Why we overeat: effects of a calorie-dense diet on the brain and dopamine system
Tuesday, April 07, 2020
"Those eating calorie-dense diets may have a reduced capacity to enjoy all of life’s pleasures by deadening dopamine pathways in the brain.
(......) now we know fat may have similar effects on the brain (as sugar) as well. You feed some people some yogurt packed with butterfat and within 30 minutes you can start to see the same changes in brain activity you get when you drink sugar water. People who regularly eat ice cream, sugar and fat, have a deadened dopamine response in their brains to drinking a milkshake. It’s like when drug abusers have to use more and more to get the same high. Frequent ice cream consumption is related to a reduction in reward region responsivity in humans—they’re talking about the “pleasure center” in the brain, paralleling the tolerance observed in drug addiction. Once we have so dulled our dopamine response, we may subsequently overeat in an effort to achieve the degree of satisfaction experienced previously, which contributes to unhealthy weight gain.
(....) What do fatty sugary foods have in common? They’re energy-dense foods. It may be less the number of calories than their concentration. Consumption of a calorie-dense diet compared to the same number of calories in a calorie-dilute diet leads to that numbing of the dopamine response.
... we can prevent the deadening of our pleasure center (...) by sticking to foods that are naturally calorically dilute, like whole plant foods. This can help bring back our dopamine sensitivity, such that we can again derive the same pleasure from the simplest of foods. And, this is not just for people who are obese—yes, when we regularly eat calorie-dense animal and junk foods, like ice cream, we can blunt our pleasure center and overeat to compensate, but when our brain downregulates dopamine receptors to deal with all these jolts of fat and sugar, we may experience less enjoyment from other activities as well. That’s why cocaine addicts may have an impaired neurological capacity to enjoy sex, why smokers also have an impaired ability to respond to positive stimuli. Since these all involve the same dopamine pathways, what we put into our body—what we eat—can affect how we experience all of life’s pleasures. "