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The Pleasure Trap

Do you eat to live or live to eat? Changing the way we think about what we eat may hold the key to health and longevity.

Food As a Drug

The foods we eat have the ability to trigger the pleasure chemical dopamine. It is the chemical that excites the pleasure centers in our brain. When we eat a satisfying meal or perform a high intensity workout we get an intense dopamine reaction followed by another type of pleasure neurotransmitter called endorphins, which cause the feeling of relaxation that is pleasurable. Just like a drug, food can give you the feeling of euphoria. It is possible to get high off a meal. So it's no wonder that we seek out foods that taste amazing. Foods such as chocolate, french fries, ice cream and candy all have the ability to provide us with intense pleasure. This is beautifully explained in the ground breaking book "The Pleasure Trap" written by Douglas J. Lisle, Ph.D. and Alan Goldhamer, D.C.

When eating foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt we are sending a signal to our brain that these are the foods that make us feel good. But consistent use of these foods have the ability to cause damage to the brain mechanisms and this damage can be permanent. We can alter the way our brain processes what we're eating leading to the inability for healthy foods to be received as healthy. This can be compared to addiction; drugs can produce feelings of great pleasure but can also destroy your ability to know what if feels like to be truly happy.

We Want The Most Pleasure For The Least Pain With The Least Effort.

Imagine if you are accustomed to eating a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich every morning for breakfast and I give you a bowl of oatmeal with berries and banana instead. That bowl of oatmeal would probably not taste very good to you. Additionally, you most likely ordered the bacon, egg and cheese from the corner deli. And unless you live in a big city, you wouldn't be able to find a healthy bowl of oatmeal unless you made it yourself. So now the choice not only has to do with preference but also convenience.

Constant and consistent daily consumption of unhealthy foods are shortcuts to induce dopamine for brief moments of pleasure, while compromising our health in the process. So too is excessive use of alcohol and drug use, where we aim to feel good in the moment.

But there is always a price to pay for taking the short cut. If you're eating for pleasure all the time, you are more than likely overweight. If you're overweight you will feel discouraged from performing physical activity and the extra weight you're carrying will make you prone to being tired and sluggish. Thus creating a vicious cycle, pushing you more and more into unhealthy habits that are difficult (but not impossible) to change.

For most people the idea of eating healthy is overwhelming. They believe that in order to be healthy they must give up all the foods that give them joy. But that is the furthest from the truth. Conquering your personal pleasure trap means eating more and more healthy foods while eliminating processed foods. This will allow you to start enjoying healthy foods to the point where eating bananas and smoothies give you the same pleasure that eating donuts once did. And depending on your addictive tendencies, you don't have to give up donuts forever. But if the sight of a donut causes you to eat ten, then you may want to refrain from eating them altogether. Much like how alcohol is to an alcoholic, they can't have just have one.

The Easy Way Is Not Always The Best Way.

When you conquer the pleasure trap you have the ability to eat food that is good for you. Your choices will become healthy choices. You will want to eat salads because you love them and not merely because they're good for you.

What are the things that influence behavior? Our primary goal as humans is the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. Our pleasure seeking tendencies are powerful motivators and have the capacity to influence our behavior. So if we are in a constant state of wanting to experience pleasure and indulgent food is providing us with these good feelings, we are more prone to continue eating those foods.

So if you are overweight, tired and have little motivation for physical activity, have a look at what your pleasure traps are. Do you have an assortment of junk food in the house? Do you hate to cook and are constantly ordering in or having take out? Are you away from home frequently and grabbing unhealthy snacks on the go? Do you constantly crave foods high in fat, sugar and salt?

Going Cold Turkey

The best and most affective way to conquer the pleasure trap is to quit processed food cold turkey. The healthiest foods are the easiest foods to eat as they are usually best consumed in their natural state, without requiring the need for long periods of prepping and cooking, and they are the least expensive. So what do you eat? Here is an example of a well balanced, plant based, sample meal plan created by Douglas J. Lisle, Ph.D. and Alan Goldhamer, D.C. authors of the ground breaking book The Pleasure Trap.


Oatmeal made with water



Flax Seeds

Orange Juice


Vegetable Salad




Potatoes, baked


Vegetable Salad

Brown Rice

Snow Peas

Green Beans

Pumpkin Seeds



This meal plan ensures you are getting the adequate amount of macronutrients for optimal health. When you are accustomed to eating these foods you will be altering your taste buds to appreciate the taste of real, whole foods. Eat these meals everyday for 8 weeks and your health (and waistline) will thank you. The first week will be your hardest as your body adjusts and detoxes from the unhealthy foods you have been consuming. But the hard work and minor sacrifice you put in now will prevent you from falling victim to the pleasure trap.

(Information for this article was taken from "The Pleasure" written by Douglas J. Lisle, Ph.D. and Alan Goldhamer, D.C.)



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