This New York Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof, “Addicted to Exercise?” explores research done on the pleasure centers of the brain and reinforces some of the solutions I teach at OnePinky.com, healthy weight through healthy body image. Kristof shares research showing that both our vices (like food addictions/alcoholism) and virtues (like giving/sharing and exercise) stimulate the same ‘high’ in the brain’s pleasure centers. So, a timely question:
Can we choose vice or virtue for the ‘highs’ we crave? Answer: Yes, you can and OnePinky helps women everyday do that.
This article comes on the heels of my last blog about the death of Amy Winehouse. Amy’s tragic death tells us the fatal implications of addictive behavior and low self-esteem. Her autopsy confirms that her addictions led to her demise and it’s clear that she suffered from incredibly low self esteem.
My question on vice of virtue arises because this article proves both virtue and exercise can excite you with a ‘high’ as strong as hedonistic behavior (food/drug/alcohol addiction). In other words, exercise and giving to others/sharing/connecting can ‘pump-up’ the brain’s pleasure juices as much as any destructive addictions give you.
The studies describes rats fed foods like cheesecake and chocolate and showed differences in brain circuitry after just 40 days. These foods triggered cravings that rewire the rat’s brain’s pleasure circuits to amplify that craving: Actually rewiring the brain to increase cravings. The impact was that the pleasure centers of their brains were numbed, so they needed to gobble even more cheesecake to generate the same satisfaction. Whether its sugar or heroin, the body steadily ratchets up the quantity necessary to provide the same high.
Just think of it as, ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’. Or the vicious cycle my work helps you get out of: Poor body image –> low self esteem –> mistreatment of food . . . and it starts all over again.
But, the good news is that research indicates that our brains move us toward vices, but also toward our virtues. In recent years, researchers have found that generosity isn’t always a sacrifice; instead, it often exhilarates us.
In one set of experiments at the University of Oregon young women hooked up to brain scanners were presented with modest amounts of money. Sometimes they were given the chance to donate to charity, and sometimes they were given additional money.
Their pleasure centers lit up when they received money, as one might expect — but even more when they gave money away. About half of the women seemed to derive as much pleasure from giving money as from receiving it.
Perhaps all this research will lead to new tools to fight drug addiction, alcoholism and help the obesity struggle. For me, the most wonderful insight is that it does appear that giving is as important as receiving. And that you can get just as ‘high’ from exercising and connecting with other as you would from addictions to food, drugs and alcohol.
On the basis of this latest brain research, as well as practical experience, let’s acknowledge this profound truth: altruism and generosity can be pleasurable. These practices can lead you to a better body image and mitigate destructive addictive behaviors.
What do you think of this study? I welcome your feedback.Tags: addictive behavior, alcohol addiction, drug alcohol, food addictions, low self esteem, poor body image