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The Hedonic Diet: What Is It and What We Can Achieve with It?

Eating is an art. We all know what we are supposed to eat, but we are rarely attracted by a tasteless steak, green salad without any condiments. The rice on the supermarket shelf doesn’t attract us, but if we see it cooked with some seafood or veggies, we will immediately feel like taking a huge spoon and taking a bite.

The problem with healthy eating is not that we do not know what and how much to eat. The problem comes from the fact that we choose and act as a consequence of a biological drive. We are just fooling ourselves that we could consciously control our choices. This is just will and as you know will is a muscle ( ;)) – it works for some time and then it gets tired and something else takes control over us. In this case it is the unconscious. We are controlled by what we can’t make conscious.

Restrictive and plane diets work for some time. Then, it feels as if somebody gets inside our body and starts taking decisions instead of us – day after day our other self reaches for foods that we do not want to eat because they do not take us closer to our goals. In the same time we feel powerless to counteract this behavior.

On my road to a more balanced, healthy diet I made a lot of mistakes (read about them here). I used to deprive myself, I used to take out a particular group of foods and I used to be satisfied with eating the same thing over and over again. If at the beginning an omelet used to taste great, soon the same amount of food neither made me feel satiety nor gave me pleasure. I didn’t even feel the good taste anymore. This is true for every food that I used to eat on a daily basis.

Fortunately, I have passion for cooking and as time went by, I realized that I can prepare different, healthy foods, which include the main macro and micro nutrients – nutrients that my body needs.

What is the food that our brain considers to be tasty?

How do we eat?

We are fooling ourselves if we believe that we are just eating for energy. We are not machines – we are human beings, with emotions, memories and future. Everything we do, leaves some kind of a trace in our brain and it inevitably influences our thoughts, feelings and the choices we make in the present moment.

The brain perceives some tastes as pleasurable and others as unpleasant. From an evolutionary standpoint, this has its logic and it has to do with survival – sweet, salty and fatty have been an indication that a particular food is save, sour and bitter are an indication that food could be poisonous. Taste is a complex experience – the more tastes we combine, in particular proportions, the better the taste of the food – it is logical, because it stimulates our tastes buds in a more intense way and it sends a stronger signal to the brain.

The most optimal combination for taste is the combination between sweet and fat – this combination sends our body in Heaven.

We are instinctively attracted to foods that are calorie denser. Still, we are not eating just for calories and we do not define foods as delicious, just by the fact how calorie dense is the food. Taste depends on a lot of factors – external and internal (a subjective value, level of hunger, past experiences and memories about a particular food, cultural factors, convictions, traditions and so forth).

What is Hedonic eating and what you can achieve with it?

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In our contemporary society, we have a new type of eating – hedonic eating. This is a type of eating, where the person is eating for pleasure and not because of the need of energy. The desire to eat is just to invite back a feeling that is associated with a particular food, which activates the brain centers responsible for pleasure.

The brain mechanisms that have to do with the need for energy (calories), are not the same mechanisms, that are being activated for hedonic needs ( hedonic comes from hedonists and the idea that in life what matters is pleasure and happiness).

That is why, we can conclude that in order to satisfy our need for energy, we need to activate one path in the brain, and in order to satisfy the need for pleasure – we need to activate another one.

Often times, people talk about the brain reward system.

We do not have different reward system that activates for different stimulus – for example, one for particular foods, one for alcohol, one for drugs and so forth. We have just reward system. This reward system is associated with affirmation and the need to activate it more and more. This reward system is being activated when we drink alcohol, when we use drugs or when we consume “modern foods”. It is being activated when we experience something that brings us pleasure.

Why am I telling you all of this? When we choose what foods we eat, it is exactly the response that the brain sends, which determines our behavior. There is an interesting fact that has to do with what happens when we eat new foods – i.e. in a different context, with different condiments and so forth.

Dopamine, which is famous as the hormone of addiction is also linked to learning. When we eat a particular food for the first time, different from the food we eat on a daily basis, the body releases dopamine. From an evolutionary standpoint, the logic is as follows – there is unfamiliar food – it might be dangerous for survival – we need to pay more attention – we need to learn and get to know it – dopamine is being released.

If we start eating that food every day, for certain amount of time, this food won’t be new. This means that we won’t need dopamine. This means that if we eat boiled eggs and green salad on a daily basis, even if that used to taste good at the beginning, there will come a time when dopamine will stop being released and the thought of this meal won’t be that exciting.  Then, we won’t have the same experience when we eat it and it won’t taste that good. Then, even if we satisfy the centers in the brain that are responsible for the energy needs, we won’t satisfy the centers in the brain that are responsible for pleasure. We will eat boiled eggs and salad and we will constantly look for a chocolate mousse (HERE).

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What happens with modern foods?

When we eat foods like chips, candies and etc., dopamine release happens through different paths in the brain. The way that dopamine is being released in this case is not in order to get to know the food. Dopamine is being released through paths that activate the pleasure centers in the brain, when we take drugs  – i.e. it gets additive. The most interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter how long we eat these foods – we start needing them more and more and we need a bigger quantity, so the body can release the same amount of dopamine as a smaller quantity of junk stimulated at the beginning.

With drugs, the response from the brain is not just for learning, but also for affirmation. Junk food starts acting like a drug. That is why even though you know that it is better to eat steak, eggs, fish and salad, you are constantly driven to eat a cookie or some other junk.

When I used to eat a lot of junk, I was addicted. I couldn’t go a day without eating a couple cookies and some chocolate. As time went by, I decreased the amount of the junk and gradually, I substituted them with real food. Suddenly, I stopped feeling the need to eat them. Probably, I was the one that cured my own self – after the initial abstinence for them, suddenly real food tasted better and was more pleasurable.

To change your appearance you need to change the information you send to your body

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What is the conclusion? Actually there are two!

If we want to have some control over the unconscious processes in the body and indirectly influence the biological drive, that the body sends, we need to:

1.Eat variety of foods – i.e. to make the effort to prepare different meals. Eggs, meat, fish, veggies, nuts, fruits – it sounds the same, but there are so many ways that we could combine these foods and come up with different meals. I also have favorite meals, but after some time of eating them, even the most delicious thing tastes plane. Then, I know that if I do not want to overeat with food and if I do not want to crave foods that don’t take me closer to my goals, I need to change my food – to provoke the release of dopamine, so it can learn more about the new food. :)

2.We need to minimize the consumption of modern foods, which stimulate the taste buds (read HERE) beyond the stimulus that could be caused by the taste of real food. Not eating processed, junk foods, with added fats, sugar, salt and etc, because they will provoke a response from the brain that will make us addicted – we will become slaves of food and this will take us further away from our goals.

What happens in the body, seems as something that doesn’t depend on us. In reality, we are indirectly influencing the information that the body gets. Through food, drink, movement, sleep and etc., we send information to the body and it uses it – the result is the way we feel and the way we look. If you want to change the result and your life – then change the information that you send to your body.

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends. Somebody might need to read this and suddenly something will “click”and help him change his lifestyle.

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