Last week, we began to talk about the reward centers in our brains. The reward center is the area in our brain that is responsible for the feelings we have that motivate us toward certain behaviors—obviously, the behaviors that give us the most pleasure. Our brains release hormones that drive us toward actions, like eating or social interaction, that give us that sense of reward.
However, because of reaction in our brains when we eat highly palatable foods (foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt), we develop a habitual cycle that compels us to overeat.
I’m sure you’ve found that, after dieting for a while and abstaining from the highly palatable foods that you love, you begin to build up your expectations and memories around those foods. You’ve been on your diet perfectly for weeks, but now you’re remembering those amazing doughnuts they sell down the street. You remember how perfect they tasted, and you find it’s all you can think about. However, when you finally give in to your craving, your first bite isn’t as good as you remember it.
Even though you’re a little disappointed at the memory of that food, you’re brain is still darn happy that you gave in. Our brains are driving us to give in constantly—after all, our brains are programmed to seek the things that trigger our reward centers!
I’m sure you’ve also found that, after consistently giving in to those cravings for a while, you find that you no longer crave the one food you wanted and now crave a different food. This is because the rewards center in our brains can become immune to the response that a food previously triggered. This is exactly what is happening when you cave and eat an entire sleeve of Thin Mints (those horrible Girl Scouts will be out soon, prepare yourself). You finish off the cookies, but find that now you’re craving potato chips. Your brain says, “Ok, I’m done with the cookies. The magic is gone. But you know what would do the trick? Something salty!”
I’m sure you see how overeating can become cyclical in these instances. It’s so tempting to run from one highly palatable food to the other, keeping that “high” in our brains constant. Do you see this cycle in your own life?
We’ll be talking once more this week about stopping this cycle in its tracks. There is hope!