SolveYourProblem Article Series: Weight Loss & Dieting
How Do I Really Lose Weight?


The Role of Dopamine on Weight Loss

The body eats in order to live, but many of live to eat. Food is so tasty, and the act of eating so pleasurable, that we relish in those moments spent engaged in the activity. And stopping ourselves, it turns out, is more than merely an act of will. There is a biological component to this phenomenon of the enjoyment of food, the understanding of which, can free you to make sounder and healthier choices in your diet and your eating habits.

The culprit, many scientists and researchers now believe, is Dopamine: a neurotransmitter involved in producing the feelings associated with pleasure. When large amounts of dopamine are present in our brains, we feel good; we may even experience a little “high”. The natural inclination of any creature, when experiencing this feeling, is to seek out more of it, sustain it. And so begins the unconscious cycle driving us to seek out, increase, and sustain our feelings of pleasure through the intake of food.

Seen this way, it appears that the same motivating force that keeps us alive, left unmonitored, can also lead to our own undoing, through obesity and its related illnesses.

Here is how the cycle that’s kept our special alive can turn into a vicious and unyielding chain of compulsive overeating that leads to excessive weight gain and increased difficulty with weight loss: research has shown that overeating causes a depletion of the dopamine receptors in our brains. This dopamine depletion leads to an increase in the very same feelings that caused the overeating in the first place.

The consequence of this is that a heavyset person will have to eat more food to receive the same quantity of those feelings of pleasure than a more slender person would from eating a significantly smaller portion of food.

Resisting the temptation to overeat will slowly cause more of the dopamine receptors in the brain to reactivate, making it easier and easier as time goes on for that person to derive increased pleasure from smaller amounts of food.

Human beings are designed, like all animals, with the inherent drive to seek out food, and thank goodness for that, as food is our sustenance. But in our modern civilization with so many delicious varieties of food available to us, and the means to have it available at all times, we’ve become desensitized to our body’s natural cues, and conditioned to misread them.

Instead of basing your decisions on when to eat and when to stop eating on your feelings of pleasure (or lack thereof), try basing them on the physical sensation of the stomach walls stretching or collapsing. If we feel with our bodies and not with our heads, we can all access the feeling of truly being hungry, when our stomach is empty, and truly being full, when the walls of our stomach stretch – even if we haven’t been in touch with those sensations since early childhood. Getting in touch with that feeling will allow you to focus on deriving your feelings of pleasure from sources other than food.

If you’ve been desensitized to this sensation from enough years of compulsive overeating to have developed a stretched-out and enlarged stomach, take heart. Being aware of the dopamine phenomenon can at least empower you to persist with a conscious program of weight loss knowing that, as you proceed and your stomach shrinks to a more appropriate size, you’ll get more and more in touch with the physical sensations of fullness, and as such more able to derive pleasure from the smaller amounts of food that you do eat.

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