Breaking the Cycle of Pleasure & Guilt

Breaking the Cycle of Pleasure & Guilt

A look at how food affects mood and vice versa as explained in a recent article written by Jeff Wise of CNN.com entitled “Breaking the Cycle of Pleasure & Guilt”.  

Often we hear the phrase, “you are what you eat” but it may be just as accurate to say, “your food is your mood” as research over the years has shown that what we eat can affect our mood, both positively and negatively. As Wise notes in his article, certain foods are “a dopamine explosion waiting to happen”. He further explains the vicious cycle of pleasure and guilt that initiates with (stage 1) a sense of anticipation, that gives way to (stage 2) the actual moment of indulgence and pleasure that is quickly preceded by (stage 3) self-loathing.

Furthermore, perhaps we are wired to calculate reward by using negativity in what becomes a vicious cycle. We rationalize an immediate indulgence by telling ourselves just this once we will indulge because we do have control over our desires, in this instance eating, and will in fact eat moderately “next time”. Yet, deep down we “understand that the world doesn’t work like that.” This is referred to as the “delay-discounting model” whereby “pleasure-induced self-loathing arises from the conflict between mutually exclusive goals.” Wise further goes on to explain that every action leads to a sense of pleasure, accompanied by a less pervasive sense of who we actually perceive ourselves to be – “You don’t get fat from eating a pint of ice cream; you get fat from being the sort of person who eats pints of ice cream.” However, we continue to seek pleasure that never really materializes in the present tense. Thus, the author claims “there is no guilt, but there is also no pleasure” and that “once in a while you need to just go crazy with the ice cream.”

Interesting as this notion may be, the relationship between food and mood in individuals is likely more complex and depends on the time of day, the type and macronutrient composition of food, the amount of food consumed, age, gender and dietary history.  Recent research has certainly seen much progress in showing how certain foods change brain structure, chemistry, and physiology, thus affecting mood and performance, suggesting that foods directly influencing brain neurotransmitter systems have the greatest effects on mood, at least temporarily. In turn, mood can also influence our food choices and expectations on the effects of certain foods.

How to maximize the benefits of food on mood? The perfect daily intake to enhance mood and optimize performance and health remains unknown. Although abundant research exists on food-mood relationships, the findings of these studies are often generalized and subjective. Whether it is psychological or physiological, it is clear that foods have a powerful effect on our moods. It would appear that eating only nutrient-packed foods that affect brain chemistry might be the best way to achieve happiness, but the occasional indulgence should make you just as happy. Food is nourishment and should never make us feel guilty, and food-policing can have especially damaging effects. Demonizing things like chocolates, cakes and ice-cream is a common strategy used to elicit feelings of guilt, which is something we should not be experiencing when it comes to food. Perhaps a healthy balance of nutritious foods and comfort foods can help maintain the balance in a person’s mood best of all.

“Breaking the cycle of pleasure and guilt” by Jeff Wise can be accessed at: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/26/health/pleasure-guilt-partner/index.html

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