Tuesday Psych Post ~ Become a “Dope” Addict
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that is involved in learning, memory and pleasure. Until very recently this neurotransmitter has been thought of as mainly being a pleasure hormone. Recent research though has shown that it is much more than that:
“Rather than just telling us to feel good, dopamine tells us what’s salient – the unexpected bits of new information we need to pay attention to in order to survive, like alerts about sex, food and pleasure, as well as danger and pain. If you are hungry and you get a whiff of a bacon cheeseburger, Volkow’s research team has shown, your dopamine skyrockets. But the chemical will also surge if a lion leaps into your cubicle. Dopamine’s role is to shout: “Hey! Pay attention to this!” Only as an afterthought might it whisper “Wow, this feels great.” So maybe addicts aren’t just chasing a good time.”
What the research has shown is that there are chemical differences between those that enjoy drugs/binge eat and those that abhor drugs/control their eating. These chemical differences play a part, not only in over-eating, but in continuing to over-eat once you’re obese.
For example, lean individuals have more dopamine receptors and those receptors are more sensitive. This means, when they’re hungry and they eat, those receptors get the message quite easily and the person stops eating. On the other hand, obese individuals (and it gets worse, the more weight you gain) have less dopamine receptors. If you’ve ever looked at an obese person pigging out and wonder why they are doing it, this is the main reason. They don’t necessarily desire to eat like that, but it’s one of the few things that ever makes them feel good.
In fact, anyone that’s ever known an addict, whether it be to food or drugs, knows that they don’t always enjoy their habits and in fact, rarely do.
How can this be if the dopamine is present and they still seek out the food or drug?
For those that continually overeat and are slightly addicted to food, the dopamine is pointing them towards what’s important, not what’s pleasurable. This is a big distinction. If you’re walking and a car is about to hit you, you move and act quickly, not because it’s “enjoyable” but because it’s important. So for those that overeat, they haven’t received much pleasure from the food, but it’s showing them what’s important.
In obese individuals research has shown that they have more dopamine receptors on their tounge and in areas that deal with appetite.
This compounded with the issue of them also naturally making less dopamine, means that it takes a higher amount of dopamine to be released (from eating) in order to get an adequate signal.
So, what is a person to do?
I think, of all the countless reasons why you need both diet and exercise in order to lose weight and keep it off, this is one of the most intriguing.
You see, exercise is one of the few things that will increase dopamine levels overall. If you were to take a couple of supplements that help to balance out your neurotransmitters along with increasing dopamine, you can start to control your appetite. Combine that with increasing your dopamine levels via exercise and all of a sudden you have hope to control something that was at one point out of your realm of control.
I know in the end, it may sound like the same old, “eat right and exercise” but in all actuality, that’s the way to go. You see, our bodies were made for movement. The phrase, “use it or lose it” is applicable, because it’s the truth with any realms of our lives. The problem is when we use our bodies in ways that malfunction the system overall. When we start losing our lives to an “addiction” to food or when we are so sedentary that our bodies become flaccid instead of strong and virile, we start to feel helpless. Feeling helpless has never helped anyone. With eating right and exercise, you have the opportunity to fight off that helplessness and take something that you thought was out of your realm of control and put it firmly in hand.
With anyone that’s ever transformed their body, there’s always been one underlying theme, common to all of them:
My body is mine and I will make it what I will.
Now’s your time to claim that mindset. We all may have different and unique problems, ranging from less responsive dopamine receptors to poor insulin and sugar management, but at the end of the day, there is one thing that unites us all – We can do something about it. With smart exercise methods, simple and natural eating habits and the use of methods that work for us individually, we can overcome any “addiction” and move closer to knowing that, “My body is mine and I will make it what I will.”
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