Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is produced in a deep middle region in the brain known as the substantia nigra.
This neurotransmitter influences learning, mood, alertness, concentration and pleasurable reward. Dopamine production leads to the activation of the reward and pleasure centers in the brain.
Food consumption was found to be a behavior that can regulate the mood. Under some psychological conditions, people may prefer certain types of foods due to their effect on the reward and pleasure centers. This positive result leads to changed food choices and finally could be the cause of obesity.
Medical researchers have found that women who demonstrate addictive behavior towards food have the same brain activity as that of chronic drug abusers.
When we eat, we enjoy the rewarding feeling of dopamine production. Therefore, it is recommended to have several small meals than to have a few larger meals that are spaced out. This is to enjoy the effect of higher levels of dopamine in the brain.
The number of dopamine receptors is also believed to affect the psychological reward mechanism. Those who have a lower number of dopamine receptors tend to eat more due to the smaller effect of dopamine on their mind. But those who have more dopamine receptors can control their food intake much more easily. Therefore, our genetic makeup affects our food consumption quite directly.
Unhealthy hyper-palatable foods tend to stimulate the brain reward system more than the healthier food alternatives. Sugary and starchy foods can promote the brain reward centers potently. Also, the more we eat in one sitting, the more dopamine is released and the better we feel. However over the long term, these high-calories foods cause the desensitization of the dopamine system and so we have to eat more to enjoy the same rewarding effects.
At first, our bodies used to crave for what we needed to survive. However over time, they started to crave for what we are used to consuming. Thus we can crave for unhealthy food that we don’t really need. Cravings take place as follows.
The brain reward system determines a target and causes the dopamine release. This proves to the body that this food is rewarding. But the body also releases stress hormones that cause us to feel discomfort. Therefore our bodies trick us to give in to our craving and forget about the long-term consequences.
It is an essential step to learn to control our cravings. We should all follow a healthy lifestyle. Try to consider your craving and what happens as you eat what you crave. You will start to enjoy only the first few bites, but then the rewarding feeling subsides.
Although you may feel sick afterwards, you will still feel the same urge to eat more of the food you were craving. Therefore when we feel we crave certain foods, we should stop and think of the effect of these foods on our health on the long term. Resisting the urge to consume these unhealthy foods will train our bodies to do better. The cravings will decrease over time and we will follow a healthier lifestyle and consume a healthier diet.
We can also re-program our brains to crave healthier options. Think of the outcomes of the healthier cravings. Always think of the beautiful figure you want to achieve or the energy you feel as you consume healthy food or how young you will always look as you live a healthy life. This will enable you to hold stronger to your target foods and by time, you may crave healthy foods instead of junk. By understanding how our cravings work, we can control them and learn how to use them to our advantage.
The dopamine rush helps us beat fatigue and so we find the food we crave to produce dopamine to be addictive. However there are better ways to enjoy the desirable effects of dopamine without having such an addictive attitude towards bad food. It is recommended to never skip a meal and to eat frequent small meals throughout the day to enjoy a steady production of dopamine. Also, exercise is a natural way to provide the body with additional dopamine.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that acts as a building block of dopamine. Therefore, make sure you get sufficient amount of tyrosine from food or supplements to help our bodies later make the needed dopamine. Tyrosine is found in various foods such as bananas, avocados, coffee, green tea, and milk.
Boosting your dopamine levels will increase your productivity and efficiency, but do it the smart way, not the addictive way!