Escaping The Pleasure Trap: You Know What You Need To Do, Why Is It So Hard To Do It?

This is the time of year where we make the annual promise to "get our butt in gear" after potentially weeks of celebratory eating. We may seek support through various sugar detoxes, Whole30, or other kinds of "cleanses".... ANYTHING that will help kick our morning muffin habit, our afternoon stop at a coffee shop or the after dinner "I just need something sweet" fix. You are in the hamster wheel and you CAN'T. GET. OUT. And when you make a healthy choice (like eating fruit or vegetable or start exercising), it can actually feel disappointing and leave you scratching your head wondering what's wrong with you.

Like most Americans, you are caught in something Dr. Douglas Lisle calls “The Pleasure Trap". Understanding how this trap works is your exit route! 

Long story short, processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle are great from an evolutionary/survival mechanism: innately we seek pleasure, avoid pain, and conserve energy in an effort to survive. Mother nature has built us a feedback-based guidance system known as happiness, a.k.a. the short-term mood state that lets you know when you are getting closer to pleasure and further away from pain. An unhappy state tells you to change your situation. 

Mother Nature wants us to seek out calorically dense foods, but the kind that are found in nature, not created in a lab by food scientists and manufacturers. But processed foods hack into our hardwiring; nature can't provide the level of sweetness found in Skittles, the fun fizz of soda, the satisfying crunch from cookies or the energy conservation from cars or elevators. All of these man-made items max out our pleasure centers, putting us in the Enhanced Pleasure Zone (see chart to the right). 


So, when we go from having processed foods or an inactive lifestyle, to having a strawberry or starting an exercise we actually feel displeasure (the Subnormal Pleasure Zone). The very experience we are programmed to seek out, the one that tells us that we are doing the right thing “feels wrong and when you do the wrong thing it feels right.” The nervous system has been “spun into a puzzle that it never was designed to solve.” Taking on a whole-foods focused lifestyle can be—and is for most folks—just as difficult as kicking drugs.

All is not lost, though. If you continue on a healthy track, the nervous system will bounce back. The human body is an incredible machine, capable of healing itself drug-free. It takes 2 weeks for your body to recalibrate and at least 30 days for the change to occur and stick. If you can keep reminding yourself that this force is there, ready to knock you off course, you can defeat it when it rears its ugly, confusing head. Then one day, you will have made your way back to the Normal Pleasure Zone, which is in line for what nature intended: plain water will taste refreshing, an apple will taste tantalizingly delicious and candy might taste just a little bit too sweet. 

If you need help out of The Pleasure Trap, we can help!

Posted on January 6, 2019 .