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  • Writer's picturelemonfrogfitness

The Psychology Behind Why We Overeat

Del Parigi et al (2003) (a researcher) described that the drive to eat is one of the most powerful urges in human behaviour. Do you ever find that you can’t help but crave some high-calorie foods? Something sweet or salty? This is perfectly normal and common, did you know from the day we are born we have an inbuilt excitement towards sweet and salty foods. These foods pleasure and stimulate cells in our tastebuds, lighting up our pleasure centre in our brains. Because our drive to eat is one of the most powerful urges and we now have plenty of foods to choose from whilst not having to move an inch to consume them, it makes fat loss more difficult. You have access to plenty of highly caloric foods in your kitchen or at the touch of a button that you can consume without expending any energy to acquire it. There are 3 known psychological food reward components; Liking, learning and wanting. Liking can be categorised as conditioned and unconditioned liking. Referring back to our inbuilt excitement towards sweet and salty foods this will be classified as unconditioned as it is inbuilt. Anything that falls outside of this category is known as conditioned, foods and drinks that are bitter, sour, spicy or alcoholic are only liked or disliked through a process. Most people are apprehensive when first trying alcohol and have a strong aversion to it, but through constant exposure to it in order to fit in with the social occasions, it becomes a conditioned like. When I was growing up I despised fizzy drinks and couldn’t stand them. It wasn’t until I started going out in town and drinking constantly that I developed a liking to it due to most alcoholic drinks being fizzy. Ask yourself, “If I can condition myself to like alcohol/bitter/sour/spicy foods, why can’t I do the same with my veggies and fruit?” The truth is you can but you choose not to as there is no instant reward or social occasions that cause you to. But they can become a learned like too and I urge you to try to do so. Wanting can be categorised as having an incentive and a desire to seek and consume hyper-palatable foods and this reward is only fulfilled once consumed. If not consumed the wanting grows stronger until satisfied. Just by liking food you won’t immediately consume it just because it’s there, you must also want the food in order to consume it. However, there is a bit of a catch because the more you do give in to these wants and fulfil them and the more overweight and obese you become, the more dampened your dopamine (pleasure centre) response comes. Studies have shown that there are a decrease in Dopamine (D2) receptors in the brain with increasing levels of obesity. This ultimately means you will have to consume more and more of those foods and other types of foods to try and experience the pleasure you are seeking, which will ultimately lead to gaining more weight. I have pointed out before I probably enjoy pizza, ice cream and sweets more than the average person simply because I consume them less often. Reward doesn’t only come through eating food, we are constantly seeking reward in our lives and it is hard-wired into us. We look for social approval from peers, acknowledgements for hard work and successes, likes and shares from our social media posts and pictures. This is why social media is so addictive to people because it’s literally built and created to pleasure your brain's sensors. Because we are always seeking reward food is the easiest, most convenient and cheapest way in which we can reward our pleasure sensors. Food companies are always researching and testing how to make foods taste better to please you, your tastebuds and your brain. This again makes it harder to not over-consume foods. So how do you combat this and lose body fat and improve your health? Firstly there has to be a want to do so. Just like you can have food in the fridge you like it won’t get eaten unless there's a want. The same goes for getting results you can have the gym membership, you can have the programme to follow but if there is no real want, there is no drive to achieve the desired outcome. If you choose a diet plan you don’t like, a gym routine you never look forward to there will be no want to do it. This ultimately leads you to put less effort in, less time spent trying to achieve results and then eventually giving up because you see no results. APPEAL TO YOUR LIKES!!!! Like I said we constantly seek reward so we need to have that programmed into our diets and training routines. We need something there to mark our progress, whether they’re weight loss related or performance-related, whichever gives you more reward. You also need to write out a list of your hedonic foods (foods you can’t control yourself around and could continually eat). Simply by creating this list highlights the foods of concern that hold you back from achieving your goals, this helps associates the bad that comes with these foods. Yes, they may pleasure your dopamine receptors and tastebuds instantly but how about the long term? These are the foods causing you to gain weight, lose confidence and feel unhealthy. By making this correlation it can help you to be more aware when consuming them and to consume them less often. Simply by knowing all this information about the reward centre and how food stimulates it, how that in order to be successful there must be a want and a programme that appeals to your likes is greatly helpful. But to actually reach your goals you have to take action and use this information. Putting practices into place can be the tricky part. Knowing information is good, but is also pointless if not applied. If you are unsure about how to apply it then there are 3 ways in which I can help you if your want is great enough. Free personal training - Come along for a week's free personal training in my fully private training facility and learn how to exercise and eat effectively for your goals. Click here to book in your free week. Download and listen to my podcast for free- I discuss ways in which you can improve your results by applying the simple tools I layout for you in each episode. Click Here to listen Download my complete beginners' guide to fat loss - This free guide will teach you what you need to know on how to lose fat and comes with a free training plan. Click Here to download.

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