What we eat affects not only our health but also the environment. The western pattern diet is full of crap, literally. Most of the things we can buy in a supermarket are processed foods high in fat, salt, and sugar mixed with ingredients we don’t even understand.
I want to start the subject of food by tackling the main excuse we have to eat animal proteins and high caloric dense foods, the pleasure we get out of eating them. Most of us know that these foods are not good for us, so if we know they are bad why do we keep on coming back for more?
Why do we love to eat high-fat and high-sugar food?
Let’s first understand a bit of how our stomach works. We have receptors in our stomach that help us know how much food we have eaten.
- Stretch receptors: measure the volume of food
- Density receptors: measure the caloric density of the food
Take 500 calories of plant based foods, it can fill our stomach and trigger both stretch and density receptors giving the signal to our brain that we are satisfied. But 500 calories of oil which is only fat will barely fill our stomach, triggering almost no receptors telling our brain we need to eat a lot more. We live in a time that we can and we do make food completely artificial, so people have to overeat in order to feel satisfied.A lot of us feel like we can’t live without steaks, burgers, fries, chips, bacon, cheese, chocolate, ice-cream, etc. But do you know why it tastes so delicious and we get so much pleasure out of eating it? According to PhD. Douglas Lisle It is because we are stuck in the Pleasure Trap.
To understand the Pleasure Trap we need to understand a bit more how our psychology works. Nature has designed a trio of biological mechanisms in every single animal creature, including us humans. These mechanisms make sure that we live long enough to pass our genes into the next generation, in other words we “eat to survive and survive to reproduce”.
These three legs are called “The Motivational Triad” and it is a good summary of animal behaviour. This Triad is like our compass, that helps us navigate on this planet. But how do we know if we are on the right track? There is a second guidance system that we know as happiness. This systems gives us feedback through feelings, feelings are the signals that tell us to do what feels good and stay away from what doesn’t. Happiness is a short term mood state activated in the mood regulating centers of the brain, mainly through the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, so we feel happy as we get closer to pleasure and away from pain. We are trying to make ourselves happy with pleasure, when it’s the journey that makes us happy, and no amount of pleasure will makes us happy. But this is no guide on how to be happy, so let’s get back to food.
Looking at the Motivational Triad, we can understand that richer food naturally excite our senses through the hormone Dopamine. It is nature’s way of telling us they will provide the highest amount of dietary reward with the least amount of effort. This helped our ancestors to find the most calorie dense and ripe food available which contributed to our survival. But in today’s environment we can artificially increase caloric density well beyond what our ancestor would’ve found in nature. This resulting foods give us a hypernormal amount of pleasure leading us into the Pleasure Trap.
What is the Pleasure Trap?
The Pleasure Trap is an interaction between our natural instincts which are trying to tell us the right thing to do and some kind of artificial modern stimulation which is highjacking that process. A classic example of this is drugs, drugs take over our existing pleasure circuits and when certain chemicals hit those areas they cause feelings of euphoria and excitement, the same drug-like effect happens when we eat high dense caloric foods.
The western pattern diet, and the information fed to us by marketing efforts from the multinationals producing this food have us in an cycle of addiction that is not easy to break. Even if we are lucky enough to get the right information, it is really hard to break it. This is because when we eat these artificial foods we experience higher pleasure than if we would just eat what we can find in nature. A lot of people say “ I rather die than eat that way. Even if it costs me some years of my life, taking pills and some surgeries.” But the truth is that the pleasure we get does not get higher and higher, we get used to the high amounts of fat and sugar and pleasure stays at the same level, this is called neuroadaptation. Is the same that happens when you wake up at night to go to the bathroom and turn a light on, it seems like it is extremely bright but after a couple of minutes you get used to it. If you suddenly start eating healthy food, it feels like you are doing the wrong thing even if it’s the right thing, your senses are dull because they are used to overstimulation. And this is exactly why is is so hard to escape, because you are craving this food, because when you eat it your Motivational Triad is telling you that you are doing the right thing, but our compass is not working properly on our modern environment. It is time to reboot our systems, but how can we do this?How to escape The Pleasure Trap
Doctor Lisle, has a few tricks that might help. The first one is to know that what you are going through is time limited, it will get easier after 2-3 weeks, but to be all the way out will take 6-10 weeks and just a few people succeed in doing this 100%. The second one is to reboot the system by only drinking water for 24 hours, total sensory deprivation is the most efficient way to do this. Another option is to do a juice fast for 2-3 days, giving fat and sugar receptors a break to recover sensitivity. Afterwards blend foods will not be tasting so blend anymore, and oatmeal in the morning will sound pretty tasty. The other trick is to get more information, get informed, get support if needed. Most of the people who start this journey relapse, and that is ok, every time is easier to escape and you can always get back in track.
I have made a slow transition when it comes to my diet. I started by eating vegetarian food, then vegan and now when I cook I only cook plant-based without oil and without sugar. I still get cheese cravings and chocolate cravings but the less I eat it the less I crave it. Sometimes it is hard to keep eating this way when being out and about with friends, but I always try to make a conscious choice. It is not easy and that is why the more we talk about it and the more we do it the easier it will get.
The processed food industry, meat industry and medical industry have made a very profitable business out of keeping us sick and addicted. It’s a cliche, but there is no money to be made out of healthy people. There are so many illnesses caused and made worse by these foods such as, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, migraines, IBS, arthritis, and different inflammation manifestations. Eating this foods is not only killing ourselves but also the planet and the creatures we share it with, a subject that I will be discussing later on.
Now, don’t get me wrong avoiding processed foods and animal protein is not the ultimate solution to all our problems, but there are so many doctors that have proven that eating this way we can live a healthier and longer life through many scientific studies. Namely, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Dr. John McDougall.
If you would like to know more about The Pleasure Trap PhD. Lisle has co written a book you can look up called “The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness” with Doctor Alan Goldhamer.
- Fulkerson, L., Wendel, B., Corry, J., Campbell, T. C., Esselstyn, C. B., Lederman, M., Pulde, A., … Virgil Films,. (2011). Forks over knives.
- Douglas Lisle, Ph.D, “The Pleasure Trap”, Vegetarian Society of Hawai’i, Monthly Meeting 15, 2005; https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3438&v=nxf4kj8Rb6Y