals it needs to thrive and protect us. So, our brain sends us signals in the form of hunger in the hopes that we’ll eat something that actually nourishes our cells. It’s only when we eat nutrient dense food that we’re truly satiated.
- But by the same token, when we eat unhealthy food, our brain also sends us signals to keep eating that food because it releases a shit ton of dopamine and like we learned earlier, dopamine is part of our internal guidance system, guiding us to procreation.
Can you see why everyone is ass backwards and confused when it comes to eating healthy? The Standard American Diet has our internal guidance system confused as shit.
And get this – things start to take a twist when we eat crappy food for an extended period of time. Have you ever walked out of a dark “theatre” in the middle of the day (and when I say “theatre” I mean bar) and the light from outside seems almost painfully bright and then 10 minutes later it seems normal?
Or how about when you first get into a cold pool and after a while it’s not cold anymore? It’s not the sunlight that gets dimmer or the water temperature that gets warmer, it’s our nervous system adapting to our environment.
Well, the same exact thing happens when we keep eating processed crappy food. Over time we start to adapt and our brain doesn’t release as much dopamine as it initially did. So eventually, the “high” and the feel good rush from eating crappy food will diminish.
If you’re thinking right now that this sounds an awful lot like cocaine or heroin, you’re absolutely right. It’s actually the same exact thing. Our brain literally doesn’t know the difference between McDonalds and crack.
Let’s say that you’re at that point where eating crappy food just isn’t doing it for you anymore and you’re ready to start eating really healthy.
Maybe you’re ready to kick processed food to the curb once and for all. You’re super excited to start eating better and you’re sure that eating healthy will make you feel way better than you do now.
Here’s when things take a turn to funky town.
When you go from eating lots of junk food to super healthy food (like the food in my weekly Plant Fueled Meal Plans), your pleasure center will dip super low and the sensing mechanisms on your tongue will tell you that you’re moving in the wrong direction.
So even though eating a Whole Food Plant Based diet gives people a nice medium amount of pleasure, it gives someone who is just coming off processed crappy food (or the Standard American Diet) a super low amount of pleasure at first.
And even though you’re eating the optimal diet for your body and health, your brain will tell you that what’s good for you is bad and what’s bad for you is good. This makes it difficult to keep eating really healthy because you’re going against what your brain is telling you.
The good news is that if you stick with eating lots of whole plant foods for several weeks, you’ll wind up right back at the normal pleasure zone and you’ll stop craving crappy food full of salt, sugar and fat.
Your body will be nourished at the cellular level. You’ll be satiated and satisfied from your meals more than you ever were before, even without the gigantic dopamine hits. But those first few weeks are guaranteed to suck major ass. And you can count on having detox symptoms such as cravings, headaches, being much more cranky than usual, etc.
I know how hard it is to look addictive behaviors in the eye and tell them to fuck off.
There’s a lot of soul searching and emotions that come up even before the physical part kicks in.
It’s not a walk in the park and for most people, including me, it takes several attempts before we stick to it (and even then we can be wobbly at best).
At least when we know how our body and our brain works, we no longer aimlessly grab the Ho Ho’s, wondering why we didn’t pass them up for an apple.
To learn more about addiction and how the brain works, I highly recommend reading The Pleasure Trap by Dr. Douglas Lisle.
Today’s recipe is super simple to make. Make it for your next dinner party and watch people slurp it up and lick the bowls, in true sophisticated elegance.
- 2 leeks sliced
- 5 russet potatoes peeled and diced
- Enough water to cover the veggies by 1 inch
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- Lots of turns of fresh cracked black pepper
- Place the sliced leeks and the diced potato in a large soup pot and cover with water so that the water covers the veggies by about 1 inch.
- Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Allow soup to cool for about 20 minutes and then in batches, blend it until it’s creamy and smooth.
- In one of the batches, add the salt, garlic and dill and blend until combined.
- When all the soup is blended (you will have to pour the blended soup into a separate pot or large mixing bowl) add the black pepper and stir.
- Serve right away or put in containers and store in the fridge.
I hope that you have a very happy week, filled with nourishing bowls of soup, sweet kisses and plenty of self care.