One of the greatest challenges for so many people, is consistently making healthy food choices. No matter how strong the desire to stop buying drive-by sodas or sweetened lattes, or to resist late-night snacking temptations, it seems that the foods and drinks we really want to avoid are the ones we continue to eat.
If you didn’t have time to watch the video, here’s a recap of his talk:
The male shrike is a songbird that kills it’s prey – typically small rodents, other birds, and insects – and then impales them on tree spikes inside their territory. Females eventually appear, and after a quick analysis, will mate with the male who has the largest catch of prey. Why is this significant? Because the entire orchestration of how the shrike goes about his business has helped psychologists to answer what has been a very puzzling question:
- If people were intelligent, alert, and conscientious enough, and if they heard the right messages about health and the right path to take, why is it so hard to choose that path?
The shrike has strong instincts, influenced by his genetic code but activated by environmental cues – cues that lead him to think, then feel, and then finally respond. What he ultimately seeks is sexual pleasure, not just because it’s rewarding but because it’s also associated with survival and reproduction.
All creatures seek the same thing; embedded in our genetic code is a motivational system comprised of three components that work together to influence our behavior towards an end result that’s associated with gene survival. The three components are:
- Pleasure – food and sex
- Avoidance of pain
- Energy Conservation
The key objective for all creatures, including humans, is to seek pleasure as much as possible, while staying alert to cues that indicate that pain is present and/or an energy cost is involved.
Getting back to the shrike again; imagine if the shrike were encaged and within his reach were two buttons that led to two different outcomes. One of the buttons – a blue one – would open a trap door from which a female would emerge and enter his cage. The other button – a red one -would result in the release of a cocaine-filled pipe that would insert directly into his head and drive pleasure to the very core of his brain. The red button is the one he will choose, because every time he hits it, his pleasure center will be activated by the flooding of dopamine. Both options provide pleasure but the one that releases dopamine, and hence the sensation of excitement and euphoria, is more efficient.
The problem with the above scenario, is that the shrike was misled by an unnatural stimulus that caused him to think and feel that he was making the “right” choice; that he was being extremely biologically successful, when in fact he was behaving self-destructively.
We are no different to the shrike! We live in a world where our environment has been tainted with all kinds of “super-normal” stimuli. Our food supply consists of products that are designed to fool our senses so that we’ll keep choosing them over and over again.
That’s where the Dietary Pleasure Trap comes into play:
The Dietary Pleasure Trap contains five phases:
- Phase One – illustrates how we should relate to food. Enjoyment of food should fall within normal parameters.
- Phase Two – our tastebuds are introduced to “super-normal” foods; foods that give more calories/energy per bite and consequently provide more pleasure.
- Phase Three – we eventually habituate to the abnormal stimuli. In other words, our brain and censors are eventually dulled and we end up getting the same amount of pleasure that we used to experience in Phase One, except that now we are used to eating mostly junk food.
- Phase Four – our habitual junk food choices result in obesity, heart disease, and other serious illnesses, and so now we start to pay attention to all the health specialists who are saying that we need to move in “this direction” if we wish to regain our health. So we try to change direction and re-introduce wholesome and healthy foods to our diet.
- Phase Five – this is the phase that leads to recovery, however this phase takes several weeks and very few will go the distance.
And this brings us back to the question we started with: why is it so hard to do the right thing? Why do so few people make it successfully through the fifth phase of recovery; that part of the trap where following the right path and making healthier food choices is best for us? It’s simple: we live in a modern world that releases into our environment cues that fool our instincts, and lure us into the Pleasure Trap.
So, how does one get out of the trap?
Dr. Lisle offers a couple of tricks:
- The water trick – drink only water for a period of 24 hours straight; this should help the tastebuds to increase sensitivity and allow for a favorable reintroduction of healthy food.
- The juice fast – drink only fruit and vegetable juices for several days; this should help to re-set the fat and salt receptors so that tastebud sensitivity is recovered.
These are just ways to get you started and help lead you out of the trap; remember – it takes several weeks to make it through the Recovery Phase. But, if you have the drive and willpower to endure, your body will eventually re-set itself and you’ll find that eating wholesome and healthy foods is much more pleasurable than eating the kinds of overly processed foods that we were never designed to crave.
Additionally, Dr. Lisle says that there are numerous support groups and websites available to assist you with recovery efforts: