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Part Five Food Addiction: The Pleasure Reward System

Hi it’s Steph Wagner, Bariatric Dietitian and food blogger at foodcoach.me with part five and our final episode of the series Food Addiction, Obesity and Diabetes.

We’ve covered a lot in the past five weeks. If you missed any of the first four segments spend some time reviewing those as you’re able. Links are provided if you’re watching this from the foodcoach.me website. Last week we talked about the second brain and how to control hunger and food cravings caused by all the systems of your body. This week we are going to dive into the Pleasure-Reward System. (pause)

In my opinion, the pleasure-reward system is the most significant piece of the puzzle and explains why we get addicted to anything whether it be video games, alcohol, shopping, gambling, Facebook or whatever else you want to fill in the blank.

We all have a “reward circuit” going on in our brain. IF we want someone to do something, you usual offer a reward to do so. Whether that be in parenting offering a reward for completed chores or in a career setting when a bonus is rewarded for reaching a goal. We experience the reward and learn that it feels goods. It if feels good, we want to do it again…it provided pleasure.

Taste and smell are the only senses that go straight to the emotional drive. As you swallow food, all sorts of sensory responses occur. This triggers big time with sugar. Also, fatty foods provide endorphins…the feel good chemicals..which used to allow us to survive in times of famine. There is nothing that can give you energy to survive a famine like fat.

But endorphins are released in several other ways other than with eating. This is the “feel good” center of the brain and you can’t will it away. In fact, a symptom of depression is the lack of feel good feelings. We are driven to experience good feelings and our emotional health is hindered when we don’t experience feeling good.

The more junk food you find, the more powerful this circuit becomes. If we think of this in terms of drugs, a brain that has not experienced street drugs reacts differently. Over time there is a pursuit of more intensive drugs because the reward circuit is desiring bigger pleasure.

I could talk about this system in more depth and discuss all the hormones at play here including dopamine and serotonin. To keep this video brief, instead I want to focus on the take home message.

We need to experience the good feelings that endorphins can provide. Instead of putting a pressure on ourselves to stop liking food, which for me would never happen, instead we must focus our energy on remembering what healthy avenues of pleasure we can find. This is different for each of us and being a woman of faith myself, I believe turning to prayer and asking God where to spend time, abilities and the gifts he has given us to pursue other worthwhile endeavors.

It will be different for all of us. Maybe you most enjoy…




planning travel


restoring cars





writing handwritten letters





studying history


Spend time writing down all the things you can think of that bring you joy. That leave you feeling better than ever and not full of junk food and shame. Think of the previous videos of the importance of taking care of yourself physically with water, meals, sleep and so on but then make a long list of pleasurable items. Use social media to follow organizations around you that may put on events such as an arts council or the local library. Remember to leave time for yourself and the things you enjoy most. It’s not selfish, it’s self care.

Thanks for watching this series on Food Addiction and it’s my hope that it has provided wisdom and insight in your journey to health. Visit foodcoach.me for more meal plans, recipes, wellness challenges, videos and more. I’d love if you would leave comments and share with friends too. Happy Eating!

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