Protect Your Appetite for Pleasure

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Woman eating with brain lit up

New research reveals a spiral of dissatisfaction from over-stimulation.

In a recent post (Intoxicating Behaviors), I suggested that today's super-enticing fattening food and hyper-stimulating sexual videos could numb most brains' pleasure response if their owners overdo it enough. This week, new research confirmed that too much stimulation indeed progressively numbs the brains of people who engage in it, decreasing their satisfaction. It also points to a way out.

Over six months, the brains of women who ate more fattening foods changed. They showed less response to pleasure (than those who didn't gain), which made the women more apt to overeat. In effect, the brain changes eroded their self-control, setting them on a downward spiral. Said lead researcher Eric Stice,

This is the first prospective evidence to show that the overeating itself further blunts the award [sic] circuitry. The weakened responsivity of the reward circuitry increases the risk for future weight gain in a feed-forward manner.

Decreased dopamine receptors in striatumHuman appetite for both food and sex is heavily influenced by the number of dopamine (D2) receptors in the striatum of the reward circuitry. [See before-and-after scan at left.] When dopamine receptors drop after too much of a good thing, the brain doesn't respond as much, and we feel less reward from pleasure for a time. That drives us to search even harder for feelings of satisfaction—for example, by seeking out more stimulating food or more extreme sexual stimuli, thus further numbing the brain. The repercussions of this decreasing sensitivity go well beyond calories and climaxes, and show up as all kinds of unwanted symptoms:

If we have enough [of the neurotransmitters that regulate the reward circuitry], our emotions are stable. When they are depleted, or out of balance, what we call "pseudo-emotions" can result. These false moods can be every bit as distressing as those triggered by abuse, loss or trauma. They can drive us to [binge].—Julia Ross, nutritional psychotherapist

The natural downward spiral of brain sensitivity in response to excess explains why appetite pathologies typically take a chronic course and are resistant to treatment. But the new research also indirectly hints at the way to reverse the unhelpful brain changes: stop the behavior that's causing them as soon as possible, without waiting until it crosses the line into obesity or hypersexuality.

If ongoing excess alters the brain, making control increasingly difficult, then foregoing the problematic behavior gradually restores the sensitivity of the brain, or at least substantially improves it. I often observe this turnaround in heavy porn users who give their brains a rest by avoiding porn and cutting way back on masturbation for a month or two.

The withdrawal misery can be grim while their brains are desperate for stimulation, but it's evident from their self-reports that their brains soon become more sensitive. They notice improvements in many areas: sexual responsiveness, optimism, eagerness to approach prospective mates, reduced anxiety, and so forth. They are amazed at how far-reaching are the changes that stem from restoring the natural sensitivity of their brains.

Once they understand that restoring reward-circuitry sensitivity is the target, they gain a comforting sense of direction. They can match mood changes and other symptoms with their actions (or inaction). They begin to recognize the discomfort and cravings they can expect following intense stimulation. They figure out what best eases that discomfort, and how long it usually takes them to return to balance. Knowing the hidden costs of too much stimulation, they can choose to indulge consciously or opt for the benefits of less intense stimulation. 

In short, they fully understand the addictive spiral and how to manage it. Once they are back in the driver's seat, their confidence and optimism return. Said one:

Considering the big picture, you are not actually getting that much from porn. It's not even happiness; it's something that you may seem to need badly, not to be able to resist, but it's harmful. The rational brain can logically override the reward circuitry signals so this issue can be overcome.

It would be great if scientists would do research that shows how long it takes brains to bounce back from too much stimulation via fattening food and extreme sexual stimuli. Already we know it is about 14 days before adenosine receptors return to their normal number following cessation of caffeine consumption. When we know how long the cravings and moodiness will linger, we can more easily muster the willpower to outlast them. Meanwhile, we can make our own experiments to discover what it takes to restore brain sensitivity and escape the downward spiral.

To be sure, we are all on a continuum when it comes to brain sensitivity and recovery time. Some brains arrive on the planet more vulnerable due to fewer dopamine receptors in key parts of the reward circuitry. Trauma, stress, loneliness, or pharmaceuticals dysregulate other brains. Yet even normal brains are at risk for increased dissatisfaction from over-stimulation.

Indeed, two-thirds of us are now overweight and 17% of Internet porn users are already showing signs of compulsive behavior. The tendency to grab for enticing food and sexual cues isn't pathological, or even a handicap. It's normal. It probably played a major role in enabling our ancestors to produce us. Alas, it's also normal to spiral downward in response to hyper-stimulation because of the way our brains evolved. This means we're not only on a continuum, but also facing a slippery slope.

brain imbalance distressThe good news is that we can each slide up and down the continuum, at least to some degree, by altering our behavior. The longer we have been binging, the longer it takes most of us to restore our normal brain sensitivity. Yet many achieve it.

Unfortunately, the workings of this primitive appetite mechanism in the brain aren't yet common knowledge. As a consequence, many of us assume that we can't be over-stimulated by extreme versions of sex or food, and that only abnormal people become obese or hypersexual. By understanding how behavior and brain sensitivity actually interact, we may be able to avoid sliding into pathology.

It's up to us

Our brains are set by our genetic make-up. Our environment is flooded with synthetically enhanced goodies marketed by powerful economic interests beyond our control. That leaves behavior as our best option for protecting the sensitivity and health of our brains. If we don't consciously steer, many of us are wired to get caught in a downward spiral.

Fortunately, we humans have a lot more control over the sensitivity of our brains than has been acknowledged. This new research makes it evident that behavior matters.

Comments

Reading this has been very

Reading this has been very helpful for me :)
I'm gathering as much information on the subject as I can and I constantly review it during my abstinence, it eases my anxiety somewhat and boosts my drive to get my brain back to balance. This site has been my saviour, it made me feel normal again, I think addicts, especially porn addicts have a tendancy to feel flawed or perverse, but in the end we're all exactly the same as everyone else, we've all just tripped over, but of course, we can all get back up again :) No one chooses to trip over, just like no one here chose to become a porn addict, it was ultimatly out of our control.

Exactly

People don't choose to become fat either. But as the brain grows number to pleasure, it *demands* that we seek more of whatever we associate with pleasure. Vicious circle...if you don't know how to turn things around.

Fortunately, you do. Smile

Even fruit has been supersized!

Even our fresh fruit and vegetables are nothing like they would have been when our brains developed during our hunter-gatherer past. The fruit was less sweet, the vegetables more fibrous. This is what is behind the Paleo diet, as we haven't evolved as fast as our 'food technology' has increased the sugars and flavors even in our 'natural' food.

I also wonder if this is why the Shangri-la diet I tried a few years back worked so well. A 200 calorie 'dose' of flavorless (and pleasureless) fat as a starter in the morning (I used virgin coconut oil, but people use other oils, too) , wait 2 hours before eating or drinking anything with 'flavor', and you're mostly done dieting. Appetite is much reduced, and healthy choices are easier. It takes about two weeks to 'kick in' sometimes, and so it can be tough for some folks.

Quizure

Stop the mass indoctrination of the porn kings...

"Our brains are set by our genetic make-up. Our environment is flooded with synthetically enhanced goodies marketed by powerful economic interests beyond our control. That leaves behavior as our best option for protecting the sensitivity and health of our brains. If we don't consciously steer, many of us are wired to get caught in a downward spiral." - Marnia

Marnia's "powerful economic interests beyond our control" made me think of the propoganda machine and "newspeak" used by Big Brother in George Orwell's "1984" - the porn industry wields such enormous power if you think about how many people are under its spell. The newspeak of superstimulation...

George Orwell "1984" Book One, Chapter 5

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?… Has it ever occurred to your, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?…The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."

"It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face… was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…"

Oh yes, and my favourite:

"Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious." - referring to the proles.

Rebel against the poison of porn.

thanks for reading,

Brenmal

Its interesting....

that image of the two brains side by side. It also makes me think, is this why things can fluctuate during recovery? Lets be realistic here, if your on one side of the spectrum and your brain has been numbed, its not going to fix itself overnight. Maybe it will make incremental improvements over the period of withdrawal. Cause that is def what im seeing as the weeks go by.

Can i still get aroused by former porn images, probably. Have i had wet dreams? Yes i have lately, some involving porn, some not. However each time i get the urge i fight it, and i believe it makes me stronger. I feel im making small progress, things are very up and down. A little unstable. But i will stick to it and well see where things go.

There's so much

still to learn. So far no one has even thought to use this type of tool on porn recoverers. It would really be useful to know what to expect. Yet, at the end of the day everyone will also be different.

I admire your courage. Are you remembering to flirt with actual women in the meanwhile? Wink

This article really hits

This article really hits home with me.

I recently saw an interview with J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books (I've never read the stories nor have I seen the movies but am interested in them now) and at one point she described a period in her life where she was depressed. She described it as the absence of feeling, it was a numbness, it wasn't feeling sad, it was feeling nothing. I've been there a few times myself. It always happened after over-stimulating event or a longer period of over-stimulating events that kept increasing until they no longer brought pleasure. Then I became numb. 9/11 was one of those times. The loss of my father was another. Ending my hyper-sexual activities was another. But after the numbness began to fade and I started to feel again, I made lifestyle changes and my brain began to rewire itself again. It seems to me now, looking back, that each eppisode of depression and recovery took longer and longer to happen.

Rowling also talked about the characters in the book who could steal a person's soul. I've felt like that during depression. This article helped me understand why I've felt like that.

Thanks, Marnia.

Isn't it nice to know

that the brain *will* bounce back if we're patient?

A "flat" period is not unusual, apparently. I'm thinking of the forum members who reported "no libido" for a time during their recovery. The good news is that you can't keep a lid on a volcano. Smile Eventually our life force energy begins to flow again, and it looks like a key part of the healing process is this return of normal receptor levels in the brain. It's fascinating.

Yes i agree....

And i def feel positive changes in my life with regards to meeting women and such. And this is just in three weeks. I've been here a couple times but i see no reason to go back now.

The comfort and excitment/freedom when the brain responds

sweetlilac After a lifetime of overstimulation from sex,food,chemicals and whatever else would excite. I changed my thoughts and habits replacing all the bad ones with what is actually good for the body and mind. I started with a healthy diet of raw foods then daily yoga, some meditation and lots of other life changing good habits. I have also managed to stay on the path of celibacy for close to 2 years there were times where the lonliness/cravings felt unbearable, then I started to read about Tantra I stayed with all the feelings I had as much as they hurt. Like magic by staying with the feelings instead of avoiding them they left me leaving me with comfort and relief. I no longer suffer from anxiety and have more selfconfidence than ever before in my life. I work hard daily on all levels to keep improving the results are so rewarding that it just increases my will to keep at it. I now have control of myself and my life (no longer have the feeling of being on a constant chase) and love spending time alone getting to know myself. I think this website is amazing and if more people learned from it the world would be a better place.

Celibacy

I have only been learning about celibacy over the last two years (very fascinating stuff I must say). I have read many books about it and alot on the
internet, for some reason I have found alot more info about male celibacy even though I am trying to find more on female celibacy. Yes absolutely, men loose alot of life force energy from orgasms, look up semen retension you will most likely be amazed at what you find out. It also helps us to find our true identity, I have found this to be most true it is almost like I never really knew myself until now after two sex free years and almost one year without masturbating. Thanks to this path and many other changes I have made I am now a new person I think it's the real me that was hidden since childhood. I don't know if this sounds strange to you, but I now have a zest for life that I never thought possible. It is a little hard to put words to it all but there is a certain sweetness to it all. I would advise anyone to give it a go.

Not at all strange if you've

Not at all strange if you've followed my other posts. My only problem is the sexual me has to balance this all and perhaps that is where karezza comes in. That said anyone outside the mental health professional or here has no idea what genuineness means. They're dazed and uninformed. Kind of fascinating. It would be one cool world if most sought balance. Some of our politicians would be fleeing. Some media would be dead. All kind of strangeness would happen.

Confused, need help about blogging

So far I can post a blog no problem, I don't know how to find it or see if anyone has made a comment about it. I know how to reply to a blog but I wont be able to find it to check any response. Only joined 24 hours ago but have been reading from this site for a few years I think it is fantastic. Now I can finally interact but my lack of computer skills leave me very fustrated. I would love some help and I am sure all you lovely people will send me some helpful instructions. However I most likely will not even be able to (navigate) find the help people send me. Will keep working on it all.