What to eat? Wisdom vs Pleasure

Ever hear two voices battling in your mind, fighting over what you’ll eat? A wise and caring angel in one ear telling you how healthy and fit you’ll be if you eat this or that. And a convincing little deceptive demon in the other ear whispering, “Don’t worry, be happy! Eat that burger and fries, the chocolate cake, AND the ice cream. You can diet tomorrow!”

Face it, that scenario is more our reality than we like to admit. We all experience those battling thoughts in our mind. And there is actually a scientific explanation behind it.

Research shows there are different areas of our brain that influence our eating. We all know that part of our brain is great for thinking, problem solving, and making wise decisions. Let’s consider that the “Wisdom Area” of our brain. It’s where we analyze facts (like how certain foods are good for us) and determine what we SHOULD eat. For example, most of us are wise enough to know that broccoli is a healthier snack than a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie, but… there is another force at work.

Other areas of the brain are “Pleasure Areas” and influence our eating based on what tastes good, what feels good, things we like, things we want, and things that bring pleasure. These urges and thoughts from “pleasure areas” are more impulsive in nature, less tangible, but very real. These urges (like the sweet treat calling out to us from the cupboard) influence our appetite, specifically what we WANT to eat. We each know from experience (and from convincing advertisements) what will taste good and bring pleasure to us. We truly enjoy and “want” more of those foods, even though they may be very unhealthy!

These two regions of the brain function as separate forces at work, creating a tension or “battle” over which force will control what goes in to our mouth. Guess which eating force is winning in the U.S.? Are Americans eating based on Wisdom or Pleasure? We don’t have to look around much to see the evidence. The food industry has created foods that are so convenient, accessible, affordable, and downright tasty that most Americans have simply given up on health. After all, those sweets, treats, snacks, and “happy meals” are so irresistible with pleasure, who can pass up a chance to eat them?

Watch the food network on cable TV for more evidence. Or, watch people in malls, airports, convenience stores, or fast food restaurants and you’ll see what’s happening. “Pleasure Eating” is driving the food industry AND the obesity epidemic, with more than 2/3 of our country now medically overweight.

The tendency to eat more for pleasure and less for wisdom is strongly influenced by genetic and medical factors.

Managing these factors with modern science-based approaches is a major part of what we do at the Center For Nutrition. Pleasure eating impulses and cravings cannot be just “turned off” with willpower. It simply does not work.

The reality is there can be horrible consequences for letting pleasure be the sole determining factor for our nutrition plan. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, joint pain, high blood pressure, the list goes on…

After working with clients for over 30 years in the area of “Wisdom Eating”, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best approach long term is to choose both Wisdom AND Pleasure as we make nutrition choices, but Wisdom has to be the first priority. I embrace this strategy and you should too.

Here are 3 clear steps for Wisdom Eating. By following these steps, you also will be able to—

Eat for health, and not for the “high”.

Step #1: Appetite control.

If your appetite tends to be excessive, get some help from us or other experts in the field. If you eat for reasons besides normal hunger, such as unhealthy cravings, never feeling full, tending to overeat, medical support can make all the difference in your success. This is especially true for those who are 40 lbs or more overweight, those with a family history of overweight, and those who have failed on prior diets.

Nutrient deficiencies, stress, depression, genetic factors, sleep factors, and hormone factors all need to be assessed. Then, a medical approach to appetite control can free you to “Wisdom Eat” rather than “Pleasure Eat”, which I know is what you truly want to do for your precious body.

Step #2: Nutrition education.

Educate yourself on the world of healthy food and nutritional options. Learn what natural foods, meal replacements, and nutritional supplements deliver optimum weight, a healthy metabolism (with more energy) and overall health. If you are already at a healthy weight and in good health, this step may be straightforward. If you are overweight or have medical problems (cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, etc), seek guidance from nutrition experts.

Step # 3: Eat with purpose… Wisdom… and Pleasure

Explore nutritional pleasure! From the world of healthy food, meal replacements, and nutrition options, narrow it down to what you enjoy. Face it, most of us will not sustain a nutrition plan if it tastes like cardboard! If you love chicken, but hate fish, go with chicken. If you love carrots and celery, but don’t like broccoli, go with what tastes good to you. Narrow down your food options from the world of healthy foods to those healthy foods that you truly enjoy. Get help from a nutritionist for ideas if needed.

Plan, shop, and prepare. Once you have your list of healthy foods that you truly enjoy, go shopping. Keep those foods or meal replacement items within easy reach at all times. Have snacks in your car, at your desk, in your cupboard. Prepare for busy days, travel, unexpected hunger. Planning ahead will protect you from the food industry temptations.

Remember, the little Pleasure Eating demon is right there, ready to tempt you without warning. It may be at a weak moment, when you are stressed, tired, or busy. It may come from a well-meaning family member, friend, or co-worker. Be prepared, be intentional, and let Wisdom Eating deliver both health and pleasure! The reward of being fit, trim, and healthy is so worth it!

And remember, Optimum Health is ALWAYS worth the effort.

For Optimum Health,

Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.

Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H. & T.M. is a nutrition & weight loss specialist and the Founder & Medical Director of the Center for Nutrition and Preventive Medicine, P.A.

Dr. Tague is an Alpha Omega Alpha honors graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Tulane. Dr. Tague is board certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Family Medicine. His medical practice has focused on optimum health, nutrition, and weight loss since 1996.

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