Food, Brain Chemistry, and Binging: Part II The Role of Dopamine

The Role of DopamineHello all, If you’re reading this series of articles you’re joining me in exploring how certain foods influence our brain chemistry and our moods and in understanding why we’re drawn to eat them, often in quantities that we know aren’t in our body’s best interest. This understanding is key to being able to freely choose to make different choices and to genuinely offer yourself understanding and compassion when you feel compelled to have those forbidden/guilt laden tasty treats. Both are important components of completely healing from your stressful relationship with food and from your body image / weight-loss roller coaster. In my last newsletter I asked you to be on the lookout for a few things so you’d be better prepared for the next few articles. If you missed that article and you’d like to catch up feel free to read it first and then come back to this one when you have time. It will really help you to see where this information can be applied to your life and you’ll get the most out of your time and effort. For this week I want to share a little education with you about how Dopamine influences us and how we can directly influence our Dopamine levels. Then in the next handful of articles we’ll be looking at specific food groups and food choices and how they directly impact our dopamine levels. When we do, you’ll see quite clearly that the reason you don’t reach for carrot sticks when you’re feeling down has nothing at all to do with willpower and everything to do with a combination of unmet needs and brain chemistry. What we eat often reflects our culture, our family heritage, our self-esteem and our self-awareness. Our diet can be used to directly manipulate the state of our chemistry and hormones. For example reducing our intake of certain foods will have a direct and positive impact on the severity of our PMS and menopausal symptoms. Adding certain foods to our diet that balance specific hormones will also have a positive effect on a variety of hormone related human concerns such as depression, anxiety, and again menstrual or menopausal symptoms. In other words, in addition to fuelling our body for growth and repair functions, certain foods influence the release of certain hormones which in turn have a direct and often immediate influence on our moods. Chief among these mood inducing hormones is dopamine. Dopamine is the ultimate feel good chemical. It powers the brain’s pleasure centre creating sensations of happiness, calm, and soothing. So, it’s no coincidence that every drug that humans are drawn to abuse (including binge foods) triggers the release of dopamine. In an ideal life, we have friends and family, a sense of purpose and belonging, and a general structure and routine to our lives that together provide a sense of overall balance and connection with ourselves and with others. In such a life situation we naturally receive regular hits of dopamine throughout our day because overall we feel good about the people in our lives, the things we have and do, and about ourselves. Those positive interactions and thoughts trigger the pleasure centre in our brain to release a little Dr. Feel Good (dopamine) which serves to reinforce the sense of benefit and pleasure we get from being connected to those people / things and from our own self-care. It’s a lovely, natural, positive feedback loop for all the effort we put into being a decent person and creating a balanced life. What we’re going to explore in the weeks to come are the substances we’re drawn to when we don’t feel so good about the people or situations in our lives, or when we’re simply feeling stuck or lonely or unfulfilled. Until the next installment I invite you to simply consider the concept that it is a fact that what you eat directly affects your brain chemistry which in turn directly affects your mood. Then simply consider the foods you’re drawn to eat when you’re feeling sad, lonely, anxious, angry…. Do you notice a pattern? Is there something they seem to have in common? How do you feel during and after their consumption (emotionally and physically)? Just observe for now, next time around we’ll talk about one of 4 key ‘food groups’ that rides the superhighway in our infrastructure to our brain’s pleasure centre and gives us a fast and furious dose of feel good! Love

Posted in: 2012, Brain Chemistry, Relationship with Food

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