Why do bad workdays send you home craving comfort food? One possible reason for this is that when your dopamine (the brain's self-produced, feel-good hormone) levels drop, you notice a drop in pleasure.
Dopamine is associated with feelings of self-reward and euphoria. It is able to reduce the levels of stress you feel by increasing the feeling of pleasure connected with certain thoughts and actions. No wonder we like it so much.
So when work brings you down, thoughts of comfort foods (which have made you feel good and less stressed before) start streaming through your mind. Just your anticipation of acquiring your high-calorie pleasure foods stimulates production of the hormone and begins de-stressing you. In fact, everything you do toward acquiring them opens the dopamine faucet even wider -- doesn't matter if its getting in your car to drive home or stopping by the store to pick up your favorite snack, you feel pleasure with each step of the way.
It doesn't always have to be the disappointing days that drive you to comfort foods either. Above-normal days can spike your cravings too. This is because the "extra special" days can leave you looking for more of that feel-good feeling as things start winding down. This tendency of expecting and wanting more pleasure as your dopamine dipstick gets lower plays a role in most addictions and compulsive behaviors and like a pleasure seeking magnet can drive your focus away from your best of intentions.
So if you are trying to stick to a specific diet, and you find yourself craving the very foods you're trying to avoid, what can you do?
Help can be as near as your your favorite song.
One possible way to stick to your diet is to use music's connection to dopamine to help you re-boot and balance your mindset. Music can reprogram our brains because the right songs can pair pleasure (dopamine release) with your successfully becoming calm and de-stressed. This will cause a chain reaction, giving you the pleasure and de-stressing you desire (which you were looking to get from your comfort foods) and thus keep you in control and eating more nutritiously. With practice, your brain gets the message that when it calms down and you reach for your iPod after your next bad workday, it will get rewarded in the same (healthy) way. After a few tries, you'll find yourself automatically going for your favorite playlist(s) instead of non-nutritious foods.
When it comes to music, a lot depends on how much you like the song. The more you do, the greater its effect on you. So pick songs you like -- a lot -- and that you already feel can have the right effect.
Use your playlist(s) on your way home after work to help you compensate if your mindset has dipped downward. I recommend fast rhythms with a BPM (beats per minute) of 130 plus. Sometimes, you can use songs of a lower BPM that send you the right emotional feeling too. What's most important is that you like the songs and feel a good amount of pleasure from them.
Use songs that send messages of strength and willpower and make you feel on top of your game. Singing and even humming along will ramp up the feel-good effect.
Start today. Pick out a playlist that you think can work for you. Load it up on your iPod or cell phone so that you have it when you need it. Then the next time you are having one of those nerve wracking days, you'll be all set to send the bad vibes away and keep your focus and frequencies "on track" and positive.
The following playlist can give you the idea, but remember your own favorite songs will work always best.
A Sample Euphoric Playlist
"No Retreat," No Surrender, Bruce Springsteen
"No Way Back," Foo Fighters
"The Power," Snap
"Eye of the Tiger," Survivor
"I Fought the Law," Green Day
"We're An American Band," Grand Funk Railroad
"(I've Had) the Time of My Life," Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack)
"Respect," Aretha Franklin
"Dance to the Music," Sly and the Family Stone
"I Want to Take You Higher," Ike and Tina Turner