Monday, August 30

Highly Palatable – Part I

After a few previous weeks of pretty willingly giving into temptation, I decided it was time to fully get back onto the wagon (instead of running alongside the wagon so that I didn’t look like I had fallen off, but was intentionally choosing to be where I was). But this weekend was just more than willpower could do for me: pizza, chocolate, munchies and more. I felt bad about my choices, but I couldn’t even muster a decent feeling of guilt—it was all so good!
But it’s Monday and Monday’s a new slate for me. And, I have a new hero: David Kessler. Kessler is a former FDA commissioner and a fellow to our struggle with food. He's done much research and discovery around how we have conditioned ourselves to overeat certain foods.
When we eat highly palatable foods—delicious foods containing fat, sugar and salt—our brains begin to release dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical our brains use to let our bodies know that pleasure is coming (kind of like a neurotransmitter version of “Oh yeah, baby, here it comes!”). Kessler found that those dopamine pathways begin to activate at the mere mention of food. Hear that? You don’t even have the food in front of you, but I could just say “double chocolate brownie” and your brain’s instant response is “Where?” Once you eat that food, your brain starts to release opioids which make you feel that emotional release (also known as endorphins) or a sense of pleasure.
So you’re driving to work and you see Krispy Kreme (or Dunkin' Donuts for my East Coast family). Your hands turn the wheel and you’re at the checkout counter before you know it. You eat one doughnut, and you think to yourself “This was totally worth it.” The one doughnut turns into two doughnuts. Maybe you even justify another doughnut after that, and you weren’t even hungry to begin with.
Kessler strikes it home for me when he says, “I used to think I ate to feel full. Now I know, we have the science that shows, we’re eating to stimulate ourselves.”
I didn’t want this post to be crazy long, so we’ll chat more this week. Until then, check out Kessler’s Washington Post article and his NPR interview. They’re fascinating!

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