The more similar they are, the greater disappointment they evoke.
Have you ever craved a full-fat chocolate milkshake but opted for a diet frozen yogurt because you wanted to “be good”? But chances are that scarfing down the yogurt wasn’t just less pleasurable; it may actually have increased your craving, amplified your dissatisfaction, and set you up for a binge.
According to a new study led by Rochester University’s Melissa Sturge-Apple, this happens because the substitute food you chose too closely resembled what you actually wanted. As a result, you spent every bite registering just how far it fell short from what you truly craved.
Sturge-Apple’s team whetted hundreds of adults’ and undergraduates’ appetites for a particular brand of gourmet chocolate by having them taste test tiny pieces of it. Over the course of several experiments, the team repeatedly split participants into two groups—those who were invited to snack on similar but inferior quality substitutes for the high-end chocolate (i.e., knock-off versions of the chocolate or chocolate-covered peanuts) and those who were invited to snack on categorically different snacks (i.e., honey granola bars). The goal was to test which substitute food item did a better job of satisfying participants’ lab-induced hankering.
What the researchers found was that the similar but not quite up-to-snuff swaps left participants dissatisfied and still wanting the gourmet treat just as much (if not more), while the dissimilar option successfully quashed their pre-primed cravings.
In a follow-up study, participants who’d snacked on subpar substitutes or dissimilar swaps were surprised with a bowl full of the gourmet chocolate they’d initially been induced to crave. Upon being told to “eat as much as you like,” those who’d recently settled for similar but not quite as awesome alternatives ate far more of the chocolate than those who’d been sated with a non-chocolate distraction.
Sturge-Apple’s team believes that the reason too-similar substitutes fail to curb most peoples’ cravings—and eventually even make us eat way more than we otherwise would have—is because we can’t help comparing the replacement to the original. Because a knock-off chocolate brand (or, in other cases, a “diet” or “low-cal” treat) resembles what we actually want, we expect it to sate us just as well. But that substitute’s unlikeness in flavor dashes our expectations and compels us to seek the satisfaction we really yearn for elsewhere—if not through quality, then through quantity. (Cue the binge.)
Despite our assumptions that we’ll be content with an item similar to the item we truly desire, Sturge-Apple et al.’s findings suggest we’re much better off seeking a novel treat if we can’t—or won’t allow ourselves to—secure what we really want.
“Contrary to participants’ belief that within-category substitutes are more satisfying,” Sturge-Apple and her team reported in the journal Psychological Science, “a cross-category substitute more effectively reduced cravings for a desired stimulus than did a within-category substitute…Indeed, consuming the cross-category substitute was as effective at reducing cravings for the desired stimulus as consuming the desired stimulus itself.”
She reasons that the lack of satisfaction received from so-called “cross-category substitutes” originates from their lower likelihood of “evoking a negative comparison to the desired stimulus.” (Dissimilar foods, in other words, aren’t likely to increase our hopes of feeling satisfied. Rather, a novel item may inspire a new hankering, so that all we have to do to feel satisfied is eat what’s newly in front of us.)
Sturge-Apple’s team believes that the effects of reaching for similarity or novelty in our ongoing hunt for satisfaction extend well beyond the realm of food. They point toward “consequential domains, such as jobs, benefits, and consumer goods” as offering equal fluctuations of satisfaction, depending on how we strategize when we can’t get precisely what we want. For example, if you repeatedly can’t land the dream position in the company you work for, you may be better off—happier—applying to work at a different company altogether. Or if you can’t seem to find joy in new romantic relationships because you’re comparing each partner to your idealized ex, then maybe it’s time to seek out a different “type.”
“Of course, cross-category substitutes have to meet the same needs or serve the same function as the desired stimulus,” Sturge-Apple et al point out, lest you veer too far from what you’re looking for and just end up getting lost. “For example,” the researchers offer, “we assume that people who want a 60-inch television will be more satisfied if they choose a 42-inch television as its substitute rather than an expensive coffeemaker.”
Ditto for jobs and dating: It’s probably not a helpful solution to take a new gig doing something you’re not even sure you like as a response to not getting promoted doing what you love. It will be equally unsatisfying to go on a rampage of one-night stands if you’re truly looking for a meaningful romantic connection. (Though some studies suggest that rebounds can help us get over breakups.)
Whether it’s food, love, work, or any other existential arena that forces you to accept that you can’t always get exactly what you want, Sturge-Apple’s findings suggest that the key to keeping your level of contentment high—and possibly avoiding binges, bad romances, and dead-end jobs—is to seek alternate ways to fulfill your needs and desires, even if you might not immediately consider these to be perfect solutions.
However, the larger takeaway is that comparisons breed disappointment: Whether you’re measuring a substitute food against an idealized but unattainable one, a new partner against a romanticized ex, or the reality of a career against the imagined trajectory you thought it would take.
But in cases when obtaining a novel means of satisfaction isn’t possible, you might benefit even more from the radical act of acceptance. If what (or who) you end up with falls short of your expectations, you’re better poised to experience that thing or person’s joys, qualities, and potentials for satisfaction. Crosby Stills and Nash may have said it best: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Or just eat what’s in front of you and get over the impulse to compare it to something else.
Katherine Schreiber and Heather Hausenblas Ph.D. Posted Jun 14, 2016
When you were a kid and your mom told you not to touch something, what was the first thing you wanted to do? Touch it, right? Now apply that theory to your eating habits. If someone tells you to steer clear of the cookie jar because those little morsels of goodness are chock-full of calories, aren’t you even more tempted to grab one (or three)? Rest assured, you’re not the only one.
In a series of three studies, researchers at Arizona State University found that when dieters were exposed to negative messages about food (think: “Sugary snacks are bad for you”), they craved unhealthy food more. (Yep, you read that right.)
In the first study, folks who read a negative message about dessert had more positive thoughts about these bad-for-you foods than folks who were exposed to a positive or neutral message. In the next study, dieters read either a positive or negative message about sugar-laden snacks; then watched a video while noshing on cookies. The result: The negative-message group ate 39% more cookies than those who read a positive message. And in the final study, dieters who viewed a message that listed both the pros and cons of their snacks choose fewer unhealthy ones than dieters who read a strictly negative message.
“We think dieters increase their interest in and consume more unhealthy foods after seeing one-sided negative messages because they feel like their freedom to control their food choices is threatened,” explains Nguyen Pham, one of the study’s researchers. This is why Pham recommends using a mix of positive and negative messaging—such as “Dessert tastes good, but is bad for my health”—to help keep your consumption in check.
“Dieters do not see double-sided messages about unhealthy foods as a threat to their freedom,” she says. “Instead, they view these messages as providing even more freedom of choice. As a result, they are more likely to comply with the messages and choose less unhealthy foods.”
So the next time you are about to police your (or a friend’s ) food choices, try this mental trick instead. It may just provide you with the resolve you need to walk away.
If you wake up every morning and feel like “the thrill is gone,” you may have a dopamine deficiency. Dopamine is the main brain chemical responsible for making us feel motivated. Low levels of dopamine can manifest in some very disruptive ways. It can leave you feeling fatigued, apathetic, moody and unable to concentrate. Just as importantly, it plays a role in many mental disorders including depression, addiction of all kinds, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and schizophrenia. Understanding how dopamine affects your life is a key to taking control of this neurotransmitter — instead of letting it take control of you.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is considered one of the “feel good” neurotransmitters, along with serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. It has several distinct major functions. It’s been called the “motivation molecule” for providing the drive and focus you need to be productive. It’s also been called the “reward chemical” since it’s in charge of your brain’s pleasure-reward system. Dopamine plays a role in numerous brain functions involving mood, sleep, learning, the ability to focus and concentrate, motor control, and working memory.
What Does Dopamine Do?
Understanding dopamine’s functions is a work in progress. Over 110,000 research papers have been written about it, yet scientists are still trying to determine exactly what it does. Here are some of the known functions of dopamine: Dopamine is crucial to the feeling of motivation you need to work towards both long-term and short-term goals. It delivers a feeling of satisfaction when you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Dopamine is released when your needs are about to be met .
Dopamine helped our ancestors survive by giving them an energy boost when presented with a great opportunity, such as locating a new source of food. You wouldn’t think we’d need to be motivated to find food, yet alarmingly, lab mice with dopamine deficiency are so unmotivated they starve to death — even when food is readily available. Our modern lifestyle doesn’t provide the same opportunities for dopamine boosts that our ancestors experienced, like hunting down dinner. But we still seek dopamine because of the way it makes us feel — alive and excited.
There are both healthy and unhealthy ways to get a dopamine lift. You can boost your dopamine watching or playing sports, learning something new, finishing a project, or landing a new account at work. Any form of accomplishment that gives you that “Yes, I did it!” feeling will increase dopamine. The unhealthy way to stimulate dopamine production is with addictive substances of all kinds.
Low Dopamine Symptoms
Dopamine deficiency sucks the zest out of life. It can leave you feeling apathetic, hopeless, and joyless. It makes it hard to start things and even harder to finish them. Common low dopamine symptoms include:
Lack of motivation
Inability to experience pleasure
Hard time getting going in the morning
Inability to focus and concentrate
Inability to connect with others
Inability to handle stress
Inability to lose weight
Dopamine Deficiency Related Disorders
When dopamine levels are out of balance, they can be an important factor in many mental health and other systemic disorders. Here are some of the most common conditions that have a dopamine deficiency connection.
Low Dopamine And Depression
Depression is usually thought of as due to a lack of serotonin, another “feel good” brain chemical. But there’s a growing body of evidence that dopamine deficiency is the underlying cause of depression for many people instead. This explains why selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — depression medications that work by increasing serotonin — work for only 40 percent of those who use them. Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is an antidepressant that works by addressing low dopamine for those who have not been helped by SSRIs. There’s a difference in the symptoms of depression experienced by those with serotonin versus dopamine deficiency. Dopamine-based depression expresses itself as lethargy and lack of enjoyment of life, while serotonin-based depression tends to be accompanied by anxiety.
The Dopamine Addiction Connection
People low in dopamine are more prone to addictions of all kinds. People with dopamine addictions often rely on caffeine, sugar, smoking, or other stimulants to boost their energy, focus, and drive. What they are really doing is self-medicating to increase their dopamine levels. Using self-destructive behaviors to overcome dopamine deficiency can lead to addictions of all kinds — video games, shopping, gambling, sex, money, power, alcohol, and drugs.
Dopamine And Parkinson’s Disease
When dopamine-generating brain cells in one specific part of the brain die, it leads to Parkinson’s, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. Parkinson’s usually starts with a slight tremor in one hand. Patients gradually lose their ability to regulate their movements and emotions. There is no cure but so far the most effective treatment is levodopa, a natural compound that converts into dopamine.
ADHD And Dopamine
The underlying cause of ADHD is still unknown. But it is widely accepted that the root cause of ADHD is probably an abnormality in dopamine function. This seems logical since dopamine is critical for maintaining focus. Most ADHD medications are based on the “dopamine deficiency” theory. Prescription medications used to treat ADHD are believed to work by increasing the release of dopamine and norepinephrine while slowing down their rate of reabsorption.
Schizophrenia And Dopamine
The cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but genetics and environmental factors are believed to play a role. One prevailing theory is that it’s caused by an overactive dopamine system . Supporting evidence for this theory is that the best drugs to treat schizophrenia symptoms resemble dopamine and block dopamine receptors. However, these medications can take days to work, which indicates that the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood.
Dopamine Deficiency Symptoms In Fibromyalgia And Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Both fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are associated with low dopamine levels. Low dopamine symptoms experienced by FMS and CFS patients include brain fog, achy muscles, poor concentration, tremors, poor balance and coordination, and walking abnormalities.
How To Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally
If you experience signs of low dopamine, you don’t have to live with it. There are several lifestyle changes that can increase dopamine naturally.
The amino acid tyrosine is a precursor of dopamine. Tyrosine-rich foods provide the basic building blocks for dopamine production. Phenylalanine is an amino acid that converts into tyrosine.
Virtually all animal products are good sources of both tyrosine and phenylalanine. Here are some other foods known to increase dopamine:
Almonds, sesame and pumpkin seeds
Apples, avocados, bananas, watermelon
Beets, green leafy vegetables, sea vegetables
Coffee and green tea
Dopamine is a serious medicine used in emergency situations like heart attacks and shock. So while actual dopamine supplements are not available, there are many dopamine boosting supplements you can try. The most obvious dopamine supplement to consider is l-tyrosine. Without it, you can’t make dopamine. Even if you think you get plenty of l-tyrosine in your diet, you may not be converting it effectively.
There are several forms of tyrosine supplements available. Dopamine used by the brain must be produced in the brain, so it’s important that any dopamine enhancing supplement you take gets into the brain. That’s why we recommend acetyl-l-tyrosine, an absorbable form that can readily cross the blood-brain barrier. Next, look into vitamin D, magnesium, and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Deficiencies of all three are extremely common, and each can contribute to dopamine deficiency. Lastly, you can look into taking a dopamine enhancing supplement. Here are some supplements proven to increase dopamine:
Mucuna pruriens (velvet bean or cowhage)
Some dopamine supplements contain phenylethylamine, the precursor of tyrosine, but we don’t recommend them. Phenylethylamine is pretty useless for increasing dopamine levels. Once it reaches your brain it has a half-life of only 30 seconds.
Activities That Boost Dopamine Levels
Any activity that makes you feel happy and relaxed increases dopamine. Physical exercise increases dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters and is responsible for what’s known as “runner’s high”. Get a therapeutic massage. It can boost dopamine by over 30 percent. Meditation increases dopamine. So do mind-focusing hobbies like knitting, home repair, gardening, painting, photography, or woodworking. Playing and listening to music you enjoy releases dopamine . Engage in “seeking and finding” activities. This emulates the hunt that provided our ancestors with their dopamine boosts. Take on new challenges and set small milestones. Accomplishing goals, even small ones, trains your brain to release dopamine.
Dopamine deficiency can sap the joy from life. It also plays a role in many mental health conditions, including depression and addictive behaviors. Make appropriate lifestyle changes to increase your dopamine levels.
Eat a diet high in dopamine boosting foods.
Get plenty of physical exercise.
Engage in stress-reducing activities.
Take appropriate dopamine enhancing supplements.
Deane AlbanThis article was brought to you by Deane Alban, a health information researcher, writer and teacher for over 25 years. For more helpful articles about improving your cognitive and mental health, visit BeBrainFit.com today.
The next time you’ve got a serious hankering for sugar, it may help to whip out your smartphone for a gaming break, new research in the journal Appetite finds.
Study participants—who were mostly women—described and rated the intensity of their urges before researchers asked them to play a round of Tetris. For half of them, the game wouldn’t load. The group who did get to play slashed their cravings by 24%, compared with a meager 6% reduction among those who didn’t.
“When people crave something, they’re visualizing the sensation and pleasure of indulging in a specific food,” says study co-author Jackie Andrade, PhD, of Plymouth University in England. “The game blocks the mental imagery that sustains a craving, since it’s hard to play Tetris and picture some-thing else at the same time.” Hit the app store so you’ll be ready by that 4 o’clock hunger pang!
Tetris not for you? Any visually absorbing video game should do the trick, including Candy Crush and Bejeweled.